To fully appreciate Herndon's unique charm, it's helpful to look back to its origins. In 1688, King Charles II of England granted five million acres, known as the Northern Neck, to Thomas Culpeper, second Baron Culpeper of Thoresway. A small portion of this immense grant became the land on which Herndon is located.
The first sign of settlement in Herndon was the construction in the early 19th century of a mill in a hollow along a stream near today's intersection of Elden and Locust Streets.
The coming of the railroad in the 1850s spurred Herndon's development. The village needed a name in order to establish a post office at the new railroad depot, built in 1857. Residents met and, according to legend, a survivor of the wreck of the S.S. Central America was present and recounted the heroism of the ship's commander, William Lewis Herndon, who had gone down with the ship. The impressed group decided that the new village would be named for Commander Herndon.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, the Union Army seized the railroad and secured it for their use as far as Vienna. Most of the remaining tracks and bridges were destroyed or damaged, but Herndon was spared. The only known Civil War activity in Herndon was a raid conducted on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1863, by legendary Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby against a contingent of the First Vermont Cavalry posted at the Herndon Depot.
When the Town of Herndon was incorporated in 1879, it encompassed 4.25 square miles. The railroad defined the Town, with dairy farms located around Herndon shipping their milk daily to Washington for processing and distribution. The railroad also transported city dwellers looking for respite in the countryside, with several spacious summer houses appearing in Herndon.
A devastating fire on March 22, 1917, destroyed much of Herndon's downtown, including 16 businesses and two homes. The downtown was quickly rebuilt with structures made of brick instead of wood.
With the advent of cars, trucks and better roads, the railroad became less of a necessity for Herndon farmers and residents. The last big job for the railway was hauling sand to be used in the concrete mix for the runways at Washington Dulles International Airport. The last train left the Herndon Depot in August 1968.
For more information, visit the Herndon Historical Society at herndonhistoricalsociety.org.