Arlington Historical Society

Arlington Historical Society Our mission is to help strengthen our community through a better understanding of its history.
The Arlington Historical Society, founded in 1956, is a non-profit organization. We have two museums--the Arlington Historical Museum and the Ball-Sellers House Museum--that are open free to the public. We sponsor monthly programs, publish the annual Arlington Historical Magazine with original research on Arlington and Northern Virginia history, and an annual high school essay contest. We also bring history into the community at events throughout the year.
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The Arlington Historical Society's goal is to help strengthen our community through a better understanding of our history. We do that in many ways: a key one is to promote awareness of Arlington history through two museums, monthly public presentations, and community outreach. The Arlington Historical Museum is located at 1805 South Arlington Ridge Road at the former Hume School. Built in 1891, it is the oldest school building in Arlington. You can walk through Arlington history on a self-guided tour from Native Americans through 9/11. Free. The museum is open to every Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 pm and every FIRST and THIRD Wednesdays of every month, also 1-4 pm. The Ball Sellers House Museum is at 5620 3rd Street South in Arlington. You can step back through time to see how middle-class farmers lived in the Colonial era. Knowledgeable docents provide interactive free tours to the public. It is open Saturdays 1:00-4:00 from April through October and Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day. Built in the 1740s, this is Arlington's oldest building. We welcome group tours at both our museums during regular hours or at your convenience and can tailor the experience to your interests. Please contact us for more information.

Mission: The Arlington Historical Society supports historical research, collects and preserves Arlington historical artifacts, and promote learning about the history of Arlington County, Virginia

On this day in Arlington history, December 30, 1867: Frank Lyon is born in Petersburg, Virginia.  In 1886 he moved to Wa...
12/30/2019

On this day in Arlington history, December 30, 1867: Frank Lyon is born in Petersburg, Virginia. In 1886 he moved to Washington, DC to work for the Southern Railroad. From 1887 to 1899, he was private secretary to Walter L. Bragg, a commissioner of Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). Lyon received a master of law degree from Georgetown University Law School in 1890. That summer on August 5, 1890, he married Georgia Hays Wright from Gainesville, Virginia. He was the father of Georgia Hays Lyon, John Lyon (who would die in World War I) and Margaret Springs Lyon.

After 1902, he formed a partnership with Robert Moore and began buying land for development in what would become Arlington County. Active in politics and a friend of fellow lawyer Crandall Mackey, Lyon joined the Citizen's League which had been formed to combat the numerous illegal gambling dens and other unwanted elements in that area. He bought the Alexandria County Monitor and used it to further support Mackey’s efforts to clean up Hell’s Bottom (Jackson City) and Dead Man’s Hollow (Rosslyn). As the Virginia side of the Potomac was made less lawless and the many brothels, salons, and gambling joints driven out of business, Lyon focused his attention on developing the communities of Lyon Park and Lyon Village. He founded the real estate firm of Lyon and Fitch, Inc.

When Frank worked for the railroad and ICC, he traveled a lot and, in 1907, influenced by the Spanish missions he had seen in the American West, he built Lyonhurst—now Missionhurst owned by the Immaculate Heart Mission fathers —a Spanish Mission-style stucco house (see photo). The house was built with large porches to catch the breeze in the hot summer weather. The house was one of the first in the county to have electricity.

On This Day in Arlington History, December 28, 1951 A spectacular fire broke out at the old Murphy & Ames lumber yard in...
12/28/2019
MURPHY & AMES - 1951

On This Day in Arlington History, December 28, 1951 A spectacular fire broke out at the old Murphy & Ames lumber yard in Rosslyn on the night of Friday, Dec. 28, 1951. The first alarm was transmitted at 9:15 p.m. and at the height of the blaze, the flames were visible for miles. The Arlington Fire Journal describes it best:

Photos : www.acfd3.com A spectacular fire broke out at the old Murphy & Ames lumber yard in Rosslyn on the night of Friday, Dec. 28, 1951...

On this day in Arlington history, December 27, 1941: Rubber is rationed nationwide--the first nonfood item to be ratione...
12/27/2019

On this day in Arlington history, December 27, 1941: Rubber is rationed nationwide--the first nonfood item to be rationed. The Japanese had seized plantations in the Dutch East Indies that produced 90% of America's raw rubber. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on citizens to help by contributing scrap rubber to be recycled, old tires, old rubber raincoats, garden hose, rubber shoes, bathing caps. Do you remember recycling things that were made of rubber? Tell us about it!

On this day in Arlington history, December 26, 1917 The Washington Times reports that a fire in Arlington’s Queen City h...
12/26/2019
"Right Out Our Front Door": The Pentagon, East Arlington and Queen City

On this day in Arlington history, December 26, 1917 The Washington Times reports that a fire in Arlington’s Queen City has killed a child and burned down three homes.

