Fairfax, colloquially Central Fairfax, Downtown Fairfax, Fairfax City, or the City of Fairfax, is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The city of Fairfax is an enclave within the separate political entity Fairfax County. The city is 17 miles (27 km) west of Washington, D.C. The Washington Metro’s Orange Line serves Fairfax through its Vienna station, which is a mile northwest of the city limits. CUE Bus and Metrobus operate in Fairfax. Virginia Railway Express’ Burke Centre station is situated three miles southeast of the city’s boundaries. Virginia’s largest public educational institution with 33,917 students in 2013 is George Mason University, which is located in unincorporated Fairfax County, along the city’s southern border.
The city derives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who was awarded 5,000,000 acres of land in northern Virginia by King Charles. The area that the city now encompasses was settled in the early 18th century by farmers from Virginia’s Tidewater region. The town of “Providence” was established on the site by an act of the state legislature in 1805. The scene of the first land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fairfax Court House took place here on June 1, 1861, after a Union scouting party clashed with the local militia with neither side gaining the advantage. A second battle took place here two years later on June 27, 1863, where Union troops were defeated. This battle delayed the movements of Confederate cavalry chief Jeb Stuart with disastrous consequences for Lee at Gettysburg a few days later.
Fairfax was officially renamed the “Town of Fairfax” in 1859. It was incorporated as a town 1874. It was incorporated as a city in 1961 by court order. Under Virginia law, the city was separated from Fairfax County yet remains the county seat. In 1904 a trolley line connected Fairfax with Washington, D.C. Notable events in Fairfax include the Chocolate Lovers Festival, Civil War Dat, Spotlight on the Arts, National Trails Day, Irish Festival, Fall for the Book Festival, Holiday Craft Show and the Festival of Lights & Carols.