The Discover Small Town America Tour recently happened upon the historic town of Occoquan, VA (pop. 934). Occoquan is located about a half hour south of the Nation’s Capitol in Prince William County. Settled in the mid 1700s, this picturesque and historic town sits on the banks of the beautiful Occoquan River.
Many structures in town are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including Rockledge (the former house of the town’s founder), which sits high on a hill overlooking Mill Street. Mill Street is the main road through town and is where you’ll find The Merchant’s Mill, which was the first automated gristmill in the nation. It operated for 175 years and is now home to the Mill House Museum. If you visit, be sure to stop in and meet Dolores Elder, the museum’s Director and Curator. She’ll give you an enthusiastic and very informative presentation about Occoquan – its past and present.
No longer a mill town, many local residents have worked to turn Occoquan into a bustling artists community. Mill Street is lined with eclectic shops and galleries including the Artists Undertaking Gallery, a co-op with amazing original works created by local artists. After a big day exploring the town, meeting some of the great people who live here, and working up an appetite, you’ll find lots of restaurants, taverns and ice cream shops (yes, Rorie honed in on one right away) to satisfy your food and drink cravings.
While Rorie was meandering in and out of shops and indulging in an early afternoon snack to hold her until her late afternoon snack, Bart had a little run-in with local Police Chief Sheldon Levi, who had an extremely arresting personality.
Actually Chief Levi was very friendly and shared some interesting information about the town. He even escorted Bart to the historic town hall. Although Occoquan’s Mayor Earnie Porta wasn’t at the town hall during Bart’s visit, he learned the Mayor is a big advocate for his small town and has worked hard to preserve its natural resources and beauty. It looks like he’s doing a terrific job.
The next time you find yourself cruising south (or north) on I-95, or maybe heading to Lorton, VA to hitch a ride on the Autotrain, take a little side trip and jump off the highway at Exit 160 to experience the wonderful people and places of Occoquan. It’s definitely the pause that refreshes.