Around F.C.

A Theory on Why a Southern Town Has a Lincoln Avenue

 It seems puzzling to moderns why a town like Falls Church—steeped in southern history with some 19th-century pro-slavery sympathies—would choose to honor Abraham Lincoln on a thoroughfare.

Lincoln Ave., which hugs the W&OD trail in a leafy residential neighborhood known as Sherwood, is one of hundreds across the country that long ago honored the president slain in 1865. Some clues as to how the city’s version was named were recently dug up at the history room of the Mary Riley Styles Library and from a historian’s work marking a noteworthy and handsome home.

When was it named? A scan of the surviving minutes of the Falls Church Town Council beginning in 1875 (the year the town was incorporated in Fairfax County) found a single mention. The town’s first 20 years were a period of road-building—Joseph E. Birch (later mayor) was an early “Overseer of Roads.” When the managers and attorneys planning what became the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad appeared before the council in 1896 and 1897, they submitted a legal document to Mayor John Payne. Dated Nov. 16, 1897, it stated that the company “shall have the right to construct its railway, the same to consist of but one track on the south edge of Lincoln Avenue from Little Falls Street to Great Falls Street.” Today, of course, that is the W&OD trail run by NOVA Parks.

A visit to Lincoln Ave. pulls one quickly to the DePutron House—known today also as “Oak Haven” at 508 Lincoln. The Sherwood subdivision goes back to 1891 and is one of Virginia’s oldest. An auction was held in June 1891 for 230 choice lots on the 217 acres, according to a 2012 Washington Post profile. So it’s likely the street was named soon after.

DePutron house. (Photo: Charlie Clark)

But why Lincoln? The details on the official city marker for the DePutron house says it was built in 1893-94 by Jacob C. DePutron and wife Mary Sherwood (married in 1866). Some key details were highlighted last year by Ronald Anzalone, chair of Falls Church Historical Commission and a retired federal preservation specialist.

For the online Historical Marker Database and “Find a Grave,” he supplied the vital fact that Jacob DePutron (1843-1926) was a Union soldier during the Civil War. Originally from Philadelphia, he settled in Falls Church, and during World War I was “an important witness for William Henderson, an African-American who alleged an assault by a conductor when he was pulled from a train car on the Arlington and Fairfax Railroad because he did not allow a white person to enter the car first. Henderson won his case,” the text notes, “and DePutron was hanged in effigy from a light pole at East Falls Church.” DePutron is interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

So DePutron’s war record and learnings on civil rights for blacks make a good clue as to why he could have lobbied the town council to name his property’s street for Lincoln.

This speculation sounds plausible to Brad Gernand, author of two history books on Falls Church. He notes that Lincoln Ave. would have connected Minor’s Hill with Leesburg Pike and the western regions of Northern Virginia. “The road was probably more important in earlier times than today, because North Washington Street wasn’t built until after the Civil War.”