Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


George Washington drank here.

From a spring. In the 1780s. In Arlington, on the Moses Ball land grant property off of Carlin Springs Road. You can see it if you’re willing to venture onto the property owned by Virginia Hospital Center.

I visited the site this month when I took the marvelous “George Washington’s Forest History Walk” put on by the peripatetic volunteers at WalkArlington.

All of us have sensed that the Father of our country had set foot in what became Arlington’s suburban environs. But here was a chance to brave the rain and devote a Saturday afternoon to see an off-the-beaten-track Washington monument on a, let’s say, more intimate scale.

Our brainy guide was attorney and Revolutionary War enthusiast Kevin Vincent. He connected dots in the picture of Washington’s presence after he purchased 1,200 acres of Lord Fairfax’s land on the eve of the Revolution because he needed timber out at Mount Vernon.

Our group of seven debarked from the Ball-Sellers house, the pride of the Arlington Historical Society in Glencarlyn neighborhood. Built before 1755 by miller John Ball, it offers the county’s best glimpse into the everyday lives of our 18th-century forebears. After John Ball died in 1766 (no record he met Washington), the home was sold to neighborhood namesake William Carlin, who was George Washington’s tailor.

The county sign down the street in front of Carlin Hall contains one error about the Ball brothers Moses and John, Vincent confides. There’s no evidence they were related to Washington via the first president’s mother, Mary Ball, though they hailed from the same parts of Virginia, he said.

I warned Vincent—in good cheer—that I would check his George Washington claims against the statesman’s diaries.  I can vouch that Kevin is the real deal.

In an entry from May 1786, Washington wrote, “When I returned home I found Moses Ball, his son John Ball and William Carlin here, the first having his effects under execution wanted to borrow money to redeem them. Lent him ten pounds for this purpose.”

Moses owned the adjoining property, which is why it is likely the commander of the Continental Army tied his horse and sipped from Ball’s spring, his injured slave Billy Lee at his side. (Those area springs would be marketed as a resort from 1872-84.)

What Washington shared with Moses Ball was the need to use a well-known oak tree as a reference point in his survey. That tree was felled by a storm in 1898, and a stump survives on exhibit in the Glencarlyn Branch Library.

To glimpse the site of that famous tree, we hiked the woods of the Long Branch Nature Center. “There are few trees from the 18th century because they were cut down during the Civil War,” Kevin explains.  “But they’re starting to grow back to look like they did when George Washington bought here.”

We arrived at our destination—Arlington soil where we know GW once trod. It’s a hundred yards north of where Washington’s property began and extended through Shirlington. (It would later include the Columbia Pike mill for Arlington House built by George Washington Parke Custis.)

What you see is a pockmarked pillar—to which passersby are oblivious– marking the site of the survey tree. There is no plaque, Vincent says. The text he once wrote disappeared.


Gospel music permeated the conference center in Ballston Saturday at the gathering of the Halls Hill/High View Park community and Arlington officials. The commemoration honored the 14 first paid African-American firefighters who spent decades punctuating boredom with terror at Firestation No. 8.

The event comes as a task force has recommended spending more money to rebuild the station in place rather than shut it down and build a new one on Old Dominion Drive at Glebe, which is what the county planned to reduce response times.

Singer Sherri Clarke thrilled with “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and “You’ve Got a Friend,” adjusting lyrics for Firestation No. 8. After proclamations from President Obama and Gov. Terry McAuliffe, several eighty-somethings traded war stories about how they functioned as firefighters. Said Carl Cooper, “I’m happy no longer to be called a Negro—we’ve graduated.”