Write a Book Review for The Metropole!

Dear Metropolers,

What recent or forthcoming books would you be interested in reviewing for The Metropole? Reviews generally run 500 to 750 words, and they should be completed for posting during the spring or summer. Here are some examples of past reviews.

This spring we will be posting:

Llana Barber on City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion and the Rise of Human Caging in LA, 1771- 1965 by Kelly Lytle Hernandez

Alan Lesoff on Escaping The Dark, Gray City: Fear and Hope in Progressive Era Conservation by Benjamin Heber Johnson

Thai Jones on Greater Gotham: A History of NYC from 1898 to 1919 by Mike Wallace

John  W. Steinberg on The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine

Michael Glass on Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics by Kim Phillips-Fein

Sam Wetherwell on Practicing Utopia: An Intellectual History of the New Town Movement by Rosemary Wakeman

Walter Stern on Making The Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and Its Limits by Ansley T. Erickson

David Yee on A City on a Lake: Urban Political Ecology and the Growth of Mexico City by Matthew Vitz

Taoyu Yang on Shaping Modern Shanghai: Colonialism in China’s Global City by Isabella Jackson.

Sun-Young Park on Paris and The Cliche of History by Catherine Clark

E-mail the editors (by clicking on their names below) detailing your interest and when you would be able to complete the review.

Thanks for your time and consideration.

Jim Wunsch

Jacob Bruggeman

Book Review Editors

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Two Airports: A David vs. Goliath Story

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Ray Clark

Before June 7, 1987, when the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) took control of Ronald Reagan Washington Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operated these facilities. They were the only two major commercial airports built and operated by the federal government. Since the FAA also regulated the airlines, it took an indirect approach when it came to managing the usage of these airports by the airlines. The result was that for decades Dulles remained underutilized, while National remained overcrowded. While MWAA has increased the usage of Dulles, it has been unable to relieve air traffic congestion at National. The reason for this is simple; travelers will opt for the more convenient airport even if that airport is crowded.

National Airport. Exterior of National Airport on airport side from center, Theodore Horydczak, ca. 1920 -ca. 1950, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

In 1947, a Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) analysis group reported that Washington National Airport would exceed its capacity to handle both aircraft and passengers by 1955. The group recommended building a new airport to relieve this overcrowding since DCA’s location made expansion of the existing airfield impractical. Acting on this recommendation, Administrator D. W. Rentzel requested Congressional authorization to build a second commercial airport for the National Capital Region. Congress agreed to this request, passing the Airport Act of 1950. Almost from the start, the CAA understood that if the new airport were too far from the nation’s capital travelers would choose the convenience of a congested National over an uncrowded but remote airport. During the Congressional hearing over funding for the new airport, the CAA specifically rejected the notion that Baltimore’s newly constructed airport could function as the region’s second airport because it was too far away.[1]

Control tower at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Arlington, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 – 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The CAA initially chose Burke, Virginia as the location for the new airport, but community opposition forced it to look elsewhere. The CAA chose Burke because it had enough undeveloped land to build what in 1950 would be a modern, efficient airport; it was also only 30 minutes further from Capitol Hill than National. As work on the new airport stalled the 1947 forecasts for National Airport proved correct with both aircraft and passenger usage exceed the facility’s limits resulting in a congested terminal, insufficient passenger parking, a crowded airfield, and more aircraft arriving than the facility could safely accommodate. Eventually, Congress demanded the CAA do something about all this congestion but do it someplace other than Burke, the CAA selected a site near Chantilly, Virginia for the region’s second airport. In 1958 construction began on Washington Dulles International Airport. The Chantilly location had been among the handful of sites under consideration since 1948 but was deemed too far a commute. Between Dulles’ opening in November 1962 and its transfer to MWAA, the airport was under utilized while passenger and aircraft traffic at National continued to grow. Only since the mid-1990s has Dulles’ numbers equaled those of the older, much smaller airport.

The Air Transport Association first identified a public preference for a convenient airport over an uncongested one in a study conducted in 1953. This study showed that in New York and Los Angeles where there was a choice of airports, travelers preferred the one with the least amount of driving even if that airport was more congested or offered fewer flight options to their destination. Passengers demonstrated this same preference in the Washington Metropolitan Region preferring crowded over underutilized National over distant Dulles.[2]

Aerial view of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
Aerial view of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

National’s convenience stems from the fact it is one of the few airports in this country located adjacent to a city center. Travel time from Capitol Hill to this airport is about 30 minutes. It can take just over an hour for members of Congress to get to Dulles. Being closer makes National the preferred airport. In 2017, about the same number of passengers used National (11,506,310) as used Dulles (11,024,306). This parity is recent since usage at Dulles did not come close to National’s numbers until the early 1990s. The significant event that brought this about was the completion of the Dulles International Airport Access Highway (DIAAH) section between the Capital Beltway and Interstate Highway 66.[3]

Terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Alexandria, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Dulles’ designers understood from the start that the success of the airport depended on swift and easy access. During the original construction, sufficient right of way was acquired to allow the building of not just a four-lane limited access road to the airport but a double track rapid transit rail line and a four-lane local access highway as well. The access highway would not run all the way to the District of Columbia but connect with Interstate Highway 66 (I-66) near Falls Church, Virginia (with that road completing the connection into Washington). When Dulles open in November 1962, I-66 only extended as far east as Gainsville, Virginia. Unfortunately, before Virginia began construction on I-66 inside the Beltway local opposition to the road delayed the work until 1980. During this delay passenger growth at Dulles was sluggish while National Airport reached almost double its designed capacity.[4]

Once the completed DIAAH/I-66 access route opened in November 1983, Dulles saw an increase in its rate of growth. Easier access from the District was not the only factor contributing to this trend. During the ensuing twenty years, the Northern Virginia suburbs had grown out toward the airport along the access road corridor. As a result of this, a significant number of potential travelers now lived or worked closer to Dulles than National.

The planned rapid transit line to Dulles never began because the construction of any mass transit system in the Washington Metropolitan Region fell under the purview of the National Capital Transportation Agency (NCTA). This federal agency created by the National Capital Transportation Act of 1960 was responsible for all mass transportation planning in the region. Over the next several years, the FAA assisted the NCTA by providing passenger data at both Dulles and National Airports to assist it in the planning of what would become the Washington Metro. Several plans developed by the NCTA showed a rail line out to Dulles International, but the construction of this connection was always considered a future project, and not included any current budget. Finally, in 2004 the airport took matters into its own hands when MWAA announced it would fund construction of a Washington Metro line to the airport with the projected completion sometime in 2020.[5]

Aerial view of Dulles airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The FAA adopted several policies during the first decade of Dulles’s operation to encourage the airlines to move the majority of their operations from National to Dulles without actually ordering them to make such moves. This indirect approach was necessary because of the regulatory authority the agency exercised over the airlines. Baltimore and the State of Maryland were continually accusing the FAA of exerting undue influence over the airlines to use either National or Dulles over Baltimore’s Friendship Airport, now known as Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Friendship was constantly struggling to attract enough flights to stay out of the red financially. Beginning with Congressional hearings in 1950, Baltimore accused first the CAA and then its successor the FAA of taking air traffic that rightfully belonged to them.

Mobile lounges that locals call “people movers,” ferrying passengers to their planes from the terminal at Dulles International Airport, Chantilly, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The FAA’s first indirect policy was a ban on turbojet aircraft at National. Initially, this ban was easy to enforce since the first jetliners were too big to operate from National’s short runways. However, the next generation of smaller jets like the Boeing 737 and the Douglas DC-9 could operate from those shorter runways. With the nation’s midsized airports opened to jet aircraft by these models, there was no longer a reason for the airlines to retain their older and more expensive prop airliners. By 1965 the removal of these older aircraft from service forced the FAA to choose between closing National or allowing jets to use the facility. The popularity of convenient National over distant Dulles with members of Congress made closing National politically impossible, so jets were allowed to use the field.[6]

Dulles Airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Just before its opening, the FAA designated Dulles the region’s long-range airport and relegated National to short-haul flights. When the FAA lifted the jet ban at National, it sought to reinforce this designation by imposing a 600-mile perimeter on nonstop flights. However, at the urging of Congress, this perimeter was extended to 1,000 miles, where it remained until 1996. In that year Congress passed legislation that extended the perimeter to 1,250 miles and allowed for twelve round trip flights daily, one to each of twelve cities beyond the perimeter: Austin, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle.[7]

One further attempt by the FAA to influence airlines to move operations from National to Dulles was a limit on the number of take-offs or landings that could occur each hour at National. The agency imposed the first of these slot limitations in 1969. The airport was limited to 37 slots per hour. This policy worked, with passenger volume remaining static until the year 2000. During this time passenger volume at Dulles grew, eventually surpassing that at National. After 2000 the advances in air traffic control technology allowed the FAA to increase the number of slots per hour without adversely impacting congestion in the air around the airport, which was the official reason for the limitation. National is currently limited to 62 slots per hour. With more flights allowed, many airlines that had moved operations to Dulles during the boom following airline deregulation in 1980 have since moved back to National.

airport comparison

Despite its small size, National was the 24th busiest airport in the country in 2017 based on passenger boardings, while Dulles was 25th. With a land area of 861 acres, National falls well below the 5,698 acre average for a commercial airport in the United States. Dulles is 15 times larger with an area of 13,000 acres. The same restrictions on growth that existed in 1947 when the CAA determined a second airport was needed exist today, so the airport can not expand—yet passenger throughput continues to grow. This trend will only continue in the coming years. One reason is that National’s biggest fan, Congress, is not going anywhere. Another is that in 2018 Amazon announced the location of its new headquarters a 10-minute drive away from National in Crystal City, Virginia. This development represents tens of thousands of new customers for National Airport especially given the location of Amazon’s current headquarters. That facility is in Seattle, one of the twelve cities outside the 1,250-mile perimeter with direct flights.

For any number of reasons, Dulles should be the busier of the National Capital Region’s two airports. The one unknown in the future is the opening of the Washington Metro station at Dulles in 2020. Will that opening finally gives Dulles the advantage in the convenience struggle or will Amazon’s HQ2 offset any passenger gains from the rail line?

Featured image (at top): Panorama of Dulles Airport, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

MeRay W. Clark graduated from Lincoln High School, Portland, Oregon, in 1966. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Reed College in 1970. He was a commissioned officer in the United States Navy from 1970 to 1991 then worked as a project manager for PRC, Litton Industries, Northrop Grumman, and TASC from 1992 to 2013. He is currently retired. He received a Master of Arts Degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University in 1986, a Master of Arts in History from George Mason University in 2006, and a Ph. D. in history from George Mason in 2017. He is currently finishing a history of Washington Dulles International Airport.

[1] “Need of More Air Facilities Seen in D.C.,” Washington Post, August 3, 1947; John G. Norris, “More Airports for D.C. Area Recommended by CAA Chief,” Washington Post, October 21, 1947; Jean Reiff, “Fairfax Field for Airport’s Excess Traffic Given Study,” Washington Post, January 18, 1948.

[2] Emory S. Land, President, Air Transport Association to Dwight D. Eisenhower, July 8, 1953, Official File 105 Aeronautics and Aviation Box 422, White House Central Files, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library.

[3] “Commercial Service Airports (Rank Order) based on Calendar Year 2017 Enplanements,” https://www.faa.gov/airports/planning capacity/passenger_allcargo_stats/passenger/media/cy17-commercial-service-enplanements.pdf accessed 2/19/2019

[4] FAA Metropolitan Washington Airports, “Final Environmental Impact Statement: Dulles Access Highway Extension to I-66 and Outer Parallel Roadways from Route 7 to I-495,” November 14, 1980, p18, p51, Box 27/ Folder 2, Virginians for Dulles records, Collection #C0025, Special Collections and Archives, George Mason University Libraries.

