On this day in Arlington history, December 26, 1917 The Washington Times reported that a fire in Arlington’s African-American neighborhood of Queen City. The fire killed one child and destroyed 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, Virginia 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 engine 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.”
“Damage was estimated 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.”
Queen City otherwise known as East Arlington, was an African-American community in Arlington that grew as Freedman’s Village closed and families left. East Arlington public services lagged far behind white neighborhoods. It had no sidewalks, streetlights, curbs, or gutters. Most homes lacked electricity. Arlington County never ran water or sewer pipes into the area, so the homes all lacked running water and flush toilets. Residents drew well water for washing and had to fetch drinking water from a nearby spring.
Arlington’s first African-American volunteer fire brigade, one that would have been sure to respond to a fire as quickly as possible to a black neighborhood, was still a year away and would be in Hall’s Hill several miles away from East Arlington.