Fort Belvoir's history is interwoven with the founding of Fairfax County, the settling of Virginia and the birth of our nation. The 8,656-acre tract along the Potomac River that is now Fort Belvoir was once part of a grant from a 17th century English king. Control of the land, known as the Northern Neck, was handed down through the Culpeper family to Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, who, in 1734, persuaded his cousin, Col. William Fairfax, to come to Virginia and oversee the family's holdings. In 1741, Col. Fairfax built his home on 2,000 acres of what is now much of the South Post peninsula. The mansion sat on a high bluff overlooking the Potomac. Col. Fairfax named the estate Belvoir, which is French for "beautiful to see". Col. Fairfax's eldest son, George William, befriended young George Washington, who at age 16, came to live with his elder half-brother Lawrence at nearby Mount Vernon. The Fairfax family made Belvoir a center of culture and aristocratic elegance in the Virginia wilderness, and the family frequently entertained members of colonial Virginia society. Washington was a frequent guest at Belvoir. Col. Fairfax died in 1757, and he and his second wife, Deborah, are buried on the estate grounds. George William Fairfax and his wife, Sally, returned to England in 1773, and the Fairfax family rented out the land and home until 1783, when it was mostly destroyed by fire. The mansion was further damaged by British cannons when U.S. military forces on the peninsula engaged British ships leaving Alexandria after the burning of Washington on their way to Fort McHenry in September 1814. The Philip Otterback family purchased the Belvoir peninsula in the early 1840s and made it one of the largest fisheries on the Potomac River. The District of Columbia purchased 1,500 acres from the Otterback family in 1910 for a proposed prison. Local citizens objected to the plan, and the land was transferred to the War Department in 1912. In 1915, engineer troops from Washington Barracks, now Fort McNair, established "Camp Belvoir" as a rifle range and training camp. The name was changed to Camp A.A. Humphreys Dec. 23, 1917, when the Corps of Engineers began construction of a major camp during an unusually bitter winter to train engineer replacements for World War I. The post was renamed Fort Humphreys in 1922 to indicate its permanent status. In recognition of its colonial-era significance, it was redesignated Fort Belvoir in 1935. From its establishment until 1989, Fort Belvoir was home to the Army's Engineer School, training more than 700,000 officers and enlisted soldiers for service in all major wars and peacekeeping forces worldwide. In 1988, the post was transferred from the U. S. Army Training and Doctrine Command to the Military District of Washington. In 1989, the last Engineer School class graduated from Belvoir and the school completed its move to its new home at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Today, Fort Belvoir is home to more than 140 organizations, many with worldwide missions.
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