[5] Zachary M Schrag, The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Creating the North American Landscape (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 41; C. Darwin Stolzenbach, Administrator, National Capital transportation Agency to Najeeb E, Halaby, Administrator, Federal Aviation Agency; June 11, 1962; June 1962; Records of the Office of the Administrator, Box 82; Headquarters Records of the Federal Aviation Administration, 1926-81; Records of the FAA, RG 237, NACP; “Silver Line: About”; http://silverlinemetro.com/sv-about/.

[6] Statement of Policy on the Use of Washington National Airport by Scheduled Turbo-Jet Transport Aircraft, November 13, 1959; November 1959; Records of the Office of the Administrator Box 2; Headquarters Records of the FAA, 1926-81; Records of the FAA, Record Group 237, NACP; Albon B. Harley, “Jet Tests Begin at National; Friendship Fears Traffic Loss: Halaby at Controls,” The Washington Post, July 16, 1961; “Legislator Wants D.C. Jet Service,” The Sun, January 13, 1965; “Lift Jet Ban, FAA Is Urged,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, January 13, 1965; Hob W. Anderson, “Long Denounces Jets at National: Friedel, Brewster, Crane Join Friendship Protest,” The Sun, January 12, 1966.

[7] “Airport Overview,” https://www.flyreagan.com/dca/airport-overview.

African American Life in Arlington, Virginia, during Segregation: A Geographer’s Point of View

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Nancy Perry

Arlington County, Virginia, home of the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, is a prosperous, racially and culturally diverse urban county located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. (the District). The county’s 26 square miles of land is bordered by the Potomac River on the eastern edge and by the state of Virginia. Census data show us that in 2010, 64 percent of the population was white, 10 percent was Asian, 16 percent was Hispanic, and nine percent was black.

Arlington County, Virginia’s black neighborhoods and enclaves. All the black enclaves were gone by 1950. Map by Nancy Perry, projection NAD 1983 UTM Zone 18N.

Arlington has been home to African Americans since the 1600s, when slaves labored on tobacco farms in the county [1]. Some black Arlingtonians are descendants of those slaves, living on land their ancestors purchased from their masters at the end of the Civil War [1; 2]. Others are descendants of contraband slaves who fled to the District during the war seeking safety. Still others descend from former slaves who migrated northward from Georgia and the Carolinas during Reconstruction, and some descend from sharecroppers who moved north during the Jim Crow period [3].

Arlington is on the margin between North and South. It is in a culturally ‘Southern’ state, yet it shares a border with Washington D.C., the capital of the Union during the Civil War. As a culturally Southern state, Virginia embraced Jim Crow. With the passage of the 1902 Virginia constitution, de facto segregation became de jure in all of Virginia. African Americans and whites could not attend the same schools. They could not sit together on steamboats, motorcars, or trains. They could not be quartered together in penitentiaries. They could not sit together in any public hall, theatre, motion picture, show, or place of public entertainment or assemblage. If African Americans and whites were to intermarry, they would be guilty of a felony and be confined in the penitentiary from one to five years. Perhaps most crucial, poll taxes and literacy tests prevented most black Virginians from voting [4].

In 1900 Arlington consisted mostly of farmland, with populated settlements scattered evenly throughout the county, including a few larger neighborhoods and many small enclaves. The settlements had no water or sewer systems. Wells were the source of water and outhouses or septic tanks took care of sanitation. Gas was used for illumination in the District, but kerosene lamps were still the rule in Arlington. Thirty-eight percent of the inhabitants were black. The African Americans lived in clusters, segregated from whites more by income than by race. As is suggested from their names, the three larger black neighborhoods (Halls Hill, Johnson’s Hill, and Green Valley) were built on hills with a view of the District [5].

Rural life would not last forever. By 1900 Arlington’s close proximity to the District made it attractive to government workers anxious to leave the congestion of the city for a home in the suburbs. In a few short years, bridges carrying roads and electric railroads connected the District with Arlington and outlying regions. On the heels of the new transportation infrastructure came developers putting up residential subdivisions. The county equipped those subdivisions with paved streets, water and sewer pipes, and electric and gas lines to serve the new residents. Residential segregation ensured that those new subdivisions were populated only by whites [6].

Amenities and improvements were much slower to appear in the black enclaves and neighborhoods. Until legislation during the Civil Rights Era required it, official Arlington County neglected the black neighborhoods, failing to pave streets or run water, gas, and sewer pipes in black neighborhoods. Unable to vote, black Arlingtonians had little influence over the disparity in their treatment. [7]

East Arlington street scene in 1910. The street is unpaved, with no gutters and no sidewalks. By 1941 when it was leveled to make way for the Pentagon, Arlington County still had not run paved streets, sidewalks, curbing, gutters, electric lines, water or sewer to the enclave of East Arlington. Reproduced with permission of the Virginia Room, Arlington Public Library.

The migration of whites to Arlington began with the slow buildup of the government during World War I. White federal workers began moving across the Potomac River, out of the District but still within an easy commute to work. That migration intensified during the New Deal and World War II, lightening the complexion of the once rural county [8].

Population, Arlington County, Virginia, 1900-1970. The population increased dramatically during the first seventy years of the twentieth century. By 1970 Arlington was a bustling suburb of almost 243,000 residents, 92 percent of them white. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.

The black enclaves frequently got in the way as developers built new homes for the in-migrants. Money was used to entice black families out of their enclaves (but not out of the neighborhoods) rather than violence being used to force them out in order to make room for new construction. African Americans had lived in Arlington as long as the original whites and much longer than in-migrating whites. Coming from an agricultural background, black Arlingtonians appreciated the efficacy of owning the land they lived on. Even farm laborers, servants, and railroad porters owned their own homes. In 1900, 59 percent of Arlington’s black families were homeowners and by 1920, that number rose to 64 percent. A high level of home ownership put the black community at an advantage when developers scooped up their land to build developments for the whites [9].

By the mid-20th century all the black enclaves were swallowed up by new white developments, their former residents clustered in the three black neighborhoods. East Arlington, the largest of the enclaves with 900 residents, was one of the last to disappear, leveled in 1942 to make way for the new Pentagon building [10]. After integration most African Americans did not choose to move into the white neighborhoods, but remained where they were. Their neighborhoods have since gradually become integrated as both whites and people of other races have moved in.

During segregation, black Arlingtonians were unwelcome in white-owned businesses other than grocery stores. They could not get a bank account, buy shoes or clothing from a department store, hire a white contractor to build their home, get a haircut from a white barber or hair dresser, or frequent a white diner or lunch counter. Some residents started their own small businesses providing their neighbors with the goods and services they could not buy from the white community; they became survivalist entrepreneurs, “persons who become self-employed in response to a desperate need to find an independent means of livelihood” [11].

Mamie Brown, a Green Valley beautician, opened Friendly Beauty School. She graduated more than 300 students who went on to own and operate beauty shops of their own. Photo courtesy of Aaronita Brown.

Few business owners had the resources to open a retail business. Instead, they opened tiny restaurants, convenience stores, and shops providing services. Eighty percent of the businesses were in the owner’s home, with the restaurants located in the family’s dining room and enterprises like beauty shops, repair shops, and convenience stores located in the basement or a spare bedroom. Particularly successful were the building contractors found in all the neighborhoods. During segregation, white contractors refused to build for black families lest it appear they were working for African Americans, so the black contractors had no lack of work. Some owners ran several businesses at one time, including the Green Valley family that juggled a taxi service, a restaurant, a beauty shop, and heating oil, coal, and ice distributorships. The few businesses that were not home-based included two funeral homes, a pharmacy, a gas station, and a TV repair shop [12].


This commerce made the neighborhoods cohesive and self-reliant. Because public transportation did not connect the neighborhoods until the early 1940s, a business’s customer base comprised only those families living nearby. No white customers ever came into the black neighborhoods to shop. All three of the neighborhoods, however, were connected to the District by public transportation. In 1950 the District had a much larger black population than Arlington. Of the 802,178 residents of the District, 280,803 (35%) were black. The black-owned businesses in the District welcomed Arlington’s 6500 African Americans. Because there were so many attractive shopping and entertainment options in the District, and because traveling from the neighborhoods to the District was easier than traveling between the neighborhoods, there was little incentive for African Americans to build an extensive business infrastructure of their own. Only those things that were not worth a bus trip to the District were obtained in one of the small businesses in the neighborhoods. Everything else was purchased in the District [13].

Mr. Walker’s shop, run out of the basement of his home. If you were African American and your shoes needed to be repaired you took them to Mr. Walker. His store was the only shoe repair shop in Arlington that served African Americans. © Lloyd Wolf/Arlington Photographic Documentary Project. Reproduced with permission.

Once Arlington integrated and African Americans were allowed to trade white-owned businesses, the small neighborhood businesses gradually disappeared. By 1970 only a few larger businesses such as the taxi services, the TV repair shop, and the funeral parlors clung to existence. The home-based economy disappeared [14].

The number of African Americans in Arlington who supported themselves by opening a business was dwarfed by the number working for a salary. The occupations they chose were a function of segregation and proximity to the federal government in the District. Using the original manuscript census data, it is possible to identify the occupations of individual black workers. In 1900 a total of 40 job types were listed. Most black men labored on a farm, in the several brickyards along the Potomac River, or as general laborers. Most black women performed domestic work for white families. By 1940, the last year for which manuscript census data is available, 127 job types were listed. The variety of jobs increased, the compensation and status did not. The 1940 census mentions the car washer but not the car dealer, the shoe shiner but not the shoe store owner, nurse’s aides but not nurses. Women continued to cook, clean, and rear children of white families [15].

Chinn Funeral Home. Black-owned mortuaries were guaranteed to have customers because African Americans were unwelcome in white-owned mortuaries. The Chinn Funeral Home opened in 1946. It is still in operation. © Lloyd Wolf/Arlington Photographic Documentary Project. Reproduced with permission.

The loss of labor jobs can be explained by the huge in-migration of white government workers to Arlington during 1900-1970. Farms were subdivided to make way for new housing developments, removing the demand for farm laborers. Land that supplied clay for Arlington’s many brickyards, and land occupied by those brickyards, was lost during construction of the Pentagon, built in 1941-1942. The last brickyard to go was West Bros Brickyard. When West Bros was torn down, 100 black men lost employment [16].

Correlation between the size of Arlington’s population and number of black occupational choices per census for the 1900-1940 censuses. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.

Career training was limited for young African Americans. Arlington’s segregated schools were inferior. The county spent very little on black schools, giving the students castoffs from the white schools. If a white school got new books, the old books were sent down to the black school. The only career training the black high school offered was typing classes, and the only students taking those classes were girls whose families could afford to buy them a typewriter. Many girls took advantage of those classes, carrying their heavy typewriters to school daily [17].

West Bros Brickyard. Reproduced with permission of the Virginia Room, Arlington Public Library.

Another schooling option for some of Arlington’s black children was District schools. While the District’s schools were segregated, the black schools were excellent. Funded by Congress, they were required to pay black teachers the same as white teachers, making them attractive to black teachers from all over the country. District schools were open to the children of all federal employees, including black employees from Arlington [18].

Arlington Civil Service employee. Photo courtesy of Florence Ross.

