Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Remember phonebooks? They were a must in the 20th century.

Arlington had one as early as 1912, back when it was called Alexandria County. I perused such a directory at Central Library’s Center for Local History and pulled facts that help my ongoing portrait of our, then-officially segregated, hometown.

The paperback’s business listings and advertisements are introduced with a historical essay by Crandal Mackey, the famous Rosslyn-based commonwealth’s attorney and sin-and-saloon buster who also served on the school board.

Here’s his explanation of why our Virginia county “retroceded” from the District of Columbia in 1846. “The county was sparsely settled and almost a wilderness, and the excessive tolls charged on the bridges connecting her with the District of Columbia almost prohibited travel by vehicles and served to isolate the county and retard its growth,” he wrote.

After the Civil War, D.C.’s more “lawless characters” began using our turf “as an asylum, and up to the year 1904, the County of Alexandria was covered with gambling houses and her political control in the hands of a lawless element,” wrote the self-congratulatory Mackey.

It was Mackey, elected in 1903, who cracked down on riff-raff in Rosslyn and Jackson City (near today’s 14th St. Bridge). Arlington’s population then boomed by 61 percent from 1900 to 1910.

As of 1912, the county boasted 16 post offices, 80 miles of roads, (“better” than those elsewhere in Virginia) six “great” railways, creditable representatives of all trades, and “the finest school houses of any county in the State of Virginia,” he stated. “The county is free from debt, and pauperism is almost unknown, there being no poorhouse.”

The clincher for those in our tobacco state: “The assessment of property is so low that taxation is scarcely felt. There are no smoke laws to annoy and oppress the manufacturer.”

In a convention that continued into the 1960s, listings include head of households’ occupation, as in “Hardy, Bentley, farmer, East Falls Church, RFD1.” Or “Harrison, John, car inspector, 1708 Prince St., Alexandria.”

Advertisements include a full-pager from the Washington-Virginia Railway: “The cleanest and quickest way between Washington and Arlington, Fort Myer, Clarendon, Ballston, Falls Church, Vienna and Fairfax, and between Washington and Alexandria and Mount Vernon.” Pharmacist R.L. Bradfield, in Clarendon’s Masonic Temple, touted an indigestion remedy for 25 cents.

Our Arlington wouldn’t take its modern name until 1920. In 1912, that name was a district within Alexandria County (now central and south Arlington), distinct from Jefferson (now in Alexandria) and Washington (now north Arlington). Local government spending in fiscal 2012 was $41,308.95. The tax rate was “50 cents on the $100, the highest levy possible under the laws of Virginia.”

Our schools served 2,855 pupils — 813 of them “colored” on 16 properties worth $119,110. The “white” schools included Mt. Vernon, Hume, Ballston, Barcroft, Clarendon, Columbia, Ft. Myer Heights, Glencarlyn, Carne, Cherrydale and Saegmuller. “Colored” schools included Jefferson, Scott, Kemper, St. John’s and Sumner.

The cost of tuition per pupil was $13.14 in the Jefferson District, $9.45 in the Arlington District, and $9.06 in the Washington District.

Not surprisingly, salaries for 45 total teachers were higher for whites than for “colored.” A white teacher in Jefferson earned $580 annually, versus $366 for blacks; in the Arlington District it was $459 versus $366; in the Washington District whites earned $416, blacks a mere $285.

One of Arlington’s own has a curious distinction in the District of Columbia.
Mary Hall, the 19th-century brothel-keeper whose summer home was on the site now the heart of Marymount University, is buried at Congressional Cemetery.

Caretakers tell me that, after the graves of John Philip Souza and J. Edgar Hoover, Hall’s fancily sculptured tombstone is the Southeast cemetery’s most visited. The “entertainer” to Washington’s elite owned more plots there than anyone else.