What’s in a Name?

They form the lexicon of our streets, schools and other local landmarks. Here’s where these well-known monikers originated.

Alcova Heights

In 1921, real estate developer J. Cloyd Byars bought 142 acres from the Columbia Land Co. and sold the lots for five cents per square foot. He named the new subdivision Alcova, shorthand for Alexandria County, Va. (Arlington was part of Alexandria County until 1920, when it assumed the name Arlington County.)

Bailey’s Crossroads

This important intersection was formed when Columbia Pike (constructed from 1808 to 1812) reached the old road from Alexandria to Leesburg (now Seminary Road). Leesburg Pike, which was completed in 1838, made five forks at this point. Bailey’s Crossroads takes its name from Hachaliah Bailey of Westchester, N.Y., who acquired the surrounding land in 1837 and used it as the winter headquarters for his small circus. In 1843, he deeded the property to his daughter-in-law Mariah Bailey, who fed and housed travelers, circus personnel and cattle drivers at her Cross Roads Inn until 1861, when the Civil War put an end to the fun. A descendant of the Bailey family would later join forces with P.T. Barnum to cofound the Barnum & Bailey Circus.


John and Moses Ball, who acquired property in the Glencarlyn area in the 1740s, are counted among Arlington’s earliest settlers. Several decades later, a member of the Ball family established a tavern (back then known as an ordinary) where the road from Alexandria to the Falls of the Potomac (Glebe Road) crossed the thoroughfare running from Georgetown to Falls Church (Wilson Boulevard). This intersection became known as Ball’s Cross Roads, with the surrounding area referred to as Ballston.

Boundary Channel

In 1632, King Charles I granted land in America to Lord Baltimore, defining its boundary, in part, as running along the “farther bank” of the Potomac River. As a result, the boundary between Maryland and Virginia does not run down the middle of the river as one would expect. In fact, the exact boundary—which now separates the District of Columbia from Arlington—remained a matter of controversy until 1945, when a federal act declared the boundary to lie at the high-water mark on the Virginia side of the river. The channel separating Columbia Island (part of D.C.) from the mainland near Memorial Bridge is known as Boundary Channel.

Carlin Springs Road

In 1772, William Carlin bought land along Four Mile Run, which his heirs continued to farm after his death in 1820. Around 1870, a railroad was built through Four Mile Run Valley, and an area between two farm springs was proposed as the site of a picnic and excursion resort. The road providing access to this resort became known as Carlin Springs Road. When the county adopted its new street-naming system in 1935, Carlin was misspelled “Carlyn” in the board minutes. Consequently, the road was officially named Carlyn Springs Road until the spelling was corrected with new street signs in 1960.

Chain Bridge

The first bridge at this site, built in 1797, was known as Falls Bridge for its proximity to the Little Falls of the Potomac. It was carried away by high water in 1804 and replaced by a second bridge in 1808. The second structure—which was suspended by iron chains anchored in stone abutments—became known as Chain Bridge. That name has persisted ever since, even though the bridge has subsequently been rebuilt multiple times, and chains have not been used in its construction since 1852. The present bridge, built in 1938, uses masonry piers, which photographs prove were in place 100 years ago.


This neighborhood, sandwiched between Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive, grew up around Dorsey Donaldson’s cherry orchard. When the U.S. government established a post office there in 1839, the branch was given the name Cherrydale.


In 1847, dairy farmer Robert Cruitt purchased more than 400 acres in what is now Arlington County. In 1897, 25 of those acres were sold to Mary Nesmith for $625. Nesmith made a killing two years later when she sold the parcel to Robert Treat Paine Jr. (a Boston lawyer and grandson of one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence) for $8,000. The neighborhood is believed to take its present-day moniker from the street on which Paine once lived in Boston: Clarendon Street.

Dinwiddie Street

Robert Dinwiddie was lieutenant governor of the Colony of Virginia from 1751 to 1758—a position that essentially carried the full responsibilities of governorship. (In Colonial times, a governorship was handed out as a political plum to royal favorites with little expectation that the appointee would perform any of the duties of the office. Thus, Dinwiddie served under two governors who never came to Virginia.) It was Dinwiddie who sent George Washington to Ohio in 1753 to demand the withdrawal of the French from English territory and again, in 1754, with an armed force. The skirmish that followed precipitated the French and Indian War.

Donaldson Run

This stream, which was referred to around 1900 as Swimming Landing Run, now carries the name of the family that once owned much of its surrounding land. The exact date of the Donaldsons’ arrival in the area is uncertain, but a William and Andrew Donaldson were counted in the Census of 1782.


This large apartment development was built in 1943 by the Defense Homes Corp. to relieve a war-induced housing shortage. At the time, the land tract straddled Arlington and Fairfax counties—a circumstance that suggested “Fairlington” as an appropriate (and fair) name. The portion of the development that lies outside of Arlington County is now part of the city of Alexandria.

Four Mile Run

Land grants in the 17th and 18th centuries often drew boundaries by referencing natural landmarks, such as rivers and streams. Great Hunting Creek below Alexandria was one of these reference points. The next sizable stream up the Potomac was four miles away; hence the name Four Mile Run. This name was first recorded on a land grant in 1694.

