Digging Into a Curiosity of Old Fairfax

I’m delighted to have been approved to research the history of Gallows Road in Old Fairfax. While it’s established that a courthouse once stood at the intersection of what is now Route 7 and Route 123 near Tyson’s Corner, how the nearby road came to be called Gallows is less certain. According to John Kelly of the Washington Post, the issue is enough of a source of wonder that the librarians at the Fairfax Library have a dedicated file to answering the questions of the curious (2014). The first mention of the name ‘Gallo’ in association with the road appears in records from 1843, but librarians caution that the information available is incomplete and it’s easy to allow oneself to be misled (Kelly 2014).

A map highlights Gallows Road in its present iteration, traveling mainly north-south from Tysons to Annandale through Fairfax county.

I’m interested to understand not only whether or not a gallows was present and executions were carried out at the courthouse or at Tyson’s Corner, but also to better understand the intersecting issues of the time. The question brings to light how slaves were tried and punished, how jurisdiction changes might have affected how issues of justice were handled, and who alone was responsible for deciding who interacted with the courts and their fates. In a 2014 article for Viva Tysons magazine, Eleanor Herman describes an obvious striation in cases that were tried at the Fairfax courthouse: whites accused of murdering whites were dealt with in Williamsburg; whites accused of murdering blacks were typically found to be not guilty, and the voices and stories of slaves or free blacks accused of murder are conspicuously silent (2013). Trouillot would implore us to wonder, if they were present, what those voices would have to say.

As the courthouse was relocated several times in the 18th century and then later occupied by Confederate forces during the civil war who availed themselves of court records for souvenirs and kindling (Herman 2013), piecing together a complete history of the origin of the roadway name may be a difficult task. Even if I’m unable to answer the central question, I hope to compose a narrative account of the history of what is now SR 650 in Fairfax County and its role in the legal affairs of colonial citizens and slaves. The gaps in information reveal just as much as the available records, and I aspire to leave room for the silence to speak.


Herman, E. (2013 Nov/Dec). Courting Trouble in Fairfax. VivaTysons. http://www.vivatysons.com/pdfs/2013-06_NovDec.pdf

Kelly, J. (2014 November 22). How Did Gallows Road Get its Name?. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/how-did-gallows-road-get-its-name/2014/11/22/cb07148e-7183-11e4-ad12-3734c461eab6_story.html

Trouillot, M.-R., & Carby, H. V. (2015). Silencing the past : power and the production of history . Beacon Press.

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