Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The quaint 1889 Queen Anne-style home a couple of hundred yards from the East Falls Church Metro may soon meet the wrecking ball.

What for decades has been called the Fellows-McGrath House (6404 Washington Blvd.) was sold by owner Pam Jones this February for $1,088,295. The purchaser, Manassas-based FNM Investments LLC, led Jones to suspect her cherished home of 17 years — a one time bed and breakfast known as Memory House — will be torn down.

That would be a shame. The green with red trim home (3221 square feet, with built-in china cabinets) is not only a landmark, it was for 43 years home to the only man to be chief executive for both Falls Church and Arlington County.

Harry Andrew Fellows, according to clippings and Falls Church histories graciously lent me by the pandemic-crimped Falls Church and Arlington public libraries, played a role in seminal events in both jurisdictions.

A native of Livingston, Alabama, Fellows (1866-1943) moved to the Washington area for law school at Georgetown University. He spent 22 years at the Treasury Department’s Income Tax Bureau. But one senses from his outside activities that his heart lay in civic activism.

After buying the Washington Blvd. house in 1900 with his wife Alice, Fellows became president of the Falls Church Citizens Association and the new Arlington County Civic Federation. This joiner and father of two was a parishioner at the Falls Church and served in the D.C. National Guard, the Odd Fellows and the French Lodge of Washington.

Alice made her mark as a luncheon hostess of bridge tournaments — covered by the Washington Post — and, before her death at 105 in 1971, built a reputation as a font of Falls Church history. Her home was bought by John and Marlys McGrath.

Harry Fellows became mayor of Falls Church in 1920. A 1926 Evening Star article records his role selling bonds that financed construction of the Madison Elementary School in the heart of the Little City. His January 1927 decision not to seek reelection was reported by the Post, and soon his attention shifted to Arlington; he ran for county supervisor from its Washington district.

In 1932, Fellows was sworn in as chairman of the Arlington County Board. He had helped with creation of the nation’s first county manager system in 1930, and was in on planning the committee that renamed Arlington’s streets.

He was active in the effort, first broached in the 1920s, to separate his East Falls Church neighborhood from the City of Falls Church.

The reasons were complex. There was an untidy border and confusing government jurisdictions complicated by a railway station. Petitioners among residents envied Arlington’s progress in providing water and sewer lines, and they felt they would be taxed less in Arlington. Falls Church resisted because it would lose businesses. The proposal to shift to Arlington was filed in 1932, and was approved by a court in April 1936.

By then Fellows had left the county board. He died in 1943 at the Crestdale Sanatorium on Lee Highway (now the Overlee Community Association).

Portraits of Harry and Alice Fellows from the house are now with the Arlington Historical Society, whose leaders are not eager to see the home demolished.

The Re/Max agent for FNM Investments told me the home, comprising two lots, is “uninhabitable,” though no decision yet on tearing it down.


Another chip in the marble that has been Robert E. Lee:

An April 9, 1865 photo of Lee at Appomattox was removed on May 6 from a history display case at the Arlington Courthouse, where it had been shown since 2006. “He has become a symbol of racism and white supremacy,” explained curator George Dodge, an attorney and local historian.

“Although Lee is a figure in Arlington history, the inclusion of his picture in the display misdirects its intended narrative,” which is to portray the “work conducted within the courthouse and in the five constitutional offices which protect and promote the good of the community with equality.”