NOTE: The descriptions of the places in this guide were accurate at the time the articles were posted. Please be advised that you should call ahead before traveling to any of them.

Occoquan - What's in a name?

By: Michelle Harper

Occoquan downtown"Welcome to Historic Occoquan Circa 1734." The very sound of the name Occoquan implies some mysterious ancient meaning. However, to the Dogue Indians Occoquan simply means "at the head of the water". Much like its unusual sounding name, Occoquan enjoys rich and unusual history. Primarily due to its geographical location, it has been a focal point for more than just shoppers seeking unique treasures. The town attracted a diverse mix of people seeking everything from entertainment to salvation. In sharp contrast to the traveling shows and circuses along the river's edge to accommodate excursion boats filled with people seeking entertainment, the first black church in the area was founded in 1883, to preach to the "wicked little town Of Occoquan". The church is still in active use to this day.

Occoquan downtownThe river giveth and the river taketh away: The Occoquan River has always been the focal point of life for the town. Its inhabitants have had to learn to coexist with the fickle waters that provided their livelihood. The beautiful river drew inhabitants ranging from eccentric artists to practical minded businessmen. Originally, the town consisted of the usual type of businesses you would expect to find along a waterfront - various mills, an electrical power plant and even an icehouse. Occoquan's early artistic influence can still be felt today in some of the more unique boutiques throughout the town. However, it wasn't all fun and games for the little water front town. In addition to a major fire in 1916 that destroyed much of the town, in 1972 the river reminded the townspeople who was in charge as Hurricane Agnes flooded the town. For a second time, many of Occoquan's buildings were destroyed.

Determined Inhabitants: Occoquan is a monument to the durable human durable spirit of both the living and non-living variety. The determination of its residents is demonstrated by the remarkable rebuilding of the town after the devastating hurricane to become the Occoquan that is enjoyed by thousands of tourists today. This strong will of spirit seems to persist in Occoquan's non-living residents as well. The town boasts of several famous ex-inhabitants ranging from a flower leaving ghost named Charlotte, a peace loving ghost who is famous for tearing down noisy chimes, to a mischievous ghost who likes to change the thermostat and unscrew light bulbs.

A visit to present day Occoquan: Start with a visit to friendly visitor's center to get a map and plan your day. Though the town appears to be small, the choices are plentiful and you'll want to be sure not to miss anything. Most shops are within walking distance of the public parking lot located under the bridge. In Occoquan you will be able to find almost anything you might be interested in and probably a lot of things you never knew in which you had an interest. Anything from dulcimers to tarot cards can be purchased. The town offers a unique combination of the outrageous, such as a saloon girl costume complete with fake cigarette in a holder, to the extremely artsy, such as one-of-a-kind fountains or handcrafted jewelry. During your visit you can do anything from being custom-fitted for an authentic period costume to taking a relaxing break at an old fashioned ice cream and soda shop.

Concert in the CourtyardThings to do while you are there: The activities at Occoquan are as vast as rich as its history. If the river has your attention, activities can include a harbor cruise, a relaxing day of fishing or just picnicking and watching the ducks off of the community peer. To get a good historical sense of the town, you will definitely want to visit the Mill House Museum. It is open daily from 11-4, year round and admission is free. If its lovely sounds you are after, there are often free concerts in town. We were lucky enough to catch one of the "Concert in the Courtyard" series where we heard Alte Kameraden, an authentic German band. Occoquan also hosts an Annual Spring and Fall Craft Show which features over 350 juried artists and crafters. Occoquan Merchants Association conducts Walking History and Ghost Tours year round. For event information and reservations 703-491-1736.

Directions: I-95 to Exit 160. Follow signs to Historic Occoquan or Rt 123 S turn right immediately after crossing the Occoquan River into Historic Occoquan.

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