Mile Markers

A timeline of pivotal points in local history

1608– Necostin Indians greet Capt. John Smith as he sails up the Potomac to Little Falls.

1690–  Native American settlements, decimated by disease and armed raids, cease to exist in what is now Arlington County.

1742-  John Ball builds the Ball-Sellers House in Arlington’s present-day Glencarlyn neighborhood. Now operated by the Arlington Historical Society and open for tours, the structure is the oldest house in Arlington County.

1769– Parishioners of Truro Parish construct a new building for The Falls Church, a structure that still maintains a congregation today, and for which the City of Falls Church is named.

1781– French and American wagon trains travel southward along Old Georgetown Road (the section now known as Army Navy Drive) en route to Yorktown, where allied forces under the command of Gen. George Washington and French Gen. Rochambeau defeat the British to win the War of Independence.

1791– Andrew Ellicott’s team of surveyors lay the boundary stones to mark the nation’s capital. The original 10-mile square of the District of Columbia includes parts of Arlington and McLean.

1797– The first bridge to cross the Potomac River in this vicinity is built near Little Falls, as part of a road connecting Georgetown and Virginia farms. After being twice destroyed by floods, it is replaced by a higher, suspension bridge, popularly known as “Chain Bridge.”

1801– The land that includes present-day Arlington (then part of Fairfax County) is ceded to the federal government to create the new Federal District. Arlington and the city of Alexandria are renamed Alexandria County.

1808– Construction begins on Long Bridge (a precursor to the 14th Street Bridge) and “Columbia Turnpike Road.”

1814– Anticipating a British attack on Washington during the War of 1812, Secretary of State James Monroe orders the evacuation of the Declaration of Independence and other key documents from the capital city. The documents are temporarily hidden in linen bags, in the grist mill at Pimmit Run.  

1817 -George Washington Parke Custis, step-grandson of George Washington, completes the construction of Arlington House. Custis considers naming the estate “Mount Washington” in honor of his adopted grandfather, but opts instead for the name of the Custis family’s ancestral estate in the Virginia tidewater area.

1826– Charles Syphax and Maria Carter, the biracial daughter of G.W.P. Custis, are married in the parlor of Arlington House. Soon thereafter, Custis emancipates Maria and her children, giving her 17½ acres of his land (which remains in the hands of her descendants for more than 100 years). Her husband, Charles Syphax, remains a slave.

1831– Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis are married at Arlington House.

1847– The land that includes present-day Arlington and the City of Alexandria is retroceded from the District of Columbia to Virginia. The entire area is referred to as “Alexandria County, Virginia.”

1860– The Alexandria, Loudoun, and Hampshire Railroad (today’s W&OD) begins passenger service between Alexandria and Ashburn.

1861– Roughly 70,000 troops participate in the nation’s largest-ever military parade during President Lincoln’s Grand Review of the Troops at Bailey’s Crossroads.

1861– Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, flees Arlington House at the onset of the Civil War. Union troops occupy the estate.

1861– Thaddeus Lowe conducts aerial reconnaissance from a hot-air balloon above Ballston, using flags to direct Union artillery fire toward Confederate positions.

1864– Confederate Col. John Mosby (aka “The Gray Ghost”) conducts a series of raids behind enemy lines in Falls Church, seizing supplies and capturing prisoners.

1871– The new Virginia constitution designates Alexandria City and Alexandria County as two separate and independent jurisdictions.

1904– Commonwealth’s Attorney Crandall Mackey leads a series of raids to “clean up” Rosslyn and rid the area of its illegal speakeasies, gambling halls and brothels.

1908- Orville Wright conducts test flights of the Wright Bros.’ latest Flying Machine at Fort Myer. Lt. Thomas Selfridge is killed in an accident, becoming the nation’s first aviation crash fatality.

1915– The first trans-Atlantic voice communication is completed between the Arlington Radio Towers (built as part of a naval communications facility) and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

1920- African-American physician Charles Drew moves, with his family, to 2505 First St. South in Arlington. His pioneering research in the field of blood transfusions eventually leads to the creation of the American Red Cross Blood Bank.

1920- “Alexandria County,” by order of the Virginia General Assembly, changes its name to “Arlington County” to avoid confusion with the City of Alexandria. The new appellation is chosen to honor Arlington House, the Custis-Lee estate that now presides over Arlington National Cemetery. The county population is 16,000.

1925- Washington-Lee High School opens with roughly 600 students. Today, its student population is more than 2,200.

1933- Five women’s clubs launch the community service project that will grow to become Arlington Hospital (now Virginia Hospital Center). A 100-bed facility is completed 11 years later.

1935- The Arlington County Board adopts a new street-naming system, designating Arlington Boulevard as the county’s north-south dividing line.

1935- Construction begins on Colonial Village, one of the nation’s first garden-apartment complexes and the first large-scale rental project approved by the Federal Housing Administration for mortgage insurance.

1936- Two of Clarendon’s oldest commercial buildings are razed to make way for the Art Deco-style Woolworth Building (now Clarendon Ballroom). The new “five-and-dime” introduces a chain store to an area dominated by mom-and-pops.

1941- National Airport opens, replacing Hoover Airport, which had operated with a single runway crossed by a road.

1943- Arlington Farms, a campus for (white) female service members and civil servants during WWII, opens on 108 acres near Arlington National Cemetery. The campus includes 10 dormitories and several auxiliary buildings.

1943- Construction is completed on the Pentagon, a massive complex built to house nearly 30,000 defense workers. With more than 17 miles of corridors, it remains one of the world’s largest office buildings.  

1950- Builders break ground on the Parkington Shopping Center (now Ballston Common Mall). Anchored by a Hecht Co., the retail center stands as the first mall in the nation to boast an attached parking garage.

1954- President Dwight D. Eisenhower presides over the dedication of the Iwo Jima Memorial, a massive bronze sculpture by Felix de Weldon, based on an iconic photograph by WWII photographer Joe Rosenthal.

1956– Robert and Ethel Kennedy take up residence at Hickory Hill, a 5.6-acre property dating back to 1870 (now part of the Langley Fork Historic District in McLean).

1959- Stratford Junior High becomes the first school in Arlington County to integrate its student body.

1960- African-American student Dion Diamond is confronted during a sit-in at the Cherrydale Drug Fair.

1962- Arlington resident John Glenn becomes the first American to orbit the Earth, aboard Friendship 7.

1971- The “Coleman Compromise” ends years of controversy and litigation, clearing the way for the construction of I-66 inside the Beltway.

1972- Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward has his first of several meetings with FBI agent Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) in the shadows of parking space 32D in Rosslyn’s Oakhill Office Building, precipitating the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon.

1975- President Gerald Ford signs a congressional resolution to posthumously restore Robert E. Lee’s U.S. citizenship, which had been revoked after his surrender at Appomattox.

1975- Vietnamese immigrants open grocery stores and restaurants in Clarendon, earning it the nickname “Little Saigon.”

1981- The first Marine Corps Marathon kicks off at the Iwo Jima Memorial.

2001- Hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists, American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon’s east side, killing 184 people.

2002- Snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo terrorize the D.C. area in a shooting rampage that leaves 10 people dead and three critically injured. Arlington resident Linda Franklin, an FBI analyst, is among the victims.

2005- Arlington County’s population hits 200,000.

2010- The blizzard known as “Snowmageddon” blankets Arlington County in nearly 18 inches of snow. Virginia Hospital Center sees a 10 percent increase in its birth rate nine months later.

Many thanks to Karl Van Newkirk at the Arlington Historical Society ( for his assistance and expertise in pulling together this timeline.

Categories: Local History