According to the newspaper, “One child was burned to death, three houses destroyed and another partly burned by a fire which threatened for a while to wipe the town of Queen City, Va off the map shortly before noon today.
“The fire broke out in the home of Mrs. Lavina Motrie when her granddaughter, Rene Henry thirteen years old was left alone while her grandmother went to work.
“Only the work of the chemical enine from the Government’s experimental farm near Arlington Cemetery prevented the destruction of the town. Engine Company No. 16 from Washington and the Cherrydale Volunteer fire department arrived after the fire was under control.
“Washington fire fighters are spraying the ruins and searching for the body of Rene Henry.
“In addition to Mrs. Motrie’s house the home of Mrs. Maude Silvay and a vacant house were burned to the ground. Mrs. Fannie Lipscombe’s house was half burned.
“Damage was estimate at $2,000. Queen City is about two miles south from the Virginia end of the Highway Bridge on the Arlington branch of the Washington and Virginia railway. Coroner Ashton of Ballston is conducting the investigation.”

Where was Queen City? Check out the WETA Boundary Stones blog to learn more.

The construction of the Pentagon and its surrounding road network resulted in the destruction of two, tight-knit African American communities.

For December 25, Christmas DayChristmas was celebrated much differently in colonial Virginia than it is today. John Ball...
12/25/2019
Making History Blog

For December 25, Christmas Day
Christmas was celebrated much differently in colonial Virginia than it is today.

John Ball, who built his home in 1742, the oldest structure in Arlington, and lived there with his wife and five daughters until he died in 1766, probably did NOT have even this fancy a Christmas as described by this article about Christmas in Williamsburg. We'll never know for sure, but we do know the Ball family lived a simple life. We know John could read and he almost certainly had a Bible to read from--perhaps aloud to his family. He had a fiddle but as this article from Williamsburg shows, he did not play Christmas carols as we know them today.

We know at least one of his daughters was married by the local Episcopal church, then known as the Church of England. But the Balls were unlikely to have braved the cold weather to travel 20+ miles by horse or on foot to attend church in Alexandria City.

His wife, Elizabeth might have prepared a fine meal, but more likely it was a regular meal with perhaps a a single special sweet item--sweetened with the honey their bees produced. She probably decorated the small house with evergreen bows, at least in part, to help the house smell better during the long dark, cold winter when the doors and windows would have been kept shut.

It is hard to imagine what life on the frontier here in what is now Arlington would have been like for our early settlers. Suffice to say, it was nothing like the way your family will experience Christmas this year, whatever your traditions.

Colonial Williamsburg | Where History Never Gets Old

On this day in Arlington history: December 24, 1942: Christmas decorations in wartime Arlington.  The Library of Congres...
12/24/2019

On this day in Arlington history: December 24, 1942: Christmas decorations in wartime Arlington. The Library of Congress dates this as December 24, 1942 and it was taken by the US Army Signal Corps.

In 1942, the US is deep in World War II and suffered some serious setbacks earlier in the year. By Christmas, though, US troops were beginning to have some successes and were in North Africa and had taken Guadalcanal. There was reason to hope... It is inside the center of the Pentagon. On December 24, 1942: The Pentagon held a Christmas event to bolster the troops and Pentagon employees. This image is of the speakers’ platform festooned with Christmas decorations in the center courtyard of the Pentagon. The A band is playing below as the speakers look on from the balcony. The Library of Congress labels it as the US Army Signal Corps. Ground for the new pentagon building was broken on September 11, 1941. The Pentagon’s first employees moved in on April 30, 1942. The building officially opened on January 14, 1943. So the picture here is of the first Christmas event at the Pentagon.

On This Day in Arlington History, December 23, 1923, the Alexander Gazette reports that federal prohibition agents raide...
12/23/2019

On This Day in Arlington History, December 23, 1923, the Alexander Gazette reports that federal prohibition agents raided five stills in Arlington County and arrested three men. Nine agents from DC and Richmond had been scouting the area hunting for violations of the Volstead Act—which enacted Prohibition in 1920. The trail led them away from Alexandria City and into rural Arlington County where they made four raids confiscating five stills and arresting the three men. Some of the stills were confiscated on property just south of Arlington Junction which was in present day Crystal City between Army-Navy Drive and 12th Street. South and between South Eads Street and Jefferson Davis Highway (U.S. Route 1)

The newspaper reported that three of stills were small and their contents of about fifteen gallons each were brought to the police in Alexandria City. The news item did not speculate on the police forensics work that may have been performed on the contents.

(Photo shows an example of the kind of small still this raid may have confiscated.)