Whether they were educated in Arlington or the District, the students’ labors paid off when the Pentagon opened in 1942. Many residents of the black community took Civil Service jobs at the Pentagon. Clerical positions existed for anyone who could type and file. Former farm and brickyard laborers found work as custodians and messengers. Compared to labor and domestic work done for private individuals, Civil Service jobs paid a modest but reliable salary and offered the security of a pension. A large percent of black Arlingtonians worked for the Civil Service for at least a portion of their careers, ninety percent of them in custodial jobs and the rest performing clerical work [19].

Black employment in Arlington, 1900 – 1940. Data source: Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011.


The history of Arlington County is a function of the county’s unique geography. This geography was crucial to the story line of the black community during segregation. The ancestors of this community had lived in Arlington since the early 1600s, working as slaves on farms and plantations in Arlington. On obtaining their freedom, many of them bought land in the county, and farmed it for their own families. By 1900, more than half the black households owned their own land and homes.

The county is sandwiched between the District and the state of Virginia. Virginia’s southern roots, manifest in a plethora of Jim Crow laws, weighed heavily on Arlington’s black community. The places in Arlington where African Americans were unwelcome far outnumbered the places where they were welcome. Any other black community in Virginia had to either cobble together a collection of shops and services, travel long distances to get what they needed, or go without. Shopping was much more convenient for Arlington’s African Americans. Only the Potomac River stood between them and the shopping and entertainment options provided by the District’s large, successful black community.

The District is also home of the federal government. Proximity to the District and the government was a mixed blessing. For the black children of federal employees, the city offered schools that were far superior to the black schools in Arlington. Proximity to the capital gave easy access to Civil Service employment with the federal government, providing many black Arlingtonians a steady income and a pension. But the District was also the source of thousands of white federal workers who wanted to work there and live in nearby Arlington. Developers bought up farms and enclaves belonging to African Americans and replaced them with white-only developments. The black families who had lived there were pushed into three black neighborhoods. Fortunately, the neighborhoods had room to absorb them and black builders to build them new homes.

For the residents of the enclave of East Arlington, geographic proximity to the federal government meant loss and gain. They lost their entire community during World War II when the federal government needed land on which to build the new Pentagon building. The 900 residents of East Arlington lost their homes and some lost their employment. However, the Pentagon generated an abundance of Civil Service jobs that had not been available before.

Since the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, Arlington has become a much more integrated city. The three formerly all black neighborhoods are home to all races, although they are still at least fifty percent black. While most of the African Americans who lived through segregation have since passed on, those who have survived still live in their homes in the three neighborhoods, near family, friends, and their church. Because of its proximity to the District and the federal government, Arlington is an expensive place to live. The county assessment and real estate taxes have risen exponentially since the years of segregation. Eventually the three neighborhoods could become so expensive that the very families who were forced to live there during segregation will no longer be able to afford it. Thus ends this chapter in the history of the community.

NancyPerry.jpgNancy Perry currently teaches geography at Helena College, a branch of the University of Montana. She received her PhD in Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Her dissertation focused on the geographical aspects of segregation for the African American community in Arlington, VA.




  1. Rose, Cornelia B. Jr. Arlington County Virginia, A History. Baltimore, MD: Port City Press, Inc., 2009.
  2. Netherton, Nan and Ross Netherton. Arlington County in Virginia: A Pictorial History. Norfolk, VA: The Donning Company, 1987.
  3. Perry, Nancy, Spencer Crew, and Nigel M. Waters. “’We didn’t have any other place to live’: Residential Patterns in Segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Southeastern Geographer 53, no. 4 (2013): 403-427.
  4. Guild, June P. Black Laws of Virginia: A Summary of the Legislative Acts of Virginia Concerning Negroes from the Earliest Times to the Present. New York, NY: Negro Universities Press, 1969.
  5. Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community: Leveling East Arlington to make way for the Pentagon.” Urban Geography 37, no. 1 (2015): 141-161.
  6. Perry et al.  “’We didn’t have any other place to live’, 403-427.
  7. Rose, Arlington County Virginia, A History; Perry, “Eminent domain destroys a community”; Morris, James M. “A Chink in the Armor: The Black-Led Struggle for School Desegregation in Arlington, Virginia and the End of Massive Resistance.” Journal of Policy History 13, (2013): 329-36.
  8. Perry et al.  “’We didn’t have any other place to live’, 403-427.
  9. ancestry.com, accessed 1/29/2019, http://www.ancestry.com; Perry et al. “We didn’t have ny other place to live'”, 403-427.
  10. Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community: Leveling East Arlington to make way for the Pentagon.” Urban Geography 37, no. 1 (2015): 141-161.
  11. Perry, Nancy and Nigel M. Waters. “Southern suburb/northern city: Black entrepreneurship in segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Urban Geography 33, no. 5 (2012): 655-674; Boyd, Robert L. “Race, Labor Market Disadvantage, and Survivalist Entrepreneurship: Black Women in the Urban North during the Great Depression.” Sociological Forum, 15, (2000): 647-670.
  12. Perry, Nancy and Nigel M. Waters. “Southern suburb/northern city: Black entrepreneurship in segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Urban Geography 33, no. 5 (2012): 655-674.
  13. Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People: America’s Black Elite. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.; Ruble, Blair A. Washington U Street: A Biography. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010.; Perry and Waters, “Southern suburb/northern city”, 655-674.
  14. Perry and Waters, “Southern suburb/northern city”, 655-674
  15. ancestry.com, accessed 1/29/2019, http://www.ancestry.com.
  16. Perry, Nancy, Lucy E. Reybold, and Nigel M. Waters. “’Everybody Was Looking for a Good Government Job’ Occupational Choice during Segregation in Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 4 (2014): 719-741; Perry, Nancy. “Eminent domain destroys a community”.
  17. Perry et al. “Everybody was Looking for a Good Government Job”: 719-741.
  18. Green, Constance M. 1967, The Secret City: A History of Race Relations in the Nation’s Capital. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967; Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People: America’s Black Elite. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.
  19. Birmingham, Stephen. Certain People.





Western Loudoun and the Metropolitan Fringe

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Andrew Baker 

Each weekday afternoon Northern Virginia commuters leave their offices in the District and drive across the Roosevelt Bridge, up interstate 66, and onto Harry Byrd Highway (state route 7) west through Tysons Corner and into Loudoun County. After the first few turns they pass their commute traveling along well-worn lines—experiencing the metropolitan region as a succession of images from a car window. Succession suggests series; series suggests transitions from one place to another. As they journey daily from the city the mind assumes gradation even as it experiences a succession of plot by plot land uses and zoning decisions. This experience quietly answers questions few articulate.

When do the suburbs begin?

When you see the first car dealership in Tysons Corner.

When does the countryside begin?


When you see the first open fields without for-sale signs mentioning “development potential.”


Where does rural America begin?

When you see the first gas station advertising “clean bathrooms.”

This commuters’ catechism mediates between the urban planner’s categories and the messy particulars of the built environment as drivers experience it. These daily journeys from the city press concentric circles of metropolitan development deep into the mind. As a native and later historian of Loudoun County, Virginia, the experience of driving west on route 7 has likewise formed my understanding of this particular metropolitan landscape—Western Loudoun County—in ways that are often difficult to articulate.

Western Loudoun, like the Catskills and the San Fernando Valley, is both a part of the metropolis and a frequently prescribed antidote to it. It is economically dependent on metropolitan dollars even as its partisans use those dollars to defend it from metropolitan encroachment. Western Loudoun is an example of that wonderfully flexible category—the metropolitan fringe. Such a label is more concession than explanation. It identifies but does not define.

The best way to make sense of Western Loudoun is to join the commuter in experiencing images of place. Here, then, I offer a series of historical glimpses of its twentieth-century history. Each seed grew into a part of the complex ecology of this metropolitan fringe region—Washington’s backyard.


What is Western Loudoun County?

An anti-urban, metropolitan region defined by health, horses, hamlets, and homesteads.



As a traveler drives west from Washington into Loudoun they leave the tidewater, move through the piedmont (literally “foot of the mountains”), and enter the Blue Ridge within a space of sixty miles. Here a sleepy village lined with stone walls lies down a hair-pin turn just off route 7, right before crossing the Appalachian Trail.

From the 1880s to the 1920s, summer trains brought Washingtonians out of the heat and humidity of the lower Potomac River into Western Loudoun’s Blue Ridge foothills. With the extension of the Washington and Ohio Railroad line (later the Washington and Old Dominion) to Round Hill in May 1875, the travel time from the city dropped to only two hours. Families rented summer homes or took out rooms in newly opened boarding houses while husbands commuted to the city for the week’s business. By the 1890s Western Loudoun hamlets enjoyed a thriving summer tourist trade.

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Friends of Bluemont, http://www.bluemontva.org/galleryridge1.html (accessed March 25, 2014)

The unfortunately named village of Snickersville was the most popular of these summer retreats. Visitors came to ramble over the mountain ridges and gaze down at the Shenandoah Valley to the west and distant Washington to the east. The price of these beautiful vistas was a four-mile carriage ride up poorly maintained country roads that jostled and rattled guests before depositing them in the sleepy mountain town. Enough people made the trip to keep three small hotels in operation by 1885. It was Jules De Monet, a prominent chef from D.C., who put Snickersville on the map when he opened the Blue Ridge Inn in 1893. His new hotel added a level of sophistication the small resort town had lacked. Sophistication was good for business. In 1900, when the railroad extended the line to Snickersville, the company took the liberty of dumping its ill-fitting label for the more bankable Bluemont.

During the height of summer six trains pulled into this station from Washington and Alexandria each day with up to twelve coaches full of summer residents and tourists. Sunday trains brought up to thirty people for afternoon dinner. Here urban professionals sipped tea, played croquet, and socialized with other members of their class. The more daring dabbled in the “strenuous life,” hiking to Bear’s Den or hunting quail and turkeys in the surrounding woodlands. Some vacationers purchased land and had private mountain cottages and second homes built along the hillside overlooking the town. For those who preferred a more modest home in town, Charles B. Turner, a local physician, offered lots for $100 each. There Washingtonians could turn a summer vacation into a year-round lifestyle by commuting to city jobs and living in the health and beauty of the mountainside.

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Friends of Bluemont, http://www.bluemontva.org/galleryridge1.html (accessed March 25, 2014)

This summer resort town was a regional affair. The beauty of Bluemont’s scenic vistas paled in comparison with what could be found further into the Blue Ridge. As the automobile redefined the American vacation in the 1920s, sublime mountains and lofty vistas lured tourists further west. The Great Depression forced most of western Loudoun’s struggling boarding houses and hotels to close down. The limited scale and short lifespan of this tourist industry, however, protected Loudoun from becoming another Luray Caverns or Gatlingburg, Tennessee. This left Bluemont to quietly transition into a village for Washingtonian commuters. Quaintness, historical charm, and seclusion, not bustling commercialism, would define these places as the county entered the postwar years. Such were the qualities that a new generation of Washingtonians would see from their cars as they drove around the countryside looking for an alternative to suburban sprawl. Those who chose such a life joined with locals to form the Bluemont Citizens Association (1955) and the Bluemont Fair (1969), a popular yearly celebration of the area’s rural heritage and history. Tourism made Western Loudoun.[1]

Middleburg Flower Show, Middleburg, Loudoun County, Virginia, Frances Benjamin Johnston, April 1931, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


Traveling the same distance southwest from Washington along current day route 50 (Lee Jackson Memorial Highway), drivers enter the heart of the Virginia Piedmont that stretches from Middleburg down through Charlottesville. Lichen-encrusted stone walls replace wooden fences and red brick creeps from historic buildings, taking over sidewalks and and even daring the traffic as crosswalks. Motoring past the Red Fox Inn and Tavern, a sign for the Foxcroft school, and the Red Horse Tavern, it becomes clear that while Middleburg is not a themed town, it is certainly one with a peculiar identity. The imposing National Sporting Library and Museum anchoring the west end of town removes any doubt on this point.

