The George Walter House (Mt Vernon Ave and Nelson Ave)
From the Duncans
For almost 40 years from the end of the Civil War the James Duncan farm sat centered around what is now the intersection of Monroe and Mt Vernon Avenues. The farm had 53 acres, of which 20 were given over to grass, producing 20 tons of hay per year, that worked with the farm's two mules.
As development encroached all around James' children jumped on the bandwagon and divided up the farm into several of their own developments. With the modernization of Mt Vernon Avenue and Monroe Avenue in 1915, John and Evelyn Duncan would profit from what was now prime location. In July 1919 they sold a rectangular plot of land on the south-west corner with frontages of 102 feet along Mt Vernon Avenue and 120 feet along Washington (now Monroe) to George and Mana Walter.
George Hume Walter had been born in January 1875 in Slate Mills in Rappahannock County to James, a wheelwright, and the former Annie Hume, the latter a cousin of Frank Hume, owner of Warwick estate. In 1900 he married Mana Elizabeth Early, related to General Jubal Early and six years his junior, from Criglersville, in Madison County, Virginia. They moved to Alexandria in 1901 and took rental accomodations while George worked his way up in the railroad. They started off at 1411 Prince, then moved to 422 Columbus in 1903, and finally to 1114 King in 1907.
While renting they both expanded their family greatly and saved money, no mean feat. Mana gave birth to daughters Elva (1901), Annie (1904), Virginia (1912) and Grace (1914); and sons James (1906), George Jr (1909), and William Watson (1917). In July 1919 they purchased the plot of land from the Duncans and set about building a fine, good-size house. Their happiness at being able to spread out a bit (by comparison to their rental quarters, at least) would have been marred only by the premature birth of son Ralph in November 1919 and his death two months later.
The George Walter house shortly after construction in 1920. Seated on the porch are: (L to R) Annie, Elva and Watson Walter. (Courtesy Ray Cobean)
A sketch