Great Falls Quick Facts
“A Hidden Gem” in Northern Virginia!
Great Falls is primarily a bedroom community for Washington, D.C. The main roads serving the community are Virginia State Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Virginia State Route 193 (Georgetown Pike). It is located fifteen miles west-northwest of D.C. and ten miles north of Fairfax.
As a suburb of Washington, D.C., Great Falls is a part of both the Washington Metropolitan Area and the larger Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. Based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates from 2020, there are over 16,000 residents in the town.
Over the years, there have been multiple accounts of the history of Great Falls, Virginia—each with its own unique perspective. Thanks to Great Falls Historical Society’s first president, Milburn P. Sanders, there is a written history of the early community.
Early farm settlements began to form in the area as early as the late 1700s. The village was known early on as Forestville but was renamed to Great Falls in 1955. The first land grant in Great Falls, dated Feb. 2, 1709, to Daniel McCarty, was 2,993 acres, then in Stafford County. Today that land lies in Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. Grants over the next 134 years added slowly to the Great Falls population, with a total of twenty-three grantees and the unknown number of family members, slaves, indentured servants, and tenants on their grants.
On Dec. 16, 1790, the town of Matildaville, in Great Falls Park, was chartered. The town was named for the wife of ‘Light-Horse’ Harry Lee, who invested in its future. It was laid out on forty acres of land, in half-acre lots. Matildaville was a support facility for the Potowmack Canal, composed of the Potomac River from Cumberland, Md., to Alexandria, with five skirting canals, one of them in Great Falls Park. In 1798, when Matildaville was retro-ceded from Loudoun to Fairfax County, it was said to be the most flourishing town in the county, containing such buildings as the Round Top House, used as a hotel, the Wyley House, and the Yellow House. The locations of these houses are unknown. A Matildaville Post Office opened in 1828 and closed in 1830. All the eighty lots were not sold. When the use of the canal ended in 1830, the town declined, and the Virginia Legislature disestablished it in 1839.
In the 1800s, a town and three villages, destined to become parts of the current Great Falls Community, were settled.
- Dranesville was chartered as a town, on thirty acres of land, in 1840. The town had: a post office from 1822 to 1907; a church, five taverns, two doctors, three blacksmiths and several stores. For a more complete history, see ‘Dunbarton,’ by Charles P. Poland.
- Colvin Run had a post office from 1878 to 1907. It had a doctor, the Colvin Run Mill, several blacksmith shops, and a school.
- Springvale was a village at Georgetown Pike and Springvale Road. It had a post office from 1844 to 1907. There were several stores, and, for two years, the Fairfax County School Board records show a school in Springvale.
- Forestville was a village at Georgetown Pike and Walker Road. Forestville had two churches, a grist mill and sawmill, a store, and a school. The name appeared on a local map in the 1800s; its source is not known. Forestville was served by the first Great Falls Post Office from 1878 to 1917. Our post office could not bear the village name since a Forestville Post Office existed in Shenandoah County.
On November 15, 1959, the second Great Falls Post Office opened in the Forestville School House, which is preserved on the Grange grounds. The new post office provided service to Dranesville, Colvin Run, Springvale, and Forestville, merging these mini communities into the Great Falls Community.
Living in Great Falls
Great Falls is a quiet wooded residential community with single-family homes varying styles and sizes—from Tudor mansions and Craftsman homes to expansive horse farms and luxurious estates. Known for its wealth of hiking and horse trails, as well as its sprawling parkland. Thousands of visitors flock to the community each year to visit Great Falls Park, Riverbend Park, and Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. The 800-acre Great Falls Park has been a popular outdoor attraction for many decades for boaters, fishers, hikers, cyclers, horseback riders, and picnickers. The park overlooks the Great Falls of the Potomac River, for which the community park is named. George Washington was involved with building the canal around the falls on the southwest (Virginia side), called the Patowmack Canal, which did not become commercially viable. Remnants of the canal and of a village around the canal named Matildaville are still visible in the park. The Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad extended along Old Dominion Drive to Great Falls Park in 1906.
River Bend County Park is another gathering area in Great Falls, along with the Village Green, which hosts community celebrations around Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, as well as concerts in the summer.
The community also features retail shops, local businesses, and restaurants throughout its twenty-five square miles. Residents enjoy a mix of both casual and upscale dining establishments, including the top-rated French restaurant L’Auberge Chez Francois. The Great Falls Village Centre is home to many shops, restaurants, health and fitness services, and financial institutions, as well as many other smaller shopping centers that populate the community.
Fairfax County Public Schools operates the local public schools. Students in Great Falls attend Great Falls Elementary School and Forestville Elementary School. These schools feed into James Fenimore Cooper Middle School, which then feeds into Langley High School.
For the 2022 school year there are two private schools that serve students in Great Falls. Mina’s School of Great Falls covers students pre-K through eighth grade and Siena Academy—a Catholic Montessori—is for students pre-K through sixth grade.
The Village Green Day School is open for daycare and preschool children.