Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

If you watched delighted children sledding during the recent snowfalls, know that they are forming memories that will stick for decades.


Those adventures in the land of Flexible Flyers, soggy snowsuits and cravings for hot chocolate unfolded all across Arlington. In my own neighborhood, kids gather at the natural slope that descends from Sycamore St. to Tuckahoe field. Over in Bluemont Park—thanks to county preservation efforts—they glide their saucer discs down the hill by the Reeves farmhouse.


On the Facebook site “I Grew Up in Arlington, VA.,” the nostalgia was launched last week by Grace Lescelius, who remembered “the days we would take our sleds over to Ft. Myer and sleigh ride down the big hill in front of” what today is called Arlington House.


Other adults gleefully relived the 1958 snowstorm, when “schools were closed for a week. The snow was perfect for sledding, snowball battles, etc.”


Several of my childhood neighbors recollected sledding down our hill on Oakland St. in Rivercrest (so steep that cars with brake failure went careening down toward Gulf Branch).


Even more harrowing was the sledding, in 1969, on “what we called Speed Hill,” said Dennis, invoking the monster incline at 2700 N. Quebec St. in the Dover Crystal neighborhood. “Someone brought a car hood. Two or three of us would jump in. Road was a sheet of ice. Switched to my sled after a couple of runs.”


Both the Washington Golf and Army-Navy country clubs got mentions as sledding havens (and not just for members!).


In what was to become Crystal City, a native recalled gliding down Hayes St. “We used to start at the top near Fort Scott Dr. and go all the way down to and through 26th St.” To which Beverly adjoined, “I remember my Dad calling and Arlington County would close Hayes Hill for us to go sledding. Built a fire at the top to warm up some.”


To which Scott added: “Nice location…. Way before Pentagon Row [apartments were] built, so no Starbucks breaks.”
Linda recalled a hill on 18th St. (Tara-Leeway Heights) “the county used to close for us to sled. They also built big bonfires at the top of the hill. I don’t think the county does that kind of thing anymore. It was something that was great for our generation.”


Hills at the Stratford building (now Dorothy Hamm Middle School) was favored, as were S. 5th St. in Glencarlyn and Fairlington Village near “Shirley Highway.”


To Marcus, “The best part about sledding was that even though some folks would show up in groups with friends around their own age, others might show up with brothers and sisters of various ages; all were welcome!! It was one of those winter activities that didn’t matter what level of experience you had, just sit or lie down on the sled and point it downhill. My buddy’s mom was so awesome. She would make hot chocolate and cookies when we took a break. Plus, when our jeans were soaking wet, she would throw them in the dryer and get them toasty warm for the next runs.”


A sadder but indelible memory came from Christine, who remembered “the girl Michelle who lost her life sledding down a hill at an elementary school on Carlin Springs Dr. She was my friend.”


Back when Arlington had blue-collar bars, a favorite, recently recalled by Facebook nostalgists, was the Keyhole Inn.


That Clarendon dive in a residential-type building at N. Hudson and Wilson Blvd. (now a condo) was renowned for its chili (rumored to be continually rewarmed in a pot). Memories are mostly fond, though there are hints of fathers blowing earnings nightly and cops breaking up fights.


“I loved going there in the ‘70’s,” said a contributor named Sean. “Beers were $1 and they had several old pinball games, the non-digital kind. Each game was 10 cents, so for $5, you had an evening of entertainment!”