The Office of Clerk of Court dates back to the Colonial period. Until 1852, the Clerk of Court was appointed by the Governor of Virginia based on recommendations from county citizens. After 1852, the office became an elected position. Historically, justices (judges) were not required to have any legal training, so the Clerk of Court was and still is required to have intimate knowledge of federal and Virginia law in order to ensure the legality of court decisions and operations.
During the colonial period, public officials, such as court clerks, made their living by collecting fees for services rendered. During the 18th century, clerks began receiving a salary in addition to these fees. Services provided by the Clerk of Court included recording documents, issuing court orders, taking depositions, making inventories, processing estates, and keeping records of births, deaths and marriages. Today’s circuit court clerks’ duties are similar, such as recording deeds, wills and marriage licenses, keeping court records and ensuring court case procedures follow legal guidelines.
When the Fairfax County Courthouse moved to Providence (now the City of Fairfax) in 1799, the Clerk of Court operated out of a two-story brick office building separate from the one-room courthouse. A plat created in 1800 shows the location of the office – it stood directly across from the intersection of today’s Sager Avenue and Chain Bridge Road. In 1853, a larger building was commissioned; this was used until it burned down in 1875. A new, two-story stone building was constructed by 1881 and was further modernized in 1902 with the addition of electricity and the telephone.
In 1928, a large addition was made to the 1799 Historic Courthouse. The clerk’s office moved into this addition soon after. The original two-story brick clerk’s office was demolished in 1930. The 1881 clerk’s office was used for record storage until the 1954 addition was made, at which point it, too, was demolished. With the completion of the Judicial Center in the early 1980s, the Circuit Court Clerk’s office moved entirely out of the Historic Courthouse annex.
With the completion of the Fairfax Circuit Court Historic Records Center in 2013, records from 1742 to the 1940s have now returned to the Historic Fairfax Courthouse.