Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpOne of Arlington’s premier land-owning families, the Marceys, trace their roots to the days of log cabins.

The clan is getting a fresh coat of history paint.

Descendent Cal Marcey, 80, contacted me from his home adjacent to family land near Mount Olivet Church to show a draft family chronology, complete with genealogy back to England. He began it in the 1970s.

A retired florist, Cal Marcey is worried over possible destruction of one of Arlington’s remaining log cabins, to which his ancestors have ties.

A new owner has purchased the early-19th century Birchwood cabin at N. Wakefield and 26th sts., and the plans—renovation versus teardown–are unclear.

Most Arlingtonians know the Marceys from Marcey Road near Potomac Overlook Park. That area of north Arlington off Military Rd. was settled by Cal’s great-great-great-great grandparents in the 18th century. Sam Marcey and family came from the Blue Ridge Mountains and rented land from George Mason for $160 a year.

The family prospered on farmland around what today is the Church of the Covenant. You can find Marceys on historic signs, and their marriages often linked other prominent Arlington families –Balls, Donaldsons and Birches. Many Marcey graves lie at Mt. Olivet, at an unmarked site off Marcey Rd. and Walker Chapel.

Civil War Union troops forced the Marceys to host campsites, where thousands of trees were leveled. (Arlington historian Eleanor Lee Templeman wrote of a soldier’s buried treasure near Marceytown, never found.)

Later Marceys worked at as Arlington Cemetery groundskeepers, and White House police and maintenance engineers, Cal said. The family ran the Arlington County Dairy at 2701 Wilson Blvd. before it closed in 1947. (Cal still has a dairy promotional calendar with photos of the delivery trucks.)

Growing up on Marcey farmland in the 1940s, Cal said, meant chores of fetching water from a well before school and his mother washing clothes using a three-burner stove. “We were in the sticks,” he said of the Military Rd. land. “We called Cherrydale the city.”

Log cabins are intertwined with the Marceys. Cal recalls scavenging old Arlington brewery bottles from a cabin that was demolished in 1947.

But the most famous Marcey cabin was one from the 1840s that originally measured 15 x 15 foot, with chinked V-notched pine logs. One of his relative raised 13 children inside after expansions.

In 1985, it was famously transported to a historic neighborhood in Vienna, Va. “It had sat for a number of years empty” after a housekeeper moved out (her relatives found $75,000 stored there), leaving little but a cellar full of snakes, Cal said. “The county didn’t want it.” So the Arlington Historical Society offered it to attorney Charles Sloan.

Sloan’s widow Daphne, at first said, “Over my dead body.” But now she now recalls fondly the flatbed trucks and police escort (a $20,000 expense) required to move the roof.

One more cabin, later used as a toolshed and as Arlington’s last smokehouse for butchered hogs, stood for decades near Cal Marcey’s current home, on land originally part of the Glebe House tract. It was on Marceys’ original 95 acres, which the family sold to make room for Glebe School (opened 1971). The late Arlington Sherriff J. Elwood Clements, born on the property, tried to save it from the wrecking ball.

May the Birchwood cabin fare better.


Clarendon Day is Saturday, Sept. 22. An early-20th century newspaper ad for the opening of “Washington’s peerless suburb” was recently posted on the “I Grew up in Arlington, VA” Facebook page.

“Now is your opportunity to secure a beautiful homesite or profitable investment in the most desirable and promising section about Washington at only $90 to $140 per lot,” said the notice from Wood, Harmon & Co.

The downtown company calling itself the “largest real estate operators in the world” lured buyers to our county’s first commercial center for “only $2 down and $1 per week.”