Over the course of the twentieth century the American sporting set transformed these rolling hills into Hunt Country, an internationally known center of equestrian sports. Their social and economic ties bound the region to urban centers of the Northeast and, ultimately, to England. From November 1-15, 1905, Loudoun County and neighboring Fauquier County hosted the Great Hound Match. During the winter of 1904 and into 1905, Harry Worcester Smith and A. Henry Higginson, two Massachusetts sporting gentlemen, had bandied over the relative merits of English and American (largely southern-bred) foxhounds within the pages of Rider and Driver. Higginson challenged Smith to choose a time and place to settle the matter. Each man put up $1000 and selected a judge. The two judges selected a third. The first pack of hounds to kill a fox in the Loudoun countryside would be the winner. Journalists from the Boston Herald, the New York Herald, and London Daily News arrived to see the issue settled for good.[2]


W.P. Hulbert of Middleburg arriving with his guests for the annual cross country race for the Middleburg Hunt Cup. The 6th annual race held at Middleburg, Va., April 3, 1926, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The day before the match, gawking crowds greeted Higginson and his entourage of hounds, horses, and servants as they pulled up to the rail station at The Plains, five miles South of Middleburg. For the next two weeks anywhere from three dozen to over a hundred riders galloped off at dawn, following the hounds. They spent the day bounding across stone walls and pastures in pursuit of the fox. The riders included members of twenty-six registered hunts, a gathering the likes of which had never before been assembled this side of the Atlantic. Neither pack made a kill, leaving the judges to unanimously declare Smith’s American hounds the winners.

Horse show enthusiasts. Warrenton, Va. Perry Heath, Grand Rapids, Iowa, industrialists and assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Hoover, left, and Mrs. George Sloane and George Sloane of Middleburg, Va., and their daughter Miss Anne, photographed in the Sloane box of the Warrenton Horse Show, Harris and Ewing, October 12, 1935, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Such is the creation story of Northern Virginia hunt country. From the moment they stepped off the train northern journalists launched into romantic accounts of the countryside. In one of the more florid descriptions of the region to come out of the event, a journalist intoned

It is a beautiful hunting country. Twelve miles to the west, the Blue Ridge heaves up its rounded breast, mottled with woodland and cultivated fields. . . . Between the Blue Ridge and Bull Run mountains stretches away, twenty-five miles broad, a rolling country, free from stone and checkered with green fields of winter wheat, now in its tenderest hues, corn fields stacked with heavy harvest, and grass land taking on the sober garb of late autumn. Here and there the bronze of oak woods lends a splash of color, but there is little woodland and the fox, once routed from cover must run for his life.[3]

Soon after Smith announced in The Sportsmen’s Review that his desire was “to make Middleburg the fox-hunting center of America.” The quiet southern town was, Smith boasted, quickly becoming a place where gentlemen sportsmen would enjoy the finest of southern hospitality, fellowship with their social equals, and the thrill of the hunt. Virginia landowners opened their hunt country to the nation’s sporting class. The response was overwhelming. In the decades following the Great Hound Match, wealthy northerners bought up large tracts of land, turning the region into one of the wealthier rural areas in the South.[4]

Loudoun’s pastureland, stone walls, and farm cottages matched Anglo-American conceptions of the picturesque and the pastoral. Here, on this most British of American landscapes, Virginians pursued the fox. Hunt Country, buoyed through northern money and embracing the mystique of “Old Virginia,” became a staple of sporting magazines and society pages across the East Coast. Much of this hunt country mystique and culture survives in Middleburg to this day through the preservation efforts and cultural labors of area landowners and institutions like the National Sporting Library and Museum. Equestrian sports made Western Loudoun.


Catoctin Creek, 1974, Photo by John Lewis, from Loudoun Watershed Watch



Heading north from route 7 a few miles west of Leesburg, travelers enter the National Historic Landmark of Waterford, Virginia. Most tourists make it no farther than this restored Quaker village. Those willing to continue north for another five miles, roughly following the path of Catoctin Creek, past pastures and dirt roads, reach Taylorstown. Here the historic preservation is less forthright, but no less serious. An old stone mill and general store anchor a few dozen homes.

Its location along Catoctin Creek a few miles South of the Potomac River placed Taylorstown on the top of the Army Corps of Engineers’ list of potential reservoir development sites in 1974. Having failed for three decades to dam the Potomac River, the Corps looked to the creek as a consolation prize—a way to build in a few days of urban water supply into the river. If built, it would have inundated 8,500 acres and submerged the entire town, which, at that point, was 240 years old and had 70 residents.[5]

The battle to save Taylorstown followed many of the classic NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) tropes. These residents were both highly educated and well-connected. Within the group of 140 people that met to organize the Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance, there were lawyers, engineers, retired army and navy brass, a dean of the International School of Law, and a board member of the Interstate Commission of the Potomac River Basin. Residents had the financial resources to hire a top environmental law firm to represent them. A group of white, upper-middle-class professionals organized to defend their adopted landscapes from destruction. Yet the members of the Alliance expanded their arguments beyond these limits. They believed that the damming of Catoctin Creek was not just about the destruction of their property; it was an act of vandalism and a shameful violation. Damming Catoctin Creek would destroy what was, in their estimation, “one of the most historic villages in Loudoun County.”[6]

The alliance worked with local architectural historian John G. Lewis to document and publicize the architecture and genealogical record of each house that would be inundated.[7] Members held a “Don’t Dam Loudoun House Tour” to invite the public to bear witness to what might be lost. These efforts sought to stir their readers to feel the romance of historical renovation. These houses were, in the words of one article, the result of “ample portions of labor, research, and love.”[8] The meticulous process of reconstruction was almost as important as the genealogy and local history in convincing people that these homes were not the product of mass, industrialized construction. Each dwelling had its own conversion narrative. The benefactors found them mired in squalor and despair. They redeemed these homes from decay and, through their efforts, restored them to their former beauty. These were storied places whose history gave them dignity. Their loss would be the loss of that story.[9]

The Alliance buttressed these efforts with the variety of new preservation tools at their disposal. They secured passage of the Catoctin Creek Scenic Rivers Designation Bill in Richmond in March 1977.[10] They worked with county supervisors, Virginia Commission of Outdoor Recreation, and Virginia Historic Landmark Commission to secure historic district status from the state (the county had nine such districts by 1984).[11] Their local efforts, combined with the release of a May 1977 report by the Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments that challenged the need for the additional water storage, forced the Corps to abandon their plans in August 1979.[12] These preservationists protected their rural enclave from a piece of metropolitan infrastructure. Taylorstown endures as home to a mix of commuters and retirees, restored homes and horse farms, all surrounding an old stone flour mill. Historical Preservation made Western Loudoun.

Broad Run Farms

Before reaching any of these Western Loudoun destinations, commuters struggle through what is Eastern Loudoun—strip malls, housing developments, traffic lights (although not as many as there once were), and divided highways. For those willing to risk pulling off on the south shoulder of route 7 as it crosses Broad Run, a small tollhouse is visible twenty feet below along the old bridge. Just north of this local landmark Robert and Barbara Young launched what would become the first housing development in Eastern Loudoun.

BR toll house 1953.jpg
Broad Run Toll House at Rt. 7, 1953, Loudoun Planning Commission, http://brfca.com/index.php/component/content/?view=featured

The Broad Run Farms subdivision was not the Young’s original plan when they purchased the 706-acre Miskel Farm in 1950. Robert had worked as a lawyer for the U.S. Senate and wanted to try his hand at dairy farming. Within a year they had abandoned the enterprise. It is hard to dabble in dairy farming. Instead the Youngs partnered with a Leesburg real estate man to subdivide their farm. The couple dug a lake along route 7 and began waving down any car that drove by and offering to show them around. Washingtonians had spent the day motoring along the county’s back roads, gazing out at the horses and cattle, soaking in the scenery, and admiring the hard-working country life of Loudoun farmers. Weekend excursions primed them to desire what the Youngs offered—low taxes, good schools, natural beauty, and recreation in the countryside.[13]

Broad Run Toll House at Rt. 7, 2019, Photo by Ronald F. Baker

By 1953 the Youngs had sold one hundred lots and had eighty houses under construction. The typical mixture of government workers, politicians, and retired military men took up residence in the moderately expensive neighborhood where lots ranged from a half an acre to ten acres.[14] Broad Run Farm’s success inspired imitators. By 1953 the county had approved more than dozen plans for small subdivisions in Eastern Loudoun.[15] By the 1990s, Broad Run Farms would be lost among a series of development projects: Algonkian, Countryside, Cascades, and Dulles Town Center. While it reflected many of the ideals of Western Loudoun, Broad Run Farms became the advance guard of the Eastern Loudoun that would threaten Western Loudoun over the next half a century.

Subdivisions made Eastern Loudoun. . . and therefore defined what Western Loudoun was not but was always in danger of becoming.


Commuters underwrote, consumed, restored, purchased, celebrated, farmed, developed, hunted, defended, and subdivided rural Loudoun County. As I have argued elsewhere, rural people were central actors in this process as well. Yet it was these newcomers who cultivated these fringe landscapes and then defended them. As the postwar period dawned, each group defined these landscapes, whether explicitly or implicitly, in opposition to the supposedly crass, mass-produced imitation lifestyle that was D.C.’s ever-encroaching suburbia. These gentrifiers squared off against development in their efforts to protect Loudoun’s countryside. The project of defending Western Loudoun from sprawl has been inseparable from landscape aesthetics. Preserving these largely private lands for the public good only makes sense to the extent that any resident can access and enjoy their beauty from the public rights of way. The Western Loudoun of health, horses, hamlets, and homesteads is a Loudoun the public sees and enjoys from a car window. It is a commuter’s paradise—a reminder that anyone with a car can drive out past the city and the suburbs and witness the countryside.

What is Western Loudoun?

Western Loudoun is a metropolitan landscape preserved, protected, and promoted as the countryside for anyone willing to look.


Baker 2018.jpgAndrew C. Baker is assistant professor of history at Texas A&M University-Commerce in Northeast Texas. His recent book Bulldozer Revolutions: A Rural History of the Metropolitan South examines the development of the metropolitan fringe outside Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas.

[1] Scheel, Loudoun Discovered, vol. 4 (Leesburg, VA: The Friends of Thomas Balch Library, 2002) and Jean Herron Smith, From Snickersville to Bluemont: the Biography and History of a Virginia Village, Evelyn Porterfield Johnson and Robert Hoffman, eds. (Bluemont, Va.: Bluemont Citizens’ Association, 2003), especially 144-53; Writers’ Program of the WPA, Virginia: A Guide to the Old Dominion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1940, 1941), 527.

[2] Martha Wolfe, The Great Hound Match of 1905: Alexander Henry Higginson, Harry Worcester Smith, and the Rise of Virginia Hunt Country (Lyons Press, 2015); Higginson’s scrapbooks from the event are housed at the National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM). Grafton-Middlesex Match, Piedmont Valley, Va., November 1905, Box 7, Alexander Henry Higginson Scrapbooks, 1899-1926.

[3] “Big Hound Match is On,” newspaper clipping, Match Scrapbook.

