Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Neighborhood histories rank among our best under-appreciated local records, tapping, as most do, volunteer labor and up-close on-the-scene observations.

With cicada season approaching, stalwarts in North Arlington’s Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood have been circulating loose-leaf binders that document their subdivision’s collective doings, including clippings from past local coverage of the 17-year insect invasions in 1987 and 2004.

Among the personal photos in the roving scrapbooks is a shot of a young neighbor in Brood X T-shirt. “We believe that the smaller size of the invasions is due to the loss of trees in our neighborhood,” wrote Richard Rhoads, a 51-year resident who assembled the collection.

“N. Va. Anticipates Song of the Cicada,” headlined the piece by the Journal Newspaper’s Mark Grossman April 30, 1987. Arlington and Alexandria officials were being flooded with cicada calls. “The males are the noisy ones that vibrate their bellies in a musical mating ritual,” wrote his colleague Phil Hosmer.

The Sun-Gazette on March 25, 2004, reminisced about the 1987 go-round. The cicadas “have their minds on just two things — sex, and making as much noise as possible,” wrote Brian Trompeter and Ryan Self. A program with signage was conducted at Potomac Overlook Park, said ranger Martin Ogle. The Sun quoted the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service advising that “a way of controlling the damage is to wrap or cover trees with mosquito netting.” “Cicadamania,” proclaimed the Associated Press. “Billions in Washington area and 13 states.” Cicadas live about 18-24 inches underground and emerge when the soil temperature hits 65 degrees, AP informed us.

“Maligned by a Lot of Bad Buzz,” wrote the Washington Post’s Adrian Higgins April 29, 2004. But a cicada “does not…sting, bite, transmit disease to humans, pets or flowers, destroy crops, trees or strip bare our landscapes.”

Addressing Tara-Leeway itself, the scrapbooks showcase the development’s original brochure from late 1930s: “Dick Bassett presents TARA, ‘carved out of the virgin wooded hills of Old Dominion countryside…..restores the romance of plantation days, in which Margaret Mitchell’s TARA in ‘Gone with the Wind’ symbolized gracious hospitality.”

Such a sales pitch wouldn’t pass muster today. (But back in 1939, that seminal movie had just come out.) Builder E. Ray Keene originally offered Tara homes for $9,000. Today many are worth over $1 million.

In the spirit of the public square, fun invitations promote Tara-Leeway’s Flag Day Walk/Run and July 4 picnics.

Red letter days in the shared culture include the report from the Post Sept. 4, 1976, breaking news that “Westover Mourns J.W. Ayers, `Westover Mayor.’ ”

March 29, 1989. The Citgo (now Liberty) gas station that occupied the site of the current Westover Post Office, moved to Lee Highway.

Oct. 23, 2004, was the grand opening of Virginia Hospital Center.

Oct. 30, 2009, was the dedication of the new Westover Branch Library.

Nov. 3, 2010, the “Westover Apartments Celebrate Renovation,” the Sun reported.

Lots of sentimental shots of businesses once nearby: Ballston Hecht’s sign being removed in 2006, to make it Macy’s; Bob Peck Chevrolet, Blockbuster and Hollywood video, Friendly’s Ice Cream, Fantle’s and Dart Drug.

“Growth Was the Top Story of 2004: From Rosslyn to Shirlington, Upscale Development Blossomed,” wrote the Sun’s Scott McCaffrey Dec. 30, 2004. Plus can change.

Like the cicadas, Arlington’s news goes around and comes around.

A more scholarly history of the Glencarlyn neighborhood was published this spring by Tim Aiken. That’s Arlington’s first subdivision, packed with history involving George Washington.

One highlight was detail on Joshua Devaughn (1831-1922), the African-American worker shown in an unusual 19th century photo. He’s standing behind pipe-smoking schoolteacher Mary Carlin (1818-1905) at the two-century-plus-old house still standing on Carlin Springs Rd.

According to a 1970 memoir by a later resident of the house, Munson Lane, Devaughn was known as “Uncle Josh,” and looked after Mary Carlin. She gave him a parcel of land for his cabin. He was a Baptist minister and “a very devout man.”