Glebe Road

It was customary in Colonial times for each parish to provide a farm, or glebe, to meet the needs of its minister. Fairfax Parish (serving the area now occupied by Arlington and Alexandria) was established in 1764, and its vestry bought land for a glebe in 1770. Present-day Glebe Road takes its name from the road that once led to the parish farm.


Dedicated in 1932, Hoffman-Boston Junior-Senior High School was named for two local African-American educators. Edward Clarendon Hoffman, born in 1866 in Freedman’s Village, went on to become principal of the Jefferson School and was a founder of the Nauck Citizens Association in 1926. Miss Ella Boston was a teacher at the old Rosslyn School until 1904, when she moved to Kemper School in Green Valley, serving first as its sole teacher and later as its principal. Two schools now honor their legacy: the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and Hoffman-Boston Elementary.

Hume School

Built in 1891, the Hume School on Arlington Ridge Road was named for Frank Hume, who fought in the Confederate Army and was wounded at Gettysburg. After the war, he served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, a member of the County Board of Supervisors and a member of the commission to choose a new site for the county courthouse in 1896. The Hume School building now serves as the headquarters for the Arlington Historical Society.

Key Bridge

The bridge that connects Rosslyn to Georgetown is named in honor of Francis Scott Key, author of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” whose home was located near the foot of the bridge on the D.C. side. The present structure replaced the former Aqueduct Bridge, which had been built in 1843 to connect the C&O Canal in Georgetown with the Alexandria Canal, a  waterway that stretched from Rosslyn to Alexandria.

Lorcom Lane

In 1907, Dr. Joseph Taber Johnson, a prominent surgeon and OB/GYN, bought land north of what is now Lee Highway. He named the property Lorcom Farm as an amalgam of his sons’ names: Loren and Bascom.

Military Road

Military Road, which runs between Glebe Road and Lee Highway in Cherrydale, comes by its name honestly. It was constructed in the fall of 1861 to connect Forts Ethan Allen and Marcy (which guarded the Virginia approaches to Chain Bridge) with Fort Strong, another redoubt in the Arlington line of forts built by Union forces as part of the defenses of Washington. The road was laid out by Capt. B.S. Alexander, “mainly through broken and densely wooded country,” and was built by troops, who completed the job in a miraculous three days.

Minor Hill

Named for one of its original property owners (George Minor, born in 1753), this high topographic point was used by both the Union and Confederate armies for surveillance at different times during the Civil War. The Minor homestead is located just over the county line in McLean; it was occupied by direct descendants of George Minor well into the second half of the 20th century.

Pershing Drive

Once known as Cathcart Road, this street was renamed in 1935 to honor John Joseph Pershing, the first military leader to hold the title General of the Armies of the United States. As commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe during World War I, Gen. Pershing also became the first American to lead U.S. troops on European soil. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Potomac River

Potomac was the name of a Native American settlement at the mouth of a creek that emptied into the river. The word, which first appeared on a map in 1612, is usually translated as “trading place,” although others have interpreted it to mean “the place where the tribute is brought.” In earlier times, it bore multiple spellings, including “Potowmack” and “Patawomack.”


This powerful American Indian chieftain (father of Pocahontas) maintained his headquarters on the James River in the southern part of Virginia, where he headed a confederacy of tribes. At one time, his rule extended as far north as present-day Arlington. Legend has it that he once held councils at the spring near Ashlawn Elementary School that now bears his name.


In 1860, William Henry Ross, who was married to Caroline (sometimes spelled Carolyn) Lambden, received a large farm on the Virginia waterfront from his father-in-law. The couple called the farm “Rosslyn,” which some think is a combination of their names. Another theory is that the name references the area’s geography. “Lyn” and “lynn” are obsolete spellings of linn, a word that means waterfall or a ravine with precipitous sides.


The Tuckahoe plant (botanical name Peltandra virginica) was an important staple of the American Indian diet in pre-Colonial Virginia. After extracting the poisonous juice of this plant, native tribes sliced the roots, dried them in the sun and then ground them into flour for making bread. Today, the name identifies both a park and an elementary school in Arlington.

Upton Hill

Straddling the border between Arlington and Falls Church, Upton Hill takes its name from Charles H. Upton, a newspaper editor from Ohio who settled in the vicinity in 1836 and maintained publishing operations from his home for more than three decades. By the time the Civil War began in 1861, Upton had built a fine home—a working estate with fruit orchards—on the hilltop that now forms the northeast corner of Wilson Boulevard and North McKinley Road.

Vacation Lane

The site of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program (formerly Stratford Junior High School) was once the summer getaway spot for the Washington Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), which bought property from local landowner Dr. Joseph Taber Johnson. The YWCA dubbed one of the roads leading to its vacation lodge as Vacation Lane, and the name stuck.

This material was excerpted, with permission, from the Arlington Historical Society publication Why Do We Call It …?

For more information, visit www.arlingtonhistoricalsociety.org.

Categories: Local History