Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

“Build Your Love Nest in Ashton Heights, Virginia,” read the ad in the Evening Star a century ago. “$500 cash will finance your home; $20 will reserve your lot.”

Exclusive sales agents at the D.C.-based (all female) Kay-Alger Co. were luring federal employees to join the automobile generation’s embrace of suburbanization, to “get away from the crowded city and enjoy the freedom of a most picturesque surrounding.”

Such fun facts were unearthed by Ashton Heights resident Peter W. Dickson in “Ashton Heights: Its Origin and History,” published this June in time for next month’s celebration of the centennial of the cozy neighborhood bordered by N. Glebe Rd., Wilson Blvd., Arlington Blvd., and N. Irving St.

Then-and-now characteristics include quick access to Clarendon shopping (with its now-defunct Ashton movie theater), plus landmarks such as Columbia Gardens Cemetery and Clarendon United Methodist Church.

But when it was planned, Ashton Heights was touted as being “275 feet above sea level, the highest point in a radius of two miles” and boasting the “best trolley line out of Washington, 22 minutes from 12th and Pennsylvania Ave.”

Credited as the neighborhood’s “father” was Ashton Crenshaw Jones (1879 – 1960), born to a tobacco farming family in Lunenburg County in South Central Virginia. After a stint at the College of William and Mary, he worked as a news reporter in Newport News and a furniture salesman in Hampton Roads.

Jones married Margaret Rucker, and her Arlington real estate entrepreneur brother George Rucker, in 1909, offered him a sales job. (The Rucker firm was a fixture for decades at 1403 N. Courthouse Rd., now a county office building.)

The Ashton Heights impresario in 1919 bought acreage from Fannie Hunter (of the family that owned Abingdon Plantation). With the coming Potomac crossing described as “Lincoln Memorial Bridge” (Memorial Bridge opened 1932), the woods of Ashton Heights offered a “direct line” to the bridge via Cathcart Rd., which bisects the neighborhood and which we know as Pershing Drive.

Sample completed homes sold for $8,500, $6,850, or $7,850. (Today they’re $800,000 to $1.5 million.)

Among the booklet’s fun facts are the old-time (pre-1935) street names: Current Lincoln St. was Milton Ave.; Monroe St. was West St.; Irving St. was “Clarendon Ave.” and N. Fifth St. was “Hunter Ave.”

Jones “delivered on promises to install street lights and telephone lines throughout the neighborhood,” Dickson writes. Cavalry horses drilling from Ft. Myer were a common sight. An ad boasted that “the progressive spirit of purchases of Ashton Heights property has already been shown in the organization of an Ashton Heights Citizens Association.” Also formed was an Ashton Heights Women’s Club, lasting from 1924 to 2005.

Less flattering was enforcement in the detached-homes of racial covenants that excluded “those not of the Caucasian race.” And in the late 1930s, residents “mounted a strong and successful campaign to block construction of row houses within the projected Buckingham complex with the argument that this would bring a less desirable element into the neighborhood,” the history notes.

Jones’ son Ashton Jr. also joined Rucker and went on to assemble the land that became Parkington (today’s Ballston Quarter) and to build Country Club Hills.

Today in Ashton Heights, “there is a feeling of historic depth,” the history proclaims. “It does not have the feeling of a place that just came into being overnight.”

Arlington will officially compost. As of Sept. 6, residents are encouraged to position on their countertops a white plastic, smaller-than-a-breadbox caddy distributed this month by sanitation crews.

Green planners recommend putting food scraps in a disposable bag to line the caddy — or simply stuffing them with yard trimmings in the larger green cart.

“Arlington will be the first jurisdiction in Virginia to provide food scraps collection to all residential customers,” the county says.

There’s potential to divert 20 percent of the residential waste stream from incineration to composting, among other environmental benefits. A composter’s rule of thumb: “If it grows, it goes.”