Burke is a census-designated place (CDP) in Fairfax County, Virginia, United States. As of the 2000 census, Burke had a total population of 57,737. Before 2010, the CDP was divided, with a portion of it becoming Burke Centre CDP; the population remaining in the Burke CDP was reported at 41,055 in the 2010 census.
The area of Fairfax County known as Burke is named for Silas Burke (1796–1854), a 19th-century farmer, merchant, and local politician who built a house on a hill overlooking the valley of Pohick Creek in approximately 1824. The house is still standing. When the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was constructed in the late 1840s, the railroad station at the base of that hill was named “Burke’s Station” after Burke, who owned the land in the area and donated a right-of-way to the railroad company. The community that grew up around the railroad station acquired a post office branch in 1852. Currently, railroad tracks on the same historical line are owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway and form part of the Manassas line of the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail system, of which two stations lie in the Burke area.
During the Civil War, the railway station was garrisoned by Union troops. On December 28, 1862, Confederate cavalry under General J.E.B. Stuart raided the station. Stuart seized supplies from the area, destroyed a nearby bridge, monitored Union messages passing over the telegraph lines, and then famously sent a telegram to Union Quartermaster General Montgomery C. Meigs complaining of the poor quality of the mules he had captured.
In 1903, the name of the post office was changed from Burke’s Station to “Burke” by Henry C. Copperthite, who bought the Burke House and 241 acres (98 ha) to build a racetrack for trotting and pacing horses. Copperthite was the largest non-governmental employer in Washington, D.C., and he was the “King of Pie”. In 1914 his factory in Georgetown was turning out 50,000 pies a day. He built four hotels, stables, and expanded the general store in Burke. Burke soon became a summer getaway from the city’s heat for people from all walks of life who came to the Copperthite track and to Burke to attend fairs, see horse races, foot races, motorcycle races, exhibition boxing and baseball games. There were special trains that ran from Union Station in D.C., Alexandria, Prince William and Loudoun counties and as far away as Richmond. Copperthite installed the first phones in Burke, and his stables housed the horses of President McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt.
The area remained predominantly rural well into the mid-20th century. After World War I, some employees of the federal government began moving into the area, and commuted to Washington by train.
In 1951, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration announced plans to condemn 4,520 acres (1,830 ha) of land in Burke to construct a second airport to serve the Washington metropolitan area. After a lengthy lobbying campaign by area residents, the government in 1958 selected a site near Chantilly, Virginia, which is now Washington Dulles International Airport, instead of Burke. This parcel of land was later developed into what is now referred to as Burke Centre.
The first large subdivision in the vicinity, Kings Park, was constructed beginning in 1960, and was followed by many others over the next two decades, converting Burke into a densely populated suburban community.
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