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The Ratcliffe-Allison House on Main Street in Fairfax City is the oldest house in the City. The eastern portion (on the right in this photo) was built by Richard Ratcliffe in 1812 to specifications of the original lot sales in the Town of Providence (to become Fairfax in 1875), “at least 16-feet square with a brick or stone chimney.” Ratcliffe donated a lot for the construction of the Fairfax County Courthouse, which is situated less than 200 yards from his home.
The house was purchased in 1820 by Gordon and Robert Alison who expanded the building and added the second story. The close similarity of the two sections of the building lead one to assume they were constructed by the same mason. The brick structure’s design, both the original and as expanded, is of the simple vernacular style which was prevalent in Northern Virginia in the early nineteenth century.
The house has been converted to a historic house museum, and features objects and exhibits that illustrate the daily activities of the homes 12 owners. This enables the home to show visitors how the City of Fairfax changed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The home was donated to the City of Fairfax by its owners in 1973.
The building has been referred to as Earp’s Ordinary and it is by this name that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This reference comes from the original belief that the building was constructed for operation as an Ordinary by the Earp family who were early settlers in the area. This confusion over the early history of the building may wave resulted from the fact that a Caleb Earp operated a nearby store prior to the establishment of the town. Caleb Earp’s store was demolished in 1920, ironically about the same time as the real Ratcliffe-Alison House was also falling into serious disrepair. It seems that it was upon the destruction of Earp’s store that the Ratcliffe House seems to acquire the history of the other building. In 1923, the Ratcliffe House was to be demolished for the construction of a car garage. It was an article in a local newspaper that we presume was an attempt to save the structure that referred to it as “Earp’s Ordinary”, a place the George Washington was a frequent guest during his surveying visits to the area. There is probably as much truth in the comment about Washington as there is in the building being Earp’s Ordinary.