2024-05-27 1:53 AM

Memorial Day 2024 Issue!

Our Man in Arlington

I got inspired by the Inauguration Day image of former presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama reflecting on U.S. history at the 101-year-old Arlington National Cemetery amphitheater.

Which of our 46 presidents spent time in Arlington, before or during their tenures?

Most, if not all, would have passed through during cross-Potomac travels, and in modern times most visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Pentagon. But which old-timers can we document?

We begin with George Washington, who in 1775 bought land in what is now our Glencarlyn neighborhood and returned in 1785 to survey it.

Thomas Jefferson, who helped plan the Long Bridge, was seen, after being succeeded by James Madison on March 4, 1809, alone on horseback on Pennsylvania Ave. riding south toward Virginia.

Franklin Pierce made several visits to Arlington House to see George Washington Parke Custis, one recorded in detail in April 1856.

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln visited forts Corcoran (Rosslyn) and Albany (near Columbia Pike), a Union hospital at the Falls Grove home (now N. Glebe and Little Falls roads), and likely passed by Upton Hill (Wilson Blvd. at Patrick Henry Dr.) on Nov. 20, 1861, to review troops at Munson Hill near Bailey’s Crossroads. Among the young Union fighters stationed at Upton Hill were Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley.

Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900s rode his horse for recreation near what is now the course at Washington Golf and Country Club. William Howard Taft came through by automobile caravan on July 21, 1911, on his way to a Civil War commemoration in Manassas (mentioned on a sign on Lee Highway at the Falls Church border).

Taft and Roosevelt, along with Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, were members of that country club, and Wilson was fond of riding in his Pierce-Arrow along what became Wilson Blvd.

Franklin Roosevelt, on Jan. 30, 1941, celebrated a birthday at the club too, and in 1936 surveyed flood damage at Chain Bridge. Dwight Eisenhower, after he was appointed Army Chief of Staff in 1946, lived at Fort Myer.

Lyndon Johnson, as vice president in February 1962, stationed his limo on N. Harrison St. across from Williamsburg Middle School, hoping that the wife of astronaut John Glenn — he at the time making final preparations to become the first American to orbit the Earth — would receive the veep (she declined).

Richard Nixon, while still vice president, came to National Airport on Oct. 3, 1960, to speak at a program honoring his wife, Pat.

Most recently, Obama spoke at Wakefield High School on Sept. 8, 2009, and shopped at One More Page bookstore on Nov. 24, 2012.

Donald Trump came to his campaign headquarters in Rosslyn on June 11 and Nov. 3, 2020.

Readers may know of other sightings in our highly presidential community.


Preservationists seeking to rescue the historic Febrey-Lothrop House from a homebuilder’s wrecking ball amassed 1,200 signatures on their petition.

The county board, however, appears skeptical that the current budget climate would allow thwarting the owners’ “by right” prerogative to add a subdivision to the green space at Wilson Blvd. and N. McKinley St.

On Jan. 15, a county inspector implemented a stop-work order on roofers whom the unnamed builder, without a permit, put to work. But Chairman Matt de Ferranti said county housing planners are seeking permission merely to document the interior before a demolition permit is approved.

Activist Tom Dickinson, backed by the Arlington Historical Society, urged the board on Jan. 23 to accelerate a possible Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board recommendation for a Local Historic District designation for the house linked to the 19th-century land-owning Febreys, Woodward and Lothrop, actress Audrey Meadows and horseman-homebuilder Randy Rouse.

That designation, Dickinson said, would provide a year for preservationists to find funding for renovations.

The Historical Affairs Board, I’m told, seldom declares a historic district against the owner’s wishes.

UPDATE: After the News-Press went to press, the Historical Affairs board on Jan. 27 voted 11-0 (one abstention) in three parts to declare that the Febrey-Lothrop house is at urgent risk of demolition, that the property meets eight of the 11 criteria that allow designation as a local historic district, and that the overlay of that district should include the four lots that comprise the house and outbuildings, but not the 11 paper lots alongside. The home’s fate is now with the county board and the homebuilder that seeks to purchase it.

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