This building was constructed by 1822 as Prince William County's fourth courthouse. The County seat was moved to Brentsville from Dumfries to centralize its location within the county. The Courthouse design is typical of 1800s Virginia courthouses. The front wall is of "Flemish" brick bond while other walls are of "common bond" laid brick. The building sits on the town's highest ground, stressing its importance.
(caption beside small picture on left) Courthouse builder William Claytor left his mark on a stone above the front door. The reason for his and the County's misspelled names is unknown.
Here, county Magistrates ruled in criminal and civil cases, levied taxes, and oversaw all county governmental functions. On court days, citizens converged on the Courthouse to hear cases and learn of Magistrates' decisions. In 1850, Virginia's new Constitution transferred local political authority from Magistrates to elected officials. Prince William's Board of County Supervisors first met here in 1870.
(caption under center, top picture) This drawing shows the alterations scheduled to occur within the Courthouse as Prince William County's Commissioner of the Public Lot, George W. Macrea, remembered them on June 6, 1837. It is unknown whether all of these changes were made.
Clerk's Loose Papers
When the County seat moved to Brentsville, Virginians still relied on political and legal practices established during the colonial period. Justices, or Magistrates, received lifetime appointments from the County Court and were approved by the Governor. The Chief Magistrate was usually the Court's oldest member. Twelve Magistrates were appointed, but all rarely sat on a case. From one to twelve Magistrates would rule on a case, depending on the charge and the defendant. While most Magistrates were wealthy and influential county citizens, few were actually trained in law.
After the Civil War
The Courthouse was damaged during the Civil War. After the war, Court convened at various locations, including St. James Episcopal Church across the street, while the Courthouse was repaired. The County Clerk moved to the Courthouse since the war had destroyed his office. In 1893, the County seat moved to Manassas, as the railroad had transformed that town into the county's economic and social center. This building then housed schools and a community center. In 2006, the Courthouse was restored to its 1830s' appearance.
(caption under lower, right picture) This photograph shows the Courthouse before 1910.
Courtesy of the Manassas Museum, Manassas, Virginia. From the Cooksie Collection.