2024-06-25 1:46 PM

Our Man in Arlington

Transatlantic plaudits to the Arlington Heights Civic Association, for forging new ties with historical allies in the United Kingdom.

The “Friendship Community Relationship”—not as elaborate as the larger sister city program but still fun—was just announced by association delegate Mark Murawski. The goal is to “open the lines of communication” to create goodwill between the South Arlington neighborhood and the quaint Cotswold village of Bibury in the English county of Gloucestershire.

The reason: ancestral roots of the Custis family, whose scion George Washington Parke Custis created Arlington House, which is the source of our own county’s name.

As a biographer of Custis (1781-1857), I did my own examination of the once-prestigious family tree of this step-grandson of Martha Washington raised at Mount Vernon under THE Founding Father. That included a dive into the gentle dispute over exactly how Arlington derives its name (officially so-christened in March 1920 after decades playing second fiddle as the rural section of Alexandria County).

For those of you not keeping score, GWP Custis chose the name Arlington for his Potomac-side monument to George Washington to invoke his 17th-century ancestor John Custis II. Raised in the Netherlands as a wool trader, Custis immigrated to America and bestowed the name Arlington on his tobacco plantation on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. (You can visit the Northampton County site near Cape Charles.)

In one 19th-century telling, John Custis was honoring a hero, Henry Bennet, a 17th-century Earl of Arlington, often spelled as “Harlington.” That’s an ancient town in the British county of Middlesex, near Heathrow Airport. To further confuse things, there is also an old English village called Arlington south of London in East Sussex.

But more common is the view that the older Custis was honoring his father’s birthplace in the Bibury, where 581 souls inhabit a picturesque village on the River Coln—with a splendid array of stone cottages called Arlington Row. At least one American Arlingtonian has visited the lovely Cotswolds with the express purpose of finding our county’s roots. That would be Arlington Historical Society president Warren Clardy, who wrote it up in the Arlington Historical Magazine in 1989.

Today, the Arlington Heights folks, says Murawski, would like to “dispel the rumor that we were named after” that long-gone earl (also called Baron Arlington). He put me in touch with Craig Chapman, chairman of the Bibury Parish Council, who knows the subject. Chapman assured me that his study of the 370-year association between our two hometowns shows no link to the other two British Arlingtons, only Bibury’s, as he wrote in an article in the local magazine Village Life. He is equally excited about the new Friendship Community Relationship with the 1,000 households in the Arlington, Va., neighborhood off Columbia Pike and South Glebe Road.

Chapman looks forward to an “opportunity to build a relationship between our two communities, to explore our historical links, share ideas and promote further exchange.” He promised to scout for British descendants of the Custis family still in the mother country.

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The county board Jan. 25 voted 5-0 to advertise for two months the disputed proposal to loosen zoning to allow more “Missing Middle” housing types. Nearly 200 speakers had given up their Saturday Jan. 21 to address the board and decry or praise the plan. The advertisement ruled out seven- and eight-plex units.

As opponents waved slogans on camera behind the microphone, advocate Christine Purka of the Yorktown neighborhood attacked existing zoning and economic inequalities as “opportunity hoarding.”  Critic Elizabeth Grossman of Arlington Forest asked why the board is “more concerned about future populations than the people who live here now.”

Homebuilder Larry Smith of Arlington Green Homes challenged opponents’ assertion that the 8-plex units so upsetting to some would be common. More likely we’d go for duplexes, or townhouses with a common wall, he said.

YIMBY’s of NoVa estimated that 90 speakers favored the proposal, with 79 opposed. Organized opponents cited their 5,000 names on a protest petition.

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