This week, I thought I’d highlight another of Northern Virginia’s “bedroom communities,” Burke.
Burke is a census-designated place (CDP) in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States. As of the 2000 census, Burke had a total population of 57,737. As of the 2010 census, it had shrunken to 41,055, mainly because much of it was broken off to form Burke Centre CDP.
The area of Fairfax County known as Burke is named for Silas Burke (1796–1854), a 19th century farmer, merchant, and local politician who built a house on a hill overlooking the valley of Pohick Creek in approximately 1824. The house is still standing. When the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was constructed in the late 1840s, the railroad station at the base of that hill was named Burke’s Station after Burke, who owned the land in the area and donated a right-of-way to the railroad company. The community that grew up around the railroad station acquired a post office branch in 1852. Currently, railroad tracks on the same historical line are owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway and form part of the Manassas line of the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail system, of which two stations lie in the Burke area.
In 1903, the name of the post office was changed from Burke’s Station to “Burke” by Henry C. Copperthite who bought the Burke House and 241 acres to build a racetrack for trotting and pacing horses. Henry was the largest nongovernmental employer in Washington, DC, and he was the “King of Pie”. In 1914 his factory in Georgetown was turning out 50,000 pies a day. He built four hotels, stables, and expanded the general store in Burke. Burke soon became a social hub and it became a summer getaway from the city’s heat for people from all walks of life who came to the Copperthite track and to Burke to attend fairs and to see horse races, foot races, motorcycle races, exhibition boxing and baseball games. There were special trains that ran from Union Station in DC, Alexandria, Prince William and Loudoun County and as far away as Richmond. Henry installed the first phones in Burke and his stables housed the horses of President McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt. Produce from his farm was transported to Georgetown where it became part of his famous Connecticut Pies.
The area remained predominantly rural well into the mid-20th century. After World War I, some employees of the Federal Government began moving into the area, and commuted to Washington, D.C. by train. The first large subdivision in the vicinity, Kings Park, was constructed beginning in 1960, and was followed by many others over the next two decades, converting Burke into a densely-populated suburban community.
In 1951, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration announced plans to condemn 4,520 acres of land in Burke to construct a second airport to serve the Washington metropolitan area. After a lengthy lobbying campaign by area residents, the government in 1958 selected a site near Chantilly, Virginia, which is now Washington Dulles International Airport, instead of Burke.