Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


A neighbor gave me the program St. Agnes Catholic Church prepared to celebrate its 80th anniversary in Arlington.

Its detailed history of that august body on North Randolph St. in Cherrydale describes how founders broke ground back in June 1919. The resulting building (followed by a succession of modernized replacements) officially established its own parish in 1936. With 300 congregants, St. Agnes became flush enough to add its Catholic school in 1946, later expanding to grades 1-8 and passing the first class on to a new Bishop O’Connell High School in 1957.

Those tidbits inspired me to sketch a history of religious community-building Arlington-wide, going back two centuries.

Arlington’s first church was the Chapel of Ease of Arlington Plantation, built in 1825 by George Washington Parke Custis for use by family, neighbors and slaves. It was burned by Union troops during the Civil War, but the site is marked by a plaque off Columbia Pike and Orme St. near the Sheraton Hotel.

For much of the 18th and 19-the centuries, the Episcopalians who dominated rural Arlington traveled to Christ Church in Alexandria or THE Falls Church for services, which explains our iconic Glebe House on North 17th street built in 1820 on land that supported the rectors of both.

Our oldest active church is Mount Olivet United Methodist at Glebe and North 16th St., its cemetery dating to 1854. Walker Chapel at Old Glebe and new Glebe roads spun off from Mount Olivet, and though its sanctuary didn’t open until 1876, its graveyard is circa 1848. Hunter’s chapel Methodist at Columbia Pike and Glebe Road was destroyed in the Civil War, so South Arlington Methodists attended Trinity in Alexandria (founded 1774).

The African-American Calloway United Methodist Church on Lee Highway uses a slogan “Welcoming. Growing. Connecting. Since 1866.” When the postwar Freedman’s Village grew up near Arlington House in the 1870s, it spawned Mt. Zion (still going in Nauck) and Mount Olive (in the Arlington View neighborhood). First Presbyterian in Ballston came together in 1872.

In the 20th century, religious bodies fruitfully multiplied. A 1924 directory cited by historian C.R. Rose showed 38 churches; 11 Methodist, 11 Episcopalian, six Presbyterian, three Catholic, and 10 black churches. Clarendon Methodist assembled in 1901, and the Baptists weighed in with Cherrydale Baptist on Lorcom Lane in 1913. The First Church of Christ Scientist now on McKinley Rd. opened in 1916.

Episcopalians expanded again: St. George’s began in 1908; St. John’s in Glen Carlin 1919; St. Mary’s 1925; St. Michael’s 1945; St. Andrews 1950, and St. Peters 1961.

World War II brought a slew of new steeples: Westover Baptist and Resurrection Lutheran on Washington Blvd. in 1940. Then came Our Lady Queen of Peace, whose South Arlington congregation is Catholic and  interracial, St. Thomas More and the Unitarian Universalist Church at Route 50 and George Mason Dr., all in 1945.

Our oldest Jewish congregation in Arlington is the conservative Etz Hayim on Route 50, from the late 1940s. We can’t neglect the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses temple on Williamsburg Blvd., two Morman entities, two Seventh Day Adventist bodies, the Bangladesh Islamic Center on South Nelson St. and Arlington Metaphysical Chapel on Wilson Blvd.

Today, 90 houses of worship dot Arlington, according to Churchangel.com. Baptists have 17, followed by Methodists at 14. My once-dominant Episcopalians are down to eight.


For my own reasons, I was at the East Falls Church Metro both on Friday (Inauguration Day) and Saturday (the women’s march).

I saw firsthand how the station and surroundings were sparsely populated on the Friday federal holiday but jammed with crowds for the protest march.

On my way home Friday, I spotted two women sporting “I was there” badges with a picture of President Trump. Standing beside them were two women with luggage wearing shirts that said “Not My President.” The Trump women smiled as they vacated their seats and the anti-Trump duo took them over. The transactions were completely civil.