We’ll Start off our tour with one of the most important spots in town for the commuter crowd. Given Lorton’s proximity to the Nation’s Capital, many of its residents take advantage of the Virginia Railway Express, starting and ending their workdays here at the station. In addition to a large commuter parking area, Lorton Station has a medical center with urgent care and private practices, as well as a pharmacy.
There are also a few shops and restaurants clustered around the train platform, in case you get home from work just dying for a bite to eat. Hard to miss is the large circular structure of Casa Tequila, the neighborhood’s best spot for burritos, enchiladas, and ice-cold margaritas.
The train itself runs from Fredericksburg in the South to Union Station in the heart of DC every weekday, providing a comfortable alternative to the often-unbearable traffic on I-95 and the Beltway. Monthly passes are available at a discount for regular users, and can also be used on selected Amtrak trains during the VRE off-hours, so you’ll never be stranded without a train home. Speaking of Amtrak, their station is about a mile south of here, providing access to Richmond, the Hampton Roads Metropolitan Area, and points farther south.
Gunston Plaza, located to your right, is the primary shopping center on the eastern side of Lorton. This unpretentious strip mall covers the basics. Need groceries? You’ll find the neighborhood Food Lion here. Looking to get a workout in? Gold’s Gym operates a large facility in Gunston Plaza.
With a Dollar Tree for quick stops and snacks, an urgent care clinic, and a post office, residents come to Gunston plaza to take care of errands. But it’s not all business! A couple of restaurants make their home here, with Korean, Chinese, and Mexican offerings available. There’s both a Papa John’s and a Dominos, which deliver across Lorton.
Just past the main shopping center, you’ll find the Gunston Animal Hospital, an important fixture for pet lovers that live in the area.
Now that we’ve seen some of the less-than-glamorous but essential parts of the community – the train station and the grocery store – let’s talk about some of the more exciting perks of living in Lorton. Keep heading down route 1 and I’ll tell you all about the recreational facilities that take up the eastern part of town.
While we’re driving to our next point of interest, let me tell you a bit about Mason Neck, the Potomac River peninsula just east of Lorton that’s home to recreation, nature areas, and history!
Keep an eye out for Gunston Cove Road - you’ll be turning right when you see the exit.
The northern edge of the peninsula is taken up by Pohick Bay Regional Park. Over 1,000 acres of woodland and riverside marsh make up the park, which is a Northern Virginia destination for a ton of activities and events. Pohick Bay has an 18-hole public golf course with rolling elevation gains and well-maintained greens. The “clubhouse” is a rentable event area for tournaments, corporate outings, weddings, and other occasions.
Pohick Bay doesn’t just have classic golf - they have courses for miniature golf and disc golf on-site as well, so players of all ages, abilities, and interests can take a shot at keeping under par.
The park is also a popular spot for kayaking and canoeing, with onsite rentals that let you get out on the water and enjoy a day in the sun with ease. There are miles of hiking trails and plenty of family campgrounds for the outdoorsy type, and a massive group campground, Camp Wilson, where regional Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and other youth groups hold conferences and jamborees.
Toward the end of the Park, you’ll find Gunston Hall, home of Mason Neck’s namesake. If you remember your US History, you’ll know that George Mason was one of only three founding fathers who refused to sign the Constitution until amendments were added that protected the rights of citizens. The resulting Bill of Rights was based heavily on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, granting Americans the right to free speech, fair trials, and protection from unlawful searches and cruel and unusual punishments, among many others.
Gunston Hall was built in the 1750s, is a well-preserved look at Georgian-period colonial architecture, and is a well-loved attraction for lovers of history in the area.
Lastly, the end of Mason Neck is split between Mason Neck State Park and the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge, both great places for hiking and birdwatching. The Wildlife refuge played a significant part in the rehabilitation of the area’s bald eagle population. With only 44 nesting pairs of eagles in the DC area in the mid-1970s, dedicated natural areas like this one were vital habitats for their recovery. These days, Thousands of pairs of eagles live along the Potomac River and can now be found in strong numbers as far south as Florida.
These large parks are a great way to connect with the outdoors. The Mason Neck area is also home to Lorton South Park, with public athletic fields, and the Meadowood Recreation area, filled with hiking and mountain biking trails.
By now you’ve made your way along Gunston Cove road and gotten a glimpse of the residential neighborhoods, the clusters of single-family homes, townhomes, and new developments that make up the bulk of Lorton housing.
Now our trip takes us past another neighborhood shopping hub, the Lorton Marketplace. In addition to groceries, this is where you’ll find the local ABC Liquor store.
Glory Days Grill sits prominently on the corner of the complex, offering the community a great place to watch a big game and unwind. This sports bar chain operates in six southeastern states and serves classic American bar food like burgers and wings, as well as their signature knockout shrimp.