On this day in Arlington history, December 22, 1902 the Arlington Brewing Company in Rosslyn advertises in the Washingto...
12/22/2019

On this day in Arlington history, December 22, 1902 the Arlington Brewing Company in Rosslyn advertises in the Washington Times that its porter is a “Brew for the Home.” It’s “a thirst quencher” and is healthy because it “also looks after the system.”

Arlington had its own brewery making beer for thirsty residents and businesses. Built on the banks of the Potomac where the Rosslyn Marriott now stands, the brewery was originally named the Consumers Brewing Company until 1902 when it was renamed the Arlington Brewing Company.

The brewery dominated the riverfront near the old aqueduct bridge. Local architect Albert Goenner designed the brewery and also designed Arlington County’s courthouse, built just three years later. The brewery was a large red brick building with turrets at each end, a clock tower in the center, and large smokestack with horse and mule shoes nailed to the top for good luck.
The brewery made light and dark lagers, ale, and porter (advertised here) and sold mostly to local consumers and legal saloons that dotted Rosslyn and D.C. Also among its customers were many illegal saloons, gambling houses, and brothels that crowded Rosslyn and Jackson City to serve other Washington thirsts. As the idea of Prohibition increased in popularity, the brewery offered to help protect your reputation from your neighbors by advertising free delivery of its products in unmarked wagons in the local area.

By 1902, the brewery was struggling and this ad reflects that. Sold and renamed, it faced the frustration of Arlington residents who were growing tired of the county’s reputation as Washington's “red light” district. In 1903, reformed minded Arlingtonians elected Crandall Mackey Commonwealth Attorney because he promised to clean up the local community. He made good on his promise on May 30, 1904 when he and his deputies raided illegal gambling houses and saloons, destroyed gaming equipment, smashed bottles of booze and glasses, and gathered enough evidence to prosecute owners of the illegal saloons.

Prohibition is still more than a decade away, but the company was beginning to counter claims by the Temperance movement that alcohol and its abuse was a leading cause of home wrecking: domestic violence, poverty, and broken families. The Arlington Brewing Company would survive Prohibition, but just barely, and would convert to producing Cherry Smash, a carbonated soda. (You can see an exhibit about the company at the Arlington Historical Museum at 1805 South Arlington Ridge Road.)

On this day in Arlington history December 20, 1924: Arlington Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike burns to the ground. ...
12/20/2019

On this day in Arlington history December 20, 1924: Arlington Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike burns to the ground. The furnace had been fired early on this cold winter Sunday to warm the building for the morning, afternoon, and evening services. Everything was normal during the morning activities and the congregation had dispersed to their Sunday dinners. In mid-afternoon someone saw smoke rising around the church chimney. Volunteers managed to carry out a few pews and small items but it didn't take long for the fire to spread.

Soon it was too dangerous for onlookers to try further salvage efforts. The rescued pews were carried across Columbia Pike to a rising slope and furnished ringside seats for the gathering crowd. The local volunteer fire unit fought the blaze with help from neighboring units and a bucket brigade, passing buckets of water from hand to hand when the trucks couldn't bring up enough water from neighboring ponds. The volunteer firefighters saved the manse, but the church was completely destroyed, along with irreplaceable records and photographs. The lack of water pressure spurs community activists to urge Arlington towards establishing a public water system. (Photo courtesy of William Whitworth Middleton, great grandson of founding church elder, Miles Munson)

On this day in Arlington history, December 19, 1837 Hachaliah Bailey buys land at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and ...
12/19/2019

On this day in Arlington history, December 19, 1837 Hachaliah Bailey buys land at the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Columbia Pike. This area will become known as Bailey's Crossroad.

This important intersection was formed when Columbia Pike was constructed (1808-1812) and reached the old road from Alexandria to Leesburg (now Seminary Road). The opening of the new Leesburg Pike (1818–1838), now Route 7, made five forks at this point. In 1837, Hachaliah Bailey of Westchester, New York acquired the surrounding land and gave it its name. It became the winter headquarters for his small circus which featured America’s first elephant. He deeded it to his daughter-in-law, Mariah Bailey, wife of Louis Bailey, in 1843. Mariah Bailey upgraded the former Bontz’s Tavern to the Cross Roads Inn. She fed and housed travelers, circus personnel, and cattle drovers until 1861, when the Civil War put an end to the circus. (excerpted from “Why Do We Call It...? Thumbnail Histories of Arlington County Place Names” published by the Arlington Historical Society and available for purchase at the Arlington Historical Museum)

On this day in Arlington history December 18, 1865, the 13th Amendment took effect officially abolishing slavery everywh...
12/18/2019

On this day in Arlington history December 18, 1865, the 13th Amendment took effect officially abolishing slavery everywhere in the United States. The former slaves of Arlington House had already been freed three years earlier when the Second Confiscation Act was passed. The act stated that any slave owned by someone aiding the rebellion, when captured by or deserted to Union forces, “shall be forever free of their servitude, and not again held as slaves.”