[4] The Sportsmen’s Review, 1906, 177-178, Folder 21, Box 1, Alexander Mackay-Smith Papers, NSLM.

[5] Piedmont Virginian, June 5, 1974, June 19, 1974, and October 2, 1974 and Washington Star-News Jun 9, 1974, each in Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance (CVDA), Manuscript Collection SC0011, Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, Virginia

[6] In addition to this, the statement rehashed standard anti-dam arguments. They complained of the loss of county tax base, ecological destruction, and the ruining of open space and farm land. Catoctin Valley Defense Alliance, Official Statement, September 15, 1974, CVDA.

[7] John G. Lewis, “A General History of Taylorstown and the Catoctin Creek Valley from the Potomac to Waterford, Virginia,” August 26, 1974, CVDA.

[8] “Catoctin Valley Threatened by Dam,” Echoes of History, 4 (September 1974), 69-71.

[9] Ray Cheronis, “Foxton Cottage, Taylorstown, VA: A Miracle of Restoration and Reconstruction,” Folder 1, CVDA.

[10] John G. Lewis to Members of the Loudoun County Scenic Rivers Committee and the Goose Creek-Catoctin Creek Task Force, March 4, 1977, Lewis collection.

[11] Calder Loth, ed., The Virginia Landmarks Register, 3rd ed. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987), 238-247.

[12] Washington Post, August 28, 1979.

[13] Scheel, Loudoun Discovered, vol. 1, Goin’ Down the Country, 123-127.

[14] For a example of Broad Run Farms settlers, see Jack Eisen, “New Airport and Suburbia Perk up Loudoun County,” March 21, 1960 and Berta Mikesell, “Formula for a Rich Life,” Folder 2, Box 5, Keep Loudoun Beautiful Collection, TBL.

[15] James Birchfield, “Rural-Urban Broad Run,” Virginia and the Virginia County (January, 1953), 23.

Rethinking Partisanship in the Postwar United States

By Charlotte Rosen

In 2016, two Black Lives Matter activists made headlines when they confronted Hillary Clinton at a private fundraiser in Charleston, South Carolina. Holding a sign that contained the words “We have to bring them to heel,” Ashley Williams called on Clinton to “apologize to Black people for mass incarceration.” The sign referenced a statement Hillary Clinton made during her husband’s reelection campaign, where in praising President Clinton’s 1994 crime bill, she referred to the primarily Black working-class youth being targeted by the punitive crime legislation as “super-predators.” Clinton added, “We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.” During Williams’s action, Clinton became visibly flustered, frustrated, and then patronizing, accusing Williams of not wanting to hear the facts. Attendees in the video can be heard expressing their displeasure with Williams, saying things like “that’s rude” or “this is not appropriate.”[1]

Embedded in the audience’s irritation with Williams’s confrontation is a pervasive yet misleading historical interpretation of American politics in the post-WWII United States. In its most condensed form, this interpretation of postwar partisanship portrays Democrats and Republicans as polar, warring opposites: Democrats are pro-civil rights, in favor of robust social welfare programs, and egalitarian, while Republicans are hostile to racial, economic, and gender equality and enemies of big government social provision. Historically speaking, such a paradigm presents an “all-roads-lead-to-Reagan” narrative that interprets mass incarceration as the result of the New Right’s victorious ousting of a dying New Deal liberal order.[2] To expose the Clintons’ role in escalating the current crisis of racialized policing and imprisonment, as Williams did, disrupts this powerful historical construct of American partisanship. Two parties and their constituencies that once appeared at historic odds over racialized law and order politics now appear as all too comfortable accomplices in its harmful escalation.

Pointing out unsavory or bad faith liberal policymaking is far from a foreign project for urban historians. From detailing the structural shortcomings of the New Deal’s pro-growth economics, mapping the government’s many-handed facilitation of racially unequal housing markets and urban development policies, and outlining the ways liberal welfare programs criminalized working-class Black and Brown communities, the literature is robust and shows no signs of slowing. Yet, unspoken but powerful discursive boundaries between liberals and conservatives have shaped the way urban historians conceptualize power in the post-World War II era. Bad liberal actors or liberal constituencies are not hard to find in histories of postwar metropolitan inequality, but we have qualified their politically harmful actions as unintended, tightly bound to local or regional metropolitan contexts, and ultimately still not on par with conservatives. Even when expertly dissected, our core lens for understanding postwar history often remains one of partisan difference, with Democrats and Republicans’ epic battles driving our understanding of major political outcomes.[3]

Recent urban historical literature on the development of the postwar metropolis and rise of mass incarceration suggests that the framework of postwar partisanship obscures more than it clarifies. Specifically, this framework has erased an equally if not more important legacy of convergence between white conservative and liberal politicians and constituencies around core ideologies like the sanctity of private property rights, belief in the myth of meritocratic individualism, and the social and political decency of law and order policing.[4] Embedded in this bipartisan ideology is an ostensibly race-neutral and uncontroversial political economy that actually structurally disadvantages working-class Black and Brown communities through criminalization and exclusion. As common sense values for both postwar Republicans and Democrats, property ownership, consumer choice, and law and order stymied racial integration and legitimized new formations of racial subjugation in the late postwar period. By making it harder for analysts to see these norms as bipartisan – and therefore more powerfully entrenched in United States governance and political systems – a rigid partisan framework actually limits our ability to identify the mechanisms that keep white supremacy and capitalism churning in the post-Civil Rights era. As Matthew Lassiter contends, with “red-blue binaries” serving as the “hegemonic framework” of postwar US political history, we miss the unpleasant fact that a “supermajority” of white people found common ground in resisting racial integration.[5] And as Naomi Murakawa notes in The First Civil Right, partisan frameworks reductively paint racial inequality as the product of external “white animus” amid an otherwise “non-racial backdrop,” critically missing the shared norms and ideologies that reproduce hierarchies of racial difference in US political institutions and administrative structures.[6]

Scholarship on the postwar metropolis, and specifically the development of the suburbs, reveals the limits of the partisan binary. On the one hand, this literature has demonstrated that the New Deal era mass production of segregated white middle class property owners did not lead to a clear-cut partisan politics. Although once considered bastions of the New Right, it is now clear that suburbs served as ready incubators not just for conservatism but for more centrist and even diehard liberal political cultures. Yet, despite their differences in political party preference, white suburbanites of all stripes coalesced around a belief in the political purity of individual property ownership and the colorblind myth that they had earned prosperity through hard work instead of systemic white racial privilege. Suburbanites’ investment in the politics of homeownership produced what Matthew Lassiter calls in The Silent Majority a “bipartisan political language” of private property rights and white “suburban innocence” that resonated with both staunch conservatives and a more “volatile center” whose partisan preferences have been historically up for grabs.[7] Indeed, the electoral success of racially moderate and pro-growth New Democrats such as Bill Clinton or the more recent success of Doug Jones in the Sunbelt south remind us that suburban areas normally deemed loyal Republican strongholds were and remain electorally competitive. Even bleeding heart liberal suburbanites, whose partisan affiliation remained firmly Democratic in the postwar period, infused their party with the same free market meritocracy and individual property rights ethos of New South politicians. As Lily Geismer argues in Don’t Blame Us, although suburban liberals outside Boston led seemingly progressive campaigns for fair housing or metropolitan school integration, their foundational belief that their homes were the product of individual effort made their support for civil rights contingent on whether proposed reforms protected their property values and attendant racial privileges. Their perception of markets as fundamental so long as they were stripped of formal discrimination led them to repeatedly push for individualist solutions over ones that would meaningfully address historic structures of racial discrimination.[8]

In highlighting points of ideological convergence among white suburbanites, histories of postwar metropolitan space disrupt traditional narratives of partisan difference. Through zeroing in on what white suburbanites and their politicians actually do, rather than merely taking proclamations of party affiliation at face value, this literature reveals a more central and axiomatic bipartisan commitment to the historical fiction of meritocratic individualism, free markets, and private property as all-encompassing pathways to freedom. In doing so, this body of work actually helps us to make clearer sense of why racial inequality persists in our post-Civil Rights era. Although facially race-neutral, in practice these bipartisan ideologies enshrined racial hierarchies in politics, policymaking, and private markets by masking structural inequality and white complicity. Rather than rooting our analysis of postwar political development in party rhetoric or electoral gains and losses, studies of postwar metropolitan space uncover a more diffuse – and therefore more durable – bipartisan project of institutionalizing racial difference and protecting capitalism. Perhaps most pressingly, they presage the political perils of the Democratic party’s continued appeals to this white, middle-to-upper class suburban center. As Lily Geismer and Matthew Lassiter wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, such a strategy nourishes an unequal status quo and alienates the very working-class voters that are central to Democratic Party success.[9]

Histories of the postwar carceral state similarly suggest the ineffectiveness of partisan framing for making sense of mass incarceration. Naomi Murakawa, Elizabeth Hinton, Heather Ann Thompson, and Heather Schoenfeld dismantle common presentations of liberalism as a progressive foiPl to conservative law and order by revealing postwar Democrats’ expansive role in generating the racialized carceral state. Far from merely reacting or submitting to conservatives’ crime and punishment hysteria, postwar liberals laid the groundwork for the later mass imprisonment of Black communities.[10] Perhaps most shockingly, they did so not merely by bulking up the state’s criminal justice arms but by infusing punitive frameworks into often celebrated liberal social welfare programs. As Elizabeth Hinton demonstrates in From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime, postwar liberal administrators embedded racist assumptions about Black “cultural deficiencies” into flagship liberal welfare legislation, such as in President Kennedy’s Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Offenses Control Act of 1961 and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty and War on Crime, that constructed African American youth as pathologically criminal.[11] The result was that liberal administrations, and Johnson’s in particular, increasingly steered antipoverty programs towards more punitive forms of state intervention in majority Black neighborhoods that swapped social workers and community programs for law enforcement and militarization.

Johnson’s punitive “merger” of welfare with crime control reached its peak in the Safe Streets Act of 1968, which pumped $400 million via the newly created Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) into state governments for the purposes of modernizing local law enforcement and heightening the surveillance and social control in Black urban areas.[12] Nixon would go on to channel LEAA funds in ways that expanded the state’s capacity to criminalize the Black urban poor, and Reagan’s War on Drugs would implement some of the most harmful and racist carceral policies of the era. But scholarship on liberal law and order demonstrates that conservatives in many ways appropriated and expanded upon a liberal project of punitive anticrime policies, namely that of replacing robust social welfare administration with law enforcement, making the rise of racialized mass incarceration a distinctly bipartisan project.

Although mainstreaming knowledge about liberal complicity in mass incarceration and spatial segregation is crucial, the point is not that we should only blame liberals, but rather that partisan frameworks more generally limit our ability to see the causes and mechanisms of postwar inequality clearly. Julilly Kohler Hausmann’s study of welfare and criminal justice policymaking in the 1970s comes closest to modeling a post-partisanship framework by showing how grassroots constituencies and legislators on both sides of the aisle accepted as true the claim that “most criminals were governable only through punishment and incapacitation, and state efforts to rehabilitate them were futile and counterproductive.”[13] This is not to say, of course, that Republicans and Democrats are perfect mirror images of one another when it came to racialized crime politics; there remain critical differences between the two parties and their development over time that consequentially shaped the development of the racialized carceral state. But decentering partisanship cuts through the false binaries of the Democratic Party’s innocence and the Republican Party’s singular cruelty by making the historically co-constituted embrace of racialized law and order politics visible.