You’ll also find locations for Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts here at the marketplace, plus Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
Make a left on Lorton Road when you come to the intersection. After passing under the highway, you’ll make a right onto Silverbrook, which will take you through more residential areas to the Laurel Hill neighborhood.
Laurel Hill is one of the most sought-out neighborhoods in Lorton for families. Most notable is the proximity to the local schools, with Laurel Hill Elementary, South County Middle, and South County High all within walking distance of most of the homes here. In fact, you’ll pass all three as you continue straight on Laurel Crest Drive.
Immediately On your left, you’ll see the Laurel Hill Community Center, where residents of the associated development can enjoy recreational amenities including a pool, tennis courts, and a small playground with swings.
A larger playground and basketball courts can be found next door, adjacent to the elementary school. Crossing back over Silverbrook Road, you’ll pass the high school on your right. The home of the Stallions, South County High was opened in 2005 with the redevelopment of Lorton as a primarily residential area.
Speaking of the redevelopment, the Spring Hill neighborhood on your left and the large apartment complex behind it used to be a prison – in fact, this whole area once belonged to the Lorton Reformatory, which spanned over 3,500 acres at its peak size until it was closed in the late 90s.
We’ll talk about the prison’s history a little later on, but I just wanted to mention that the new apartments, occupying long brick buildings that still have bars on the windows from their hundred-year stint housing inmates, are actually really nice! Stepping inside, you’ll see modern appliances and light fixtures that make the former workhouse feel like a work-home.
The gate on your left is the entrance to the Laurel Hill Golf Club, a public course owned and operated by the county. The course spans 280 acres and is known as one of the best municipality-owned courses in the mid-Atlantic region. With two “monster” 500-yard holes, this par 71 course is a great way to perfect your driving skills.
The clubhouse that serves the course is a great spot to rent out for events, such as weddings, retirement parties, and even corporate golf tournaments. The banquet hall seats up to 144 guests, and a full-service kitchen is more than capable of handling any caterer’s needs.
The course, and the Laurel Hill community writ large, stand as a testament to the bold reconstruction efforts undertaken by Fairfax County that have created a vibrant place to raise a family out of a defunct correctional facility.
Continue on the road through the traffic circle and take a left on Hooes road when you get there. We’re heading to the Crosspointe neighborhood now, but I’d love to tell you a little more about the reformatory and the neat history that led to its redevelopment.
The Occoquan Workhouse was the name of the initial facility that served as the foundation for the reformatory; it opened in 1910. We’ll talk about the workhouse later. Over the years the reformatory expanded, building additional sites aimed at teaching prisoners trades and setting them up for employment after their release. Inmates operated their own railroad, dairy farm, and industrial factories, and learned the necessary plumbing and electrical skills to maintain their living quarters.
Eventually, however, the hundred-year-old prison became too outdated and overcrowded to effectively serve its purpose, and the federal government sold the land back to the county on the condition that they furnish a comprehensive plan for the land’s redevelopment.
The GPS navigation will now route you through the Crosspointe neighborhood. I’ll let you enjoy the drive, and I’ll pick back up as you pass Halley Elementary School.
Crosspointe is the name of this neighborhood that makes up the northwestern boundary of Lorton.
You’ve been driving through it for a while now, so you already have a good feel for the kinds of homes you can find on this side of town. The brick homes and spacious lots give the area an upscale feel, and they’re perfect for families. Crosspointe is a planned community, and its central community center has a pool and racquet club for its residents to enjoy. They’ve also gone out of their way to build homes in a variety of styles, to avoid the cookie-cutter look that characterizes many exurban and suburban developments.
Take a left at Cross Chase Court, and another left shortly after on Ox Road.
Ox Road will take you back into the main body of Lorton. Along the way, keep an eye on the left side of the road to spot the Shoppes of Lorton Valley. The most convenient grocery store for Crosspointe residents is the Giant which can be found there.
Fitness enthusiasts will love the access to Club Pilates and Pure Barre, two popular exercise franchises with locations in this shopping center. You’ll also find a Starbucks for your daily pick-me-up and a Five Guys, northern Virginia’s home-grown burger chain.
Make sure to take a left on Lorton road up ahead!
This looping parking lot is the primary access point to Laurel Hill Park, which spans a massive 1,200 acres of former reformatory land, including the golf course we saw earlier. Keep heading along the loop and back the way we came as I tell you about the myriad opportunities for fun the park provides.
Foremost, the area just north of here is home to the Giles Run disc golf course, a challenging 18-hole adventure with lots of elevation change. Each hole has two sets of tees and two separate baskets to aim for, allowing you to play again and again with four configurations on each fairway.
Mountain bikers love this part of town – Laurel Hill Park has over 154 miles of trails for off-road biking, through wooded paths, and across open fields. The hills in this area can really help you pick up some speed. One of the most challenging, but most rewarding trails is the apple orchard loop, which winds its way over and around the rolling hills that once made up the reformatory’s orchard. You can also see the site of the old dairy farm on one of the longer trails across Lorton Road.