The image below is a telegram from James Johnson, the Provisional Governor of Georgia. The message was to William Seward, US Secretary of State, informing him that the George State Legislature’s resolution ratifying the Thirteenth Amendment were being sent to him by mail.

On this day in Arlington history, December 17, 1956, Arlingtonian Shelley Mann wins gold at the Summer Olympics in Melbo...
12/17/2019
Local Girl Makes Good

On this day in Arlington history, December 17, 1956, Arlingtonian Shelley Mann wins gold at the Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, in the women's 100-meter butterfly event, and silver as a member of the US team that won the silver medal for the women's 4×100-meter freestyle relay. As a child of six, she got polio and took up swimming to aid her recovery. She was a student at the American University in Washington, D.C. In 1966 she was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and earned a place in the the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.

Local Girl Makes Good Shelley Mann, Olympic gold and silver medalist in the 1956 games in Melbourne, Australia, was a well-known and well-loved Arlington resident. She moved to Arlington as a preschooler with her parents, Hamilton and Isabel Mann. She started swimming at age 11, when her parents enr...

12/17/2019

I am looking for a 1990s cell phone (one of the heavy blocky ones) for an exhibit. Preferably a donation rather than a loan. Does not need to work but should be in reasonable condition for display. Thanks, Mark the museum director.

On this day in Arlington history, December 15, 1865 Crandal Mackey is born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Mackey will conduct...
12/15/2019

On this day in Arlington history, December 15, 1865 Crandal Mackey is born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Mackey will conduct a series of raid at the turn of the next century with a posse of like-minded citizens, took axes and shovels to destroy the gambling houses, saloons, and brothels of “Dead Man’s Hollow (now Rosslyn) and “Hell’s Bottom” known as Jackson City.
The Mackey family was from DC but when the South seceded, his father, a Harvard educated lawyer, joined the Confederate army and he and his family moved to South Carolina. Crandal followed in his father’s lawyer footsteps but moved to DC in 1885 taking a job at the War Department and studying law at Georgetown. Fast forward past a lucrative legal career and Mackey won election as the commonwealth attorney for Alexandria County (now Arlington) by two votes. Despite this slim mandate, he had to take on some of the highest and the lowest men on earth (according to Michael Pope in his book “Shotgun Justice). He faced down two-bit gamblers and got into fisticuffs with railroad lawyers. He shut down saloons and gambling houses at a time when Arlington was ready to become a suburb of DC with family homes and green lawns. (Learn more at WETA’s Boundary Stones Blog:
https://blogs.weta.org/boundarystones/2016/12/15/fight-end-horse-racing-and-gambling-
alexandria)

On this day in Arlington history: December 14, 1861, Marion T. Anderson enlists in the Union army.  He will go on to bec...
12/14/2019

On this day in Arlington history: December 14, 1861, Marion T. Anderson enlists in the Union army. He will go on to become a hero in the Civil War and later settle in the Glencarlyn neighborhood.

Marion Anderson was born in Indiana on November 13, 1839 At 22, he enlisted in the 51st Indiana Volunteer Infantry on December 14, 1861 at Kokomo, Indiana. He was mustered in as the 1st Sergeant for Company D, and would go on to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Nashville, Tennessee on December 16, 1864. His service before that battle saw him be promoted first 2nd Lieutenant on April 30, 1862) then to Captain and commander of Company D on December 11, 1862. The citation for his Medal reads "Led his regiment over 5 lines of the enemy's works, where he fell, severely wounded." (His medal was awarded to him on September 1, 1893, 29 years later.) Despite his wounds, he served through the end of the conflict and resigned his commission on June 16, 1865.

Captain Anderson was also renowned for escaping from Libby Prison in Richmond. (photo dated 1863) Libby Prison housed Union prisoners of war from 1861–1865. Once a tobacco factory the prison became an officers-only facility. The officers at Libby were crowded inside three-stories of sparsely furnished rooms that exposed them to the elements. They often also suffered from severe food shortages. In February 1864, 109 prisoners escaped by tunnel and 59--including apparently Marion Anderson--reached Union lines.

After the Civil War, Anderson settled in Glencarlyn and worked in the post offfice where, according to the Evening Star, "by his genial personality he won a host of friends." He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery (Plot: Section 1, Lot 512).

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1805 S Arlington Ridge Rd
Arlington, VA
22202-1628

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Sunday 13:00 - 16:00

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