Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


Another nugget from the “I Grew Up in Arlington, Va.” Facebook page.

Nostalgia fans recently posted memories of passing the home of Basil Hall, one of Arlington’s infamous slaveholders. That’s who attached his name to Hall’s Hill, one of Arlington’s vital African-American neighborhoods.

Hall’s mid-19th-century farmhouse stood on the 1700 block of N. George Mason Dr., before it was torn down in 1999 to make a cul-de-sac of red-brick colonials. The two-story yellow farmhouse with eight columns was visible to patients across the street at Virginia Hospital Center.

It was the scene of much drama.

Hall (1806?-1888) was born in Washington, D.C. Before homesteading in Arlington, he was an adventurer on a Massachusetts whaling ship. That allowed him to tour South America and eventually California where he met and married Elizabeth Winner, according to Arlington Historical Magazine write-ups by Willard Webb, Donald Wise and Ruth Ward.

In 1850, as a “trimmer of wood,” Hall purchased 327 acres around what is now the swath between Lee Highway and N. 16th St.

He would raise six children (from two marriages) in a home on a 400-foot hill valued at $3,000. On the farm worked by enslaved labor, he raised fruit, potatoes, oats, cattle, hogs and clover. His worm fence was made of chestnut rails supported by cedar and locust posts.

Basil Hall worked at his reputation for being hard on slaves. As contemporary Gaillard Hunt recalled, “old Hall, as he is familiarly called in the county, was a character well remembered because of violent temper and bad habits.” He whipped many, and shot one “Negro in bravado.”A tragedy in Hall’s household drew news coverage in the Evening Star. Mrs. Hall clashed with an enslaved woman named Jenny Farr over whether to put more wood on the fire. The angry laborer pushed her mistress in the flames.

Elizabeth Hall died despite ministrations from neighbor physician George Wunder. Jenny was hanged, and her fate entered Halls Hill lore.

When the Civil War hit, Hall’s life was upended. First, his farmhouse was shelled by Rebel forces from Upton Hill. But after the second battle of Bull Run, Union forces cut his trees to better view Upton Hill and Falls Church. They took his hay, corn and mules and burned his house. “My barn and other buildings were also burnt; ….I had not a bed to lie on nor a roof to put it under when I left the place,” he later testified.

Basil moved in with his sister Mary Ann, the downtown brothel keeper whose Arlington land became Marymount University. “I voted against the ordinance of secession at Ball’s Cross Roads,” he told Northern soldiers. “I go in for the Union, but I ain’t no abolitionist, and any man of common sense will say that slavery is the very best thing for the south.”

After the war, he made a $42,450 claim to the Southern Claims Commission set up by Congress. He was granted $10,729.

Hall became a justice of the peace. Beginning in 1866, his land tracts were sold to create what would become the African-American neighborhood.

Hall died in that house in 1888 at age 83. He was buried on his land with his two wives. But in 1930, the graves were moved to Oakwood Cemetery in Falls Church–to make room for Arlington Hospital.


Arlington history enthusiast Tom Dickinson gave a talk on May 23 on county notable Frank Hume, the Confederate colonel wounded at Gettysburg who came back to our area as a developer (600 acres!) and philanthropist.

That’s his name on the Hume School (built 1891) on Arlington Ridge Road, and since the early 1960s home to the Arlington Historical Society.

Dickinson considers himself fortunate that his talk at the Aurora Hills library attracted Hume’s grand-daughter as well as two neighborhood alumni of the old Hume School.