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The History of Tara-Leeway Hieghts

The earliest known history of Arlington (and the area within Tara-Leeway Heights Civic Association (TLHCA)) was one of successive Native American settlements. The last notable group, the Iroquois, ceded their lands south of the Potomac and east of the Blue Ridge to colonial Virginia in 1722. Soon afterward, permanent settlement was evident throughout the area: the Hunting Creek tobacco warehouse was established on the banks of the Potomac in what is now Alexandria; the Falls Church was built in 1733; seven years later an official tobacco inspection station was created at the falls near the mouth of Pimmit Run; and a mansion house, Abingdon, was built by Gerard Alexander on the grounds of what is today Reagan National Airport.


While the form of Arlington began to take shape by settlers and mercantile establishments, the area was still known as Fairfax County. By 1801, the District of Columbia was organized 10 years after the 1791 survey ordered by President George Washington. A 10-mile-square Federal District was formed, including the part of Fairfax County known as Alexandria County. All of what is now Arlington County was within this 10-mile square, with a rural population of only 875. In 1847, however, this land was receded by Congress to the Commonwealth of Virginia, but, instead of returning to Fairfax County, the land remained as the separate County of Alexandria. By this point the rural population had reached 1,300. The town of Alexandria became an independent city in 1870; yet it wasn’t until 1920 that the County of Alexandria officially was renamed Arlington County.


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Tara-Leeway Heights, Pre-1900


The area within Tara-Leeway Heights was originally settled by land grants from Lord Fairfax in the 18th century. Historical maps of the area indicate that there were a number of property owners, including Gabriel Adams and James Colville, who owned the most acreage within TLHCA. Entirely rural, it was a heavily forested landscape, where farming, orchards, and timber dominated the economy.


By the 19th century land ownership within Tara-Leeway Heights had passed on to new names, most notably Basil Hall, a retired whaler with a larger-than-life personality. In 1852, “Old Hall,” as he was commonly referred to, purchased 327 acres in Arlington County from the John Peter Van Ness estate, encompassing most of the property that lies within the Tara-Leeway Heights Civic Association. Known as the Hall Homestead Tract, Hall was then considered a prominent landowner in Arlington County. His first wife was murdered by one of their slaves in 1857. He was remarried in 1860 to Frances Ann Harrison and had a thriving estate, complete with orchards, livestock, timber, corn and other crops. High up on the ridge of his property, he built a house worth $3,000 and called it Hall’s Hill. But peace for Hall was transitory, as the impact of Civil War conflicts led eventually to his front doorstep. Confederate troops advanced into Arlington County in August 1861, closing in on Hall’s Hill, and by August 31 rebel troops from Upton’s Hill attacked and burned Basil’s home. Union forces were able to drive the Confederates back, and subsequently seized Basil’s property, where they established an important bulwark of defense. After the defeat at Bull Run, Union forces had greatly accelerated their efforts to protect the nation’s capital by shoring up defenses around Arlington; and Hall’s Hill, sandwiched between Union and Confederate encampments, proved an important outpost. Skirmishes were not uncommon in the area, and, during the Battle of Munson Hill, the attack on Hall’s Hill was the only major defensive battle that took place in Arlington during the Civil War.


Located atop a 400-foot hill, Hall’s property provided a superlative vantage point to view approaching military movements: on a clear day, soldiers reported a visibility of nearly 10 miles. Union Camp was established atop Hall’s Hill, and it was known as a “perfect camp.” Troops were quartered in multiple tents and a line of cookhouses was established, with an ample parade ground and surrounding land that was rich in timber, (important for fuel during the winter of 1861-62), crops and animals, with several wells and a stream for running water.


By the end of the war, few assets were left on Hall’s property, and, by 1866, he began to sell a number of lots from the Hall’s Homestead Tract. While much of the property was divided among relatives, a number of one-acre lots were sold at below-market prices to freed slaves, much of which became the Hall’s Hill subdivision of Arlington. After the war, Basil submitted a claim to the new federal government for $42,450.30 in damages, of which only $10,729.68 was allowed in June 1872. Basil Hall died in May 1888 and, by that December, his second wife had also. Both were buried in the family cemetery, which is believed to have been located behind Trinity Presbyterian Church. The graves 10 of Basil, both of his wives, and most of his family were relocated in 1939 to the Oakwood Cemetery in Falls Church.