Beyond forcing us to contend with the real impact of this bipartisan “common sense,” decentering partisanship also means grappling with the messier historical forces that fueled carceral state expansion and the white supremacist metropolis. Even as this scholarship challenges an easy narrative of white elite culpability for mass incarceration or spatial segregation (bipartisan or otherwise), it also highlights the insufficiency of partisan frameworks to properly account for contemporary crises of inequality. For example, Kohler-Hausmann shows how harmful policies such as mandatory sentencing ironically have their roots in prisoners’ complaints about harm done by indeterminate sentencing. Similarly, James Foreman’s Locking Up Our Own describes how Black lawmakers in Washington D.C. supported punitive anticrime policies as an extension, rather than repudiation, of their civil rights commitment to the “protection of black lives.”[14]

Scholars of the suburbs have also rightfully refuted presentations of postwar suburbs as all-white and elite spaces, and in doing so have explored nonwhite suburbanites’ more complex relationships to property ownership and suburban political culture. Black suburbanites, whose population ballooned nationally in the postwar period, often acquired homes in suburbs out of a desire to escape the white supremacist spatial terrain of the city, achieve upward mobility, and build Black community, even as they faced continued racial barriers in the suburbs.[15] The fact that Black suburbanites’ pursuit of property often led them to strengthen rather than dismantle the unequal racial and class logics embedded in real estate markets cannot be understood absent a deeper analysis of property ownership as a means of liberation in African American communities. As Nathan D. B. Connolly contends in A World More Concrete, Black property ownership must be contextualized within a longer history of racialized political exclusion and structural violence that made property ownership one of the only means of a still limited Black political power.[16]

In other words, that the carceral state or metropolitan disparity is not the straightforward product of political conspiracy, and instead is the result of a more complex and historically-situated series of institutional legacies, unintended and intended policy outcomes, and political decisions, suggests partisanship’s constraints in telling this story. Decentering the explanatory power of partisan polarization, then, also allows us to better grasp how institutionalized and racist frameworks around law and order policing and Black criminality amplified some policies over others in ways that could coopt the intentions of more transformative reforms.

Once untethered from expectations about partisan political behavior, our narratives become less about revealing that liberals were racist or elitist or warmongers too—although such work has and continues to be vital— and more about diagnosing the shared ideologies, norms, and frameworks that keep white supremacy and capitalism afloat regardless of whom is in office. Even in our current moment, where Trump’s daily and terrifying legitimization of fascism and white nationalism might suggest a renewed need for partisan analysis, disrupting partisan frameworks is critical. Decentering partisanship reminds us that our work will not be done when Trump leaves office or when pundits deem the most visible manifestations of racial violence eliminated. As historian Dan Berger warns in his trenchant critique of the “First Step Act,” the much-celebrated bipartisan prison reform bill passed last November, the historic maintenance of a bipartisan “middle ground” that preserves the sanctity of policing and prisons ensures that reform efforts barely undo the carceral status quo and often serve to bolster it through repackaged forms of surveillance and criminalization.[17] Although it might be tempting to dig into narratives of postwar partisan polarization, approaching this same history with an eye for shared assumptions and bipartisan collaborations – what goes unquestioned or appears as orthodoxy to the majority of those involved – will offer a more clarifying, if less politically sexy, narrative of American state governance.

In clarifying where and how “liberalism and conservatism overlapped,” urban historians and historians of the carceral state should see our scholarship as ground zero for reconceptualizing the bigger postwar historical narrative of United States politics. This does not mean ignoring real partisan difference or discarding deep analyses of party politics entirely. The discrete political agendas of Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan, or northeastern liberals and southern segregationists, continue to deserve analysis. But a bipartisan lens is crucial for making sense of the postwar era’s most defining markers of institutional racial and economic inequality, including the crisis of mass incarceration, rampant resegregation of public schools, the return of Gilded Age levels of income inequality, and much more. With scholarship on the postwar carceral state and metropolitan politics as our guide, urban historians should see partisan convergence not merely as added historical complexity but as a framework for theorizing – and potentially reimagining—20th century American state power.


Charlotte Rosen is a doctoral student at Northwestern University studying US urban history. She is currently researching crime and prison politics in late-twentieth-century Pennsylvania. Prior to graduate school, Charlotte worked for a housing justice nonprofit in the Bay Area. You can find her on Twitter @CharlotteERosen.



Featured image: Black Lives Matters activist Ashley Williams confronting Democratic Candidate Hillary Clinton during a South Carolina fundraiser in February, 2016. Image originally featured here.

[1] “Mrs. Clinton Campaign Speech,” January 25th, 1996, C-SPAN, https://www.c-span.org/video/?69606-1/mrs-clinton-campaign-speech; Eugene Scott, “Black Lives Matter Protestors confront Clinton at Fundraiser,” February 25th, 2016, CNN.com, https://www.cnn.com/2016/02/25/politics/hillary-clinton-black-lives-matter-whichhillary/index.html.

[2] Matthew Lassiter, “Political History Beyond the Red-Blue Divide,” The Journal of American History 98, no. 3 (2011): 761.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006); Lassiter, “Political History Beyond the Red-Blue Divide;” Julilly Kohler Haussman, Getting Tough: Welfare and Imprisonment in 1970s America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017); Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2016).

[5] Lassiter, “Political History Beyond the Red-Blue Divide,” 763.

[6] Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right, 8.

[7] Matthew Lassiter, The Silent Majority, 1, 304, 319.

[8] Lily Geismer, Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014). See also Lila Corwin Berman, Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

[9] Lily Geismer and Matthew Lassiter, “Turning Affluent Suburbs Blue Isn’t Worth the Cost,” June 9th, 2018, The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/opinion/sunday/affluent-suburbs-democrats.html.

[10] Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime; Naomi Murakawa, The First Civil Right; Heather Schoenfeld, Building A Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018); Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History,” The Journal of American History 97, no. 3 (2010): 703–34.

[11] Hinton, 39.

[12] Hinton, 98, 103-135.

[13] Julilly Kohler Haussman, Getting Tough, 210.

[14] James Forman, Jr., Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), 11.

[15] Andrew Wiese, Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 8.

[16] Nathan D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014)

[17] Dan Berger, “What the Latest Bipartisan Prison Reform Gets Wrong and Why It Matters,” November 16th, 2018, Truthout.org, https://truthout.org/articles/what-the-latest-bipartisan-prison-reform-gets-wrong-and-why-it-matters/.

Uncle Sam and Black Arlington: Bringing Jobs but Taking Housing, 1861- 1945

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Lindsey Bestebreurtje

Arlington, Virginia, is a small county in northern Virginia just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. Diverse neighborhoods checker the landscape, each bearing the styles of middle class suburbia as it evolved throughout the twentieth century, from Victorian to Craftsman and Bungalow on to Rambler and multi-family homes. The county has always had a unique relationship with the nation’s capital as work for the federal government has long shaped the life of Arlington’s residents.

Today, the federal government is one of the top employers of Arlingtonians. This pattern of employment began in the late-nineteenth century. Expansions of federal programs that emerged during the Civil War and Reconstruction continued into the twentieth century, as WWI, the New Deal, WWII, and the Cold War each increased the number, size, and scope of federal agencies. By 1940, more than half of the county’s employed adult residents worked for the federal government. This expansion provided work for Arlington natives and attracted individuals from around the country to the area, making it “the fastest growing county in America.”

The opportunity for federal employment extended to Arlington’s African American population. Since its founding, Arlington has had a small but stable black population. Through reform measures like the Pendleton Civil Service Act (1883) and the Ramspeck Act (1940), which made federal hiring based on merit and dismissal without cause illegal, African Americans in Arlington could rely on good federal jobs. Though not devoid of prejudice nor immune to legislative backsliding, the federal government provided stable, merit-based, well-paying blue- and white-collar employment to black Arlingtonians generations before that could be said throughout the nation. Arlington’s African American residents held diverse employment types ranging from custodial staff and chauffeurs to stenographers, librarians, and section chiefs.

The figure above shows the extreme disparity in African American (shown in black) and white (shown in grey) population growth. Arlington’s black community of approximately 7,000 residents, most of whom came from families with deep roots in the county, went from 38% of the total population is 1900 to only 5% by 1950. Today, Arlington is home to about 18,000 African Americans, up to 8.9% of the county’s population.

But employment was not the only way that the federal government impacted Arlington. A huge portion of the county is owned by federal institutions, which occupy 18% of the land in the county. The same government expansion that provided more work pushed federal installations such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Department of Agriculture’s Experimental Farm, the Navy Annex, Fort Myer, and the Pentagon into the county beginning in the nineteenth century.

Aerial view of the Pentagon, Arlington, Va. circa 1947, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The majority of these institutions were constructed in southern Arlington. Southern Arlington was home to almost all of Arlington’s African American communities, including Green Valley, Queen City, and Johnson’s Hill. Local black resident Vivian Bullock of Hall’s Hill called south side Arlington “the black side.” As a result, the physical encroachment of federal institutions in southern Arlington disproportionately affected Arlington’s black communities.

The story of Queen City highlights how federal expansion into Arlington had an especially negative impact on the county’s black neighborhoods. More than 200 working class families in Queen City lived in modest but well-kept frame houses. Generations of families grew in Queen City after its founding in 1892. Third generation Queen City resident William Vollin described his neighborhood as a “real happy, solid community.”

While Vollin saw a strong working class community, federal authorities surveying the area for a location for the War Department’s new Pentagon building saw something else entirely. Where residents saw a thriving community, outsiders saw the black neighborhood as a ghetto. The neighborhood was described as an “industrial slum” by developers. Federal authorities also looked down on the neighborhood. Construction supervisor Lieutenant Bob Furman said in a 1941 letter to the Civil Aeronautics Administration that the area consisted of “really, really rough shacks.” Queen City resident Gertrude Jeffress pushed back against this categorization. In a 2004 interview with author Steve Vogel, she insisted, “whoever said it was nothing but shacks, well that ain’t true. This was a nice little neighborhood.” But the powers that be believed the homes, churches, community institutions, and businesses within the neighborhood would mar the views from the Pentagon and should be demolished.

Queen CIty
The image above shows Queen City with the Pentagon in the background in early spring of 1942. Though modest, they are a far cry from the “shacks” many federal builders alleged made up Queen City. Within days the community was demolished. U.S. Army, Pentagon, April 1942.

And that is exactly what happened. In January of 1942 construction began on the Pentagon’s road networks, which ran through the community. Plans moved forward for construction without anyone informing the people of Queen City. In February of 1942, residents received word that they had to be out of their homes by March 1. Property was seized through a combination of eminent domain laws and modest payments to home owners.

This aerial photograph shows Shirley Highway I-395 snaking through Arlington County. This area was once home to the African American neighborhoods of East Arlington and Queen City.

Almost all of those who lost their homes were black. Where Queen City and neighboring East Arlington were demolished to make way for the Pentagon, Navy Annex, and related road construction, the nearby white neighborhood of Columbia Heights, which also bordered the projects, was left largely untouched.

Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. General view, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

After losing their homes residents were not sure where to go. Lt. Furman admitted that he and his men didn’t “think… much about their welfare” when removing residents from their homes. Relocation was especially onerous because there were so few homes. Arlington was experiencing a severe housing shortage thanks to the flood of wartime workers entering the area. This housing crisis was especially acute in the black community as residents were barred from many of Arlington’s neighborhoods due to residential segregation and restrictive covenants.