Remember when I told you that the prison operated its own railway? The brick bridge that you crossed on the way into the parking lot, and will cross again on the way out, spans the old railway spur that connected the Lorton and Occoquan Line from the workhouse to the main tracks, where Amtrak and VRE still operate today. This “Barrel Bridge”, named for its round, barrel-like arch, now spans the Cross Country Trail, a mostly flat multi-use trail that follows the old rail line.
Heading back across the bridge, you’ll make a left on Workhouse and cross over Lorton Road. Across the street from where you turn, you’ll notice a large white house with a screened-in porch. That’s the historic Barrett house, which was built in 1901 by local lumber magnate William Wimsatt.
This house was originally built in the simple foursquare style – a square house with four rooms on each floor and a central hall. When the federal government bought this land in 1910, they purchased the house as well. Over the years many changes and additions were made to the home. It takes its current name from Eugene Barrett, who served as the agricultural overseer for the reformatory and lived in the house during the 1960s.
Okay, two stops left! Crossing Lorton road will take us to the original workhouse site, which has been repurposed in a very exciting way.
Welcome to the Workhouse Arts Center! This vibrant new institution at the original reformatory site is an excellent example of the redevelopment technique called “adaptive reuse”, where defunct structures are given new life and new purpose.
The old housing has been redesigned into studio space that features the work of over 80 permanent installations by visual artists, including painting, sculpture, glasswork, and more. But the Workhouse is more than a standard gallery – it’s a cultural hub for all of Northern Virginia. In addition to visual art, you’ll find hundreds of performances every year from musicians from all over the world.
Workhouse operates its own theater company, which performs a full season of plays and musicals here each year. They also host dance and performance art shows. And I haven’t even mentioned the best part – the classes!
Whatever artistic interests you have – working with clay, painting, even performing – Workhouse Arts Center offers courses and classes that will help you turn your curiosity into a passion. Children, teens, and yes, even adults, can participate in courses aimed at their age group. There are also lectures, expositions, and courses by guest artists throughout the year, so keep an eye on their online calendar!
One more bit of history before we move on. Workhouse Arts Center is also the permanent home of the Lucy Burns Museum, which celebrates the Women’s suffrage movement of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Lucy Burns, the most-arrested suffrage activist of all time, was hauled off to the workhouse after picketing Woodrow Wilson’s White House in 1917. Famed suffragist Alice Paul began a months-long hunger strike, joined by Burns and 30 other women. Their mistreatment by Workhouse guards came to a head on November 14th of that year, which became known as the “Night of Terror”. Word of the prisoner abuse made the national news, and all the imprisoned suffragists were released within the following weeks.
To learn more about the brave struggle of the women who would change American voting rights forever, be sure to swing back here and check out the museum, which is open on weekends until 5 pm.
Okay! Turn around when you get a chance and follow the GPS navigation to Occoquan Regional Park.
For the last stop on our tour, I thought I’d leave you with a gorgeous view of the Occoquan River, the main waterway for boat lovers in Lorton, Woodbridge, and much of southern Fairfax County. Along with Fountainhead Regional Park, located just upriver, Occoquan Regional Park is part of a network of undeveloped parkland that covers thousands of acres along the river and its tributary, Bull Run. With hundreds of miles of hiking, biking, and riding trails, as well as multiple boat ramps and marinas for kayaking and canoeing, having the Occoquan at your doorstep is a major perk of living in Lorton.
This park, however, stands in contrast to the untouched wilderness upstream. It’s loaded with recreational amenities that you and your family will love. Volleyball courts, picnic gazebos, baseball fields, trails – this place really has it all. You probably noticed the weird beehive-shaped building next to the large chimney on your way in. That’s the reformatory’s old brick kiln. Brickmakers Cafe located in the large wooden structure is named for the inmates who worked on this site and is a great place to grab a coffee or a cold drink after playing in the sun.
Speaking of the large wooden building, that’s the River View – a huge rentable event venue that can accommodate up to 400 guests. The back face of the building is entirely glass, offering stunning views of the river – hence the name! There are also two separately rentable outdoor spaces, and the smaller “1608 Room”, a foyer where guests can learn about the environment and pre-colonial history of the area.
Well, folks, this is where I’ll leave you for now! I hope you’ve gotten to know Lorton a little better, and enjoyed your time doing it! Remember, if you’re considering Lorton or its surrounding communities for your next home, contact our local expert Realtor, Patricia Dinkens. Primarily serving Alexandria and southern Fairfax County, Patricia knows all the ins and outs of the area’s housing market. You can reach her at (703) 623-3476 or email Reeltor4u@yahoo.com. Thanks again, and have a wonderful day!