Tara-Leeway Heights, Post-1900

From the time of Basil’s death until the mid-1930s, Tara-Leeway Heights remained predominantly rural. Roads meandered through forests and farmlands, often ending at the entrance of an established farm. However, all around our quiet community, the rest of Arlington was booming: between World War I and World War II the demand for housing was intense, fueled by a federal work force that was growing at exponential rates. Local railway and trolley lines were extended deep into Arlington County, creating new commuter communities. Established residential developments also began to swell as the population increased, and the list of Arlington’s neighborhoods included such names as Lyon Park, Clarendon, Ballston, Cherrydale, Bon Air, Glencarlyn and Barcroft. The Georgetown Fairfax Road became Lee Highway; Memorial Drive became Washington Boulevard; Larchmont Avenue became Greenbrier Street; Brown’s Bend Road became 16th Street and Lexington Street.


Slowly, a strong infrastructure needed for this burgeoning residential community was built. The creation of Arlington Hospital began as a community service project by five women’s groups in 1933, and by 1944 the first hospital opened its doors to the community on property carved out of the old Sealock farm. Walter Reed Elementary School was constructed in 1938, and by 1940 the Claude A. Swanson Junior High School opened, both within easy walking distance for the school children of Tara-Leeway Heights. The Green Hedges School was created in 1942 by the descendents of the poet Joyce Kilmer and the American Impressionist painter, Frederick Frieseke. Located in their home on N. 16th Street near George Mason Drive, it was eventually moved to Vienna, Virginia. Down the road, at the corner of Inglewood and 16th Street, the Presbyterian Church purchased a 50,000 square lot for $7,000. They broke ground in 1945 and three years later moved into Trinity Presbyterian Church. Earlier in the decade, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints acquired property in 1941, just across the street, but development was halted until after World War II. Finally, on May 30, 1949, the church building was dedicated. During this same period, most of Westover Shopping Center was built, providing residents with a grocery store, a gas station, a hardware store, a post office and a few eateries.


It was inevitable that these pressures would fuel the frenzy of development within TaraLeeway Heights. By 1933 a preliminary plat was filed with the County for the construction of Larchmont, an area within our civic association that is roughly bounded by Washington Boulevard, N. Harrison Street, N. 16th Street and George Mason Drive. By 1936 building within Larchmont had begun, and, in 1937, Ira Miller began marketing a new subdivision on land owned by Ashton Jones, a well-known banker, realtor and insurance magnate in Arlington. This development was named Tara, reportedly inspired by the popular movie, “Gone With the Wind.” It was carved out of idle farmland into a suburban neighborhood with columned brick colonials surrounded by stone fences-- providing an attractive community with modern conveniences such as water and sewer lines, electricity and paved roads. Tara was eventually developed in three sections with homes initially selling for $10,000 to $12,000.


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Larchmont Plat – Section Two, September 28, 1936


While ground was being broken in Larchmont and Tara, much of our community was still quite rural. In the midst of our area, the Kiwanis Club of Arlington established Camp Arki in 1934, and provided a camp for the Boy and Girl Scouts. It was outfitted with pup tents and a log cabin, and was eventually made available to other organizations during the Depression, providing a respite for those who had fallen on hard times.


Recollections acquired from interviews of long-time Tara-Leeway Heights’ residents draw pictures of a neighborhood that was once surrounded by forests and fields, in a quieter time with more green space, fewer cars, and children walking to school or exploring the countryside. Stories were told of excursions to the top of the hill near Harrison and 17th Streets, which brought discoveries of Civil War relics and old bricks from some long forgotten building; of playing between Reed School and our present day library, where a creek ran through the fields; of crossing the one-lane wooden plank bridge spanning 18th Street; of glimpses of goats and horses that could occasionally be seen on the paths to Lee Highway; of neighborhood children walking to the “big house” on Inglewood for piano lessons in the grand music room; and of course, of candy given out in school by Mr. Ayers from the Five and Ten Cent Store.


As the lots in Larchmont and Tara were sold and houses built, families could be confident that health care, schools and shops were close at hand in a safe environment. Away from the heat and urban pressures of Washington, D.C., but certainly close enough for an easy commute, Tara-Leeway Heights became an attractive destination. Over the next 70 years, other parcels of land within Tara-Leeway Heights were sold and developed under such names as Jackson Terrace, Parkhurst, Wynnewood, Lam’s Addition to Wynnewood, Gladson Terrace, Leeway Heights, Broyhill Heights, and Harrison Estates.  


When the first streets of Larchmont and Tara were laid out, they created a plat of homes where residents could easily be good neighbors, where there was the beauty and charm of more rural landscapes, and where there was a profound sense of community. Over the past 70 years, as we have watched our area grow, these same values have matured and strengthened within Tara-Leeway Heights.

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