After losing their homes with almost no notice, few funds, and a shrinking housing stock, one of the primary options for these individuals was the federal government’s emergency housing. To help displaced residents avoid homelessness, the federal government created a trailer camp on mud flats at the outskirts of Green Valley. These trailer camps were constructed to serve only as temporary housing. Entire families, no matter their size, squeezed into trailers equipped with stoves for heat and cooking, convertible couch-beds meant to sleep four people, and no running water. The tight quarters, lack of proper sanitation, and mud created an unhealthy environment vulnerable to illness. The camp was also prone to flooding and attracted rats. Resident John Henderson remembered rats so large they could shake the floor boards as they passed.

Arlington, Virginia. FSA (Farm Security Administration) trailer camp project for Negroes. Interior of a single type trailer showing cooking facilities and couch which can be converted into a bed, Marjory Collins, April 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Despite the loss of Queen City, these individuals and families were able to tap into the strong social, religious, and fraternal networks that linked African American Arlingtonians across neighborhoods and, with such a stable African American population, across generations. Henderson recalled that “it was quite a trying time,” but “I think the love and association of people is what kept people together.” After the end of the war the trailers were removed. Many individuals and families moved in with local family, moved into other federal housing, or found homes in one of Arlington’s remaining black communities – Green Valley, Johnson’s Hill, or Hall’s Hill.

Due in large part to the county’s Neighborhood Conservation Program these three anchor black communities still remain today. Renamed Nauck, Arlington View, and High-View Park respectively, only time will tell if they will be able to stem the tide of continued gentrification and the new threat of Amazon’s HQ2.

Featured image (at top): Map of Alexandria County, formerly part of the District of Columbia, Gregor Noetzel and G.G. Boteler, 1907, Geography and Maps Division, Library of Congress

Dr. Lindsey Bestebreurtje is a Curatorial Assistant at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She specializes in suburbanization, segregation, and the built environment. 

Member of the Week: Hector Berdecia-Hernandez

s200_hector.berdeciaHéctor J. Berdecía-Hernández

Graduate Student, Program in Historic Preservation

University of Pennsylvania

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research focuses on vernacular architecture and construction policies in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. I am interested in its impact at the urban scale in the Spanish Antilles. After the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the early decades of the 20th century, after the Spanish American War of 1898, new construction technologies, materials and forms were brought to the islands. These changes had a profound impact on the urban space that has not been studied yet. How did the colonial relationship with the U.S. develop a new architecture that merged with previous Spanish urban traditions? How did these influence newly emerging urban forms on the island? These are some of the questions I seek to address in my current and future research.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your current or future research?

I am not currently taking any urban history-related courses this semester, but next year I will be taking an urban preservation seminar that focuses on urban history. As an undergrad at the University of Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to take diverse urban history courses and seminars. In one seminar I studied the history of historic preservation between the 1940s and 1970s in Puerto Rico and its influence on the urban landscape, specifically on the early preservation policies for the historic city of Old San Juan.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am currently working with some colleagues on a publication in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP) and the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office (PRSHPO) titled A Citizen’s Guide for the Conservation of the Built Heritage in Puerto Rico. This guide aims to educate and help residents around the island to protect and develop research on historic buildings. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, there was an increased need to help historic property owners, especially in municipalities with a rich urban heritage such as Ponce, Arroyo, Coamo, San German and Aguadilla. The citizen’s guide will be translated into English and will be published this year.

What advice do you have for new or incoming Masters students in urban-related fields?

My advice would be to take one or two courses related to urban studies, urban planning, urbanism or a related field. Sometimes you can find urban history courses in other academic departments such as history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, geography and even in the law school. Ask for the syllabus and talk to professors. Also, choose any topic related to your interest in urban history if you have the chance to work on research in a class. Lastly, find academic and professional mentors that can help and guide you.

You are a recent transplant to Philadelphia! What has been the highlight of exploring your new city? And how are you feeling about winter?

Philadelphia is a beautiful and great city. I recently worked on an urban history project in Germantown and I learned so much about the city’s history, its development and the urban renewal policies of the mid-20th century. Philadelphia is a city with many layers of history, so it will probably take me many years to learn everything from its rich past. I already explored West Philadelphia, Center City, Germantown and South Philly. Still, there are many more neighborhoods I am wanting to visit such as the great Latino and Puerto Rican community living in the north side of Philadelphia. It’s my first winter after moving from Puerto Rico, so I am learning to deal with the cold and the snowstorms. Still, I am very happy in Philly.



From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

Tenants Flyer
Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon


[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; www.ancestry.com (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; http://www.communitylodgings.org/about-us/ (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

Northern Virginia: From ‘Star Wars’ to Cloud Wars

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Tommy Shay Hill

To the extent that it enters the public eye at all, Northern Virginia appears to outsiders as a land of interstates, office parks, and civil war battlefields, where the frumpiness of Washington bureaucracy takes on southern baggage; a place epitomized by such landmarks as the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, and where grey mid-century office blocks front onto highways named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Its urban form is summed up by Tysons Corner, made infamous in the 1990s by the urbanist Joel Garreau as the archetypal “Edge City”: less a functioning community than a cautionary tale of the excesses of late twentieth century auto-dependent exurbia.

Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia
Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

It thus came as a surprise to some that Amazon would choose this place to bring 25,000 white collar jobs as part of its highly-publicized HQ2.[1] The company’s move to New York City seemed cliché; the move to Virginia, uninspiring. To those who live in the Washington area, Amazon’s chosen site straddling Arlington’s Crystal City and Alexandria’s Potomac Yards is a drab corporate landscape of aging office towers and big box stores. Like ‘Foggy Bottom’ five stops away on the Blue Line, ‘Crystal City’ is one of those place names that has become a joke among area residents. Simultaneously imposing and forgettable, the neighborhood’s slew of hulking concrete office towers – many of them carbon copies of one another – are exemplars of the monumental blandness of post-war Washington. Think Le Corbusier, but without the style.

Amazon’s arrival in Northern Virginia seems at odds with the mental image many outsiders have of the region’s major players: the Department of Defense, the security agencies, and the hundreds of independent contractors serving them – the back-of-house operations of the Deep State. And to a large degree this mental image is accurate: local developer Robert Smith built this collection of modernist-lite high rises in the 1960s and 1970s as cheap office space for government agencies and defense department staff.[2] It was in this otherwise unremarkable office cluster – and in a few others like it across the region – that Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program was waged. The region as a whole was effectively built by the Pentagon. Many of the largest structures in the area house Defense Department functions, and the housing tracts and high rises that dot the region can often be dated to some spurt of postwar defense spending.

Park Fairfax
Park Fairfax, built by MetLife in the early 1940s to house workers at the newly constructed Pentagon, photo by Thomas Hill

And yet, Amazon is no stranger to this world of intelligence and defense contracting. The company’s cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) has had a major presence in the region since 2006, and since 2013 has hosted all of the CIA’s web traffic in a purpose-built private cloud.[3] Follow Virginia Route 267 West past Tysons Corner out to Loudoun County and you’ll reach Ashburn, Virginia, where AWS operates 25 of the more than 70 data centers in this remote corner of the D.C. area.[4] This formerly agricultural community 45 minutes from Washington houses the world’s busiest intersection of fiber networks, making it the optimal point on the globe to store and exchange data.[5] In the open tracts and brownfields of this Northern Virginia exurb, an arms race is being fought once again: this one not for mastery of space, but for control of “the Cloud.”

Northern Virginia: The Internet’s Utility Closet

The region’s status as a tech hub has by now become banal to Northern Virginia natives. Parts of the region are so dense with underground fiber optic cables that a construction project in the area knocks one out from time to time, bringing down some portion of the web for a few hours and causing serious delays on the interstates radiating outwards from Washington.[6]

But the details always seem to shock out-of-towners. Loudoun County officials like to state that 70% of internet traffic in the world passes through data centers located here.[7] While it is difficult to evaluate this precise figure, Northern Virginia’s volume of data center space dwarfs the size of Silicon Valley, the next largest market.[8] The internet is a network of networks, and server farms in Loudoun County are the interface where those networks intersect. A huge portion of the internet’s many networks articulate with one another in the wires and servers of Northern Virginia’s dozens of faceless data centers.[9]

Military Modernism
Mark Center in Alexandria, headquarters of several DoD agencies, courtesy of U.S. Army

The history of the internet and the history of defense contracting are not as estranged as they might seem, and it is in the office parks, edge cities, and suburban downtowns of the Northern Virginia suburbs that these two stories cross. In his brilliant history of the region, Internet Alley, Paul E. Ceruzzi traces the origins of the internet to a series of Department of Defense contracts from the 1960s through the 1980s. These contracts went disproportionately to companies located in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, cementing a network of connections that built such edge cities as Tysons Corner and which solidified the region’s status as the center of the internet before any personal computer even had a dial-up connection. Like all media, the internet relies on physical infrastructure; like all infrastructural systems, the internet’s backbone of server farms and fiber optic cables has grown in a highly path-dependent way. MAE-East, the server farm established in an Ashburn parking garage in 1992 to allow the world’s fledgling online companies to connect, remains at the hub of the world’s internet traffic today. AOL moved its corporate headquarters to Ashburn in the 1990s in order to minimize distance to MAE-East, and soon enough all internet service providers were running their cables to this one spot.[10] Today more than 200 networks converge in Ashburn, which has come to be known in industry circles as “Data Center Alley.”[11]

As much as consumers may grumble about Amazon’s monopoly over the world’s e-commerce, its control of global internet traffic is by no means secure: the company is in the midst of one of the fiercest commercial battles of our times – an ongoing war with Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for control of the Cloud. The war for this ethereal medium is being waged in Ashburn and surrounding communities, where these four players are scrambling to buy up available space for new data centers.[12] These exurbs are experiencing an extraordinary building boom in new data center space, one that is straining the capacity of the local utility company – Dominion Power – to sustain it.[13] The cost of land in this secluded jurisdiction at the outer edge of the northeast corridor has nearly tripled in just the last two years, reaching over $1 million per acre at the end of 2018.[14]

What is driving this exploding demand for data center space? Many recent digital phenomena have enhanced the need for data center capacity: the widespread adoption of cloud computing by companies and individuals; the pervasive streaming of content; the Internet of Things; the prospect of 5G; and the exponential increase in data generated by our most everyday objects and activities.[15] The journalist Rich Miller has carefully tracked the drivers and dynamics of the data center industry on his excellent blog Data Center Frontier, and points to the coming ‘data tsunami’ generated by ‘machine-to-machine’ (m2m) communication as a phenomenon that will sustain continuously growing demand for data center capacity over the coming years.[16] While these phenomena are sure to transform economies and social relations around the world, their effects are felt most acutely in a single local real estate market: Northern Virginia.

C.I.A. Headquarters aerial
Aerial of C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

NoVA’s Security-Driven Building Booms

This is not the first time an exogenous series of events has sparked a building boom in the area. There are distinct parallels between the current upswing and the frantic construction of defense contracting space in the years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I have written elsewhere of the way in which the Defense Department’s massive increase in demand for space after 9/11 facilitated the growth of a new type of landlord in Northern Virginia – the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) – capable of issuing shares on stock exchanges to fund new development.

The early 2000s saw this new generation of real estate company buy out and out-compete the local developers that built Crystal City and Tysons Corner in the 1960s and 1970s.[17] With access to the public capital markets, REITs proved uniquely capable of financing and developing the hyper-protected, state-of-the-art garrison-campuses effectively required by the Department of Defense’s post-9/11 security requirements. The years after 9/11 witnessed the rapid proliferation of a new type of structure across the Northern Virginia landscape: the SCIF, or “sensitive compartmented information facility.” High-security SCIFs can cost upwards of $300 a square foot to build, relative to the $30 per square foot standard of conventional office space, and thus are prohibitive for small- and mid-sized firms to provide.[18]

The REIT Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) cornered the market for high-security defense contractor space early on, increasing its tenant revenue from defense and intelligence from roughly a quarter of its total revenues in 2002 to nearly half by 2004.[19] By 2010, 36 of the 50 largest Defense contractors were COPT tenants, most of them with multiple leases in place.[20]

Long a player behind the scenes in the War on Terror, COPT has quietly assumed center stage in the war for the cloud, becoming Amazon Web Services’ primary data center provider in Loudoun County.[21] The REIT’s experience in providing high-security spaces commensurate with Defense Department standards translates well to the market for data center space, and gives Amazon a distinct advantage on a major front of the Cloud War.

Art made of “code” named Kryptos sits on the grounds of the C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Over the past year, the continuity between Northern Virginia’s War on Terror boom years and the current data center upswing have come into relief: rumors have been circulating over a controversial Department of Defense cloud contract known as “JEDI” (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure). To be awarded in April 2019, JEDI consists of a single award of almost unheard-of proportions: worth as much as $10 billion over a ten-year time frame, the grantee will be tasked with building out the military’s entire digital infrastructure needs.[22] While it is hard to draw any direct connections, Amazon’s choice of a site for its HQ2 less than a mile from the Pentagon has analysts wondering whether the chance of snagging the JEDI contract is what lured Amazon to the site in the first place: the company has significantly intensified its lobbying activities in recent years.[23] A new HQ site in Crystal City would only enhance Amazon’s changes of securing JEDI.[24]

As Ingrid Burrington observes in her recent effort to map AWS’s data centers in Loudoun County, the company’s data center fortresses are as inaccessible and uninviting as any Defense Department stronghold.[25] Alongside the mutely imposing office towers of Crystal City and the indestructible concrete blockiness of SCIFs, the current wave of data center construction has added a new item to the region’s menagerie of blandness. Calling these structures Kafkaesque would imply something too sinister—these buildings are the architecture of anonymity, of a Big Brother that wants to be ignored.

The Economy of Security: Limits to Growth?

And yet, evading attention is becoming increasingly difficult in this rapidly growing region. Northern Virginia’s spectacular series of building booms since the 1960s has left little remaining open space for the fenced-off server farms or high-security office parks that are the region’s lifeblood, casting into stark relief the contradictions of an agglomeration economy based on classified activity. For all its abundance – of government contracts, advanced degrees, computing power – the region is starting to face an acute shortage of space. Data center providers in Ashburn are considering building up, constructing 2- or even 3-story data centers to accommodate the apparently limitless demand.[26] The region’s once-deadly office clusters are being remade as 24/7 lifestyle destinations: the REIT JBG Smith is giving all of Crystal City a new urbanist makeover. The moniker ‘edge city’ is hardly relevant anymore for Tysons Corner. In 2014, the district was sutured to the wider region by an extension of the D.C. Metro’s Silver Line, and much of the surrounding open space has long since filled in with new office buildings, shopping destinations, and residential high-rises. The housing market has felt a serious squeeze, with jurisdictions losing up to 90% of their affordable market-rate housing since 2000.[27]

But beyond its impact on the immediate region, the explosive growth of the IT industry in Northern Virginia points to an uncomfortable reality: the tech economy is highly geographically uneven, an unevenness explained as much by massive government contracts and pre-existing infrastructure as on individual cities’ abilities to lure the “creative class.” For all the talk of the internet’s flattening of space, the umbilical cord linking the digital economy to the military-industrial complex has yet to be cut, and the steady proliferation of social media, digitally-enabled devices, streaming, and cloud computing continues to pay dividends to the place where the internet was born over a generation ago. The cards were already stacked against the other 18 cities on Amazon’s shortlist for HQ2. Amazon’s announcement in November confirmed what many in the region already knew: Northern Virginia is ground zero in the war for the Cloud.

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in NoVA this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15, submit your panels everyone! 

Photo_TSHTommy Shay Hill is an urbanist, historian and data scientist currently pursuing a PhD in urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Tommy’s work is at the intersection of urban planning, critical geography, economic history, and computer science. Tommy’s dissertation research focuses on the challenges of developing a quantitative science of cities. Tommy is in the early stages of an empirical project to “spatialize” property development cycles through American history: to map the spatial evolution of American metropolitan regions since the Second World War through cycles of boom and bust.

Featured image (at top): Statue to William Donovan, director of the C.I.A predecessor agency, and a marker to the C.I.A’s fallen at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Langley, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

[1] Jonathan O’Connell and Robert McCartney. “Amazon HQ2 Decision: Amazon Splits Prize between Crystal City and New York.” The Washington Post. November 13, 2018.

[2] Shapiro, Matt Schudel and T. Rees. “Robert Smith, 81, Dies; Created Arlington’s Crystal City.” The Washington Post. December 31, 2009.

[3] Konkel, By Frank. “Sources: Amazon and CIA Ink Cloud Deal .” FCW. March 13, 2018. Accessed January 11, 2019. https://fcw.com/articles/2013/03/18/amazon-cia-cloud.aspx.

[4] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018. https://loudounnow.com/2018/12/06/a-gigawatt-and-growing-data-center-industry-pushing-toward-greener-energy/.

[5] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[6] Amy Gardner. “The One Fiber Optic Cable No One on the Dig for Tysons Corner Wants to Hit.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2009.

[7] Freed, Benjamin. “70 Percent of the World’s Web Traffic Flows Through Loudoun County.” The Washingtonian. September 14, 2016.

[8] Data Center Frontier. “Silicon Valley Data Center Market.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[9] Blum, Andrew. “The Bullseye of America’s Internet.” Gizmodo. Accessed January 10, 2019. https://gizmodo.com/5913934/the-bullseye-of-americas-internet.

[10] Kanowitz, Stephanie. “How Data Centers Power Virginia’s Loudoun County.” GCN. Accessed January 9, 2019. https://gcn.com/articles/2018/10/12/loudoun-county-data-centers.aspx.

[11] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[12] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Demand: Home of the Data Center Hyperscalers.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 26, 2018. https://datacenterfrontier.com/northern-virginia-data-center-demand-hyperscalers/.

[13] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018. https://loudounnow.com/2018/12/06/a-gigawatt-and-growing-data-center-industry-pushing-toward-greener-energy/.

[14] Stoller, Bill. “Northern Virginia’s Already Tight Real Estate Market Just Got a Lot Tighter.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), October 1, 2018. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/colocation/n-virginia-s-already-tight-data-center-real-estate-market-just-got-lot-tighter

[15] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2017/02/27/equinix-deal-in-n-virginia-data-center-market-may-push-land-prices-up.

[16] Miller, Rich. “Data Tonnage: Managing the Coming M2M Tsunami.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 28, 2018. https://datacenterfrontier.com/data-tonnage-managing-the-coming-m2m-tsunami/.

[17] Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008., pp. 126-134

[18] Dennis J. Lane of Ryan Commercial Real Estate Services, quoted in “U.S. government snaps up secure offices,” by David Dishneau, Associated Press. April 3, 2005.

[19] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Q4 2004 Corporate Office Properties Trust Earnings Conference Call.

[20] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Corporate Office Properties Trust 2010 Annual Report. p. 17

[21] Miller, Rich. “Amazon Plans Epic Data Center Expansion in Northern Virginia.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 6, 2017. https://datacenterfrontier.com/amazon-plans-epic-data-center-expansion-in-northern-virginia/.

[22] Moss, Sebastian. “Amazon in Advanced Talks to Bring HQ2 to Northern Virginia.” Data Center Dynamics (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019. https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/news/amazon-advanced-talks-bring-hq2-northern-virginia/.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Reklaitis, Victor. “HQ2 in the D.C. Area Could Help Amazon Snag a $10 Billion Pentagon Contract.” MarketWatch (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/hq2-in-the-dc-area-could-help-amazon-snag-a-10-billion-pentagon-contract-2018-11-12.

[25] Burrington, Ingrid. “Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country.” The Atlantic, January 8, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/amazon-web-services-data-center/423147/.

[26] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2017/02/27/equinix-deal-in-n-virginia-data-center-market-may-push-land-prices-up.

[27] Whitehead, David. “Alexandria Has Lost 90% of Its Affordable Homes since 2000.” Accessed January 11, 2019. https://ggwash.org/view/64111/alexandria-has-lost-90-of-its-affordable-homes-since-2000.

Member of the Week: Patricia Ploehn

4y6a6631Patricia Ploehn  

Senior, Honors College, College of Charleston

Double major in Historic Preservation and Art History, minor in Southern Studies

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I am currently involved in two different research projects! I am continuing my research on the interpretation of monuments by seeking out more contentious monuments here in South Carolina, particularly ones located in Columbia and Charleston. I feel that the memorial landscapes we exist in should be meeting grounds where people can gather together to discuss controversial topics with open hearts and minds, and I believe that I have a responsibility to my community to use my passion for art and preservation to open up this discussion and keep it flowing. I am also currently working on research for my Senior Seminar course that pertains to the topic of Utopias, specifically Modernist ideas about reform in both societal and architectural ways. I am especially interested in Bruno Taut and his glass architecture and the idea of purposeful yet beautiful utopian spaces.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your work on your bachelor’s essay?

I am currently taking a Historic Preservation course on Preservation and Community Planning: Contemporary Planning Issues that tackles the topics of contemporary development, sustainability, and climate. I believe it is vital that we understand what development looks like when faced with increasing high-impact weather events and how we can change our policies and development standards to better fit the historic urban fabric we already have. Sustaining our historic buildings and preparing the urban areas around us for various changes in climate ties in directly with the idea of living in a utopian space: what we want our future cities to look like, and how can we change the cities we exist in now to allow our populations to thrive sustainably.

What books or articles have you read recently that made an impression?

I recently read a short article describing the work of photographer Jessica Ingram and her project Road Through Midnight: A Civil Rights Memorial that documents historically significant locations throughout the South. Ingram is featured in the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition SOUTHBOUND, an exhibition of 21st century Southern photography here in Charleston, and I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the exhibition and see her work up close. After viewing the photographs on display, I went to her website and scrolled through all of the Road to Midnight photos and read the descriptions. Her work is heartbreakingly beautiful, depicting landscapes of fields, roads, and houses that hold deeper, darker histories of racial violence. I find it so compelling that calm landscapes like the ones Ingram photographs can have silent histories that no one notices; it makes me see the landscape of Charleston differently, and I find myself pausing often to wonder about the hidden histories in my own city.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students preparing a thesis project or seminar paper related to urban history or urban studies?

I would offer this advice: keep an open mind! Find what you are passionate about and dive deeper into it. Be open to your professors about your passions, and they will definitely push you in directions you never thought you’d go. There are so many facets of urban history that have yet to be fully explored! Try looking into subjects you normally wouldn’t and combining those subjects with what you’re passionate about. I never thought I could combine my love for preservation and my fascination with architectural memorial forms, but here we are! When it comes to preparing for a thesis or seminar presentation, I would say that practicing your presentation is a very important aspect. Getting comfortable with the material is one thing, but even just knowing when to breathe and make eye contact with your audience is something else entirely!

What do you hope the next stage or season of your life looks like? Any big (or small) goals?

I know that the next season of life for me includes some very big changes, including graduating from college, finding housing here in Charleston, and most importantly finding a job in the preservation field! I know that through all of these changes, though, I will be able to maintain my friendships here in Charleston and also continue in my passions. I want my life to be focused on spreading hope in my community through projects that directly address issues in preservation, conservation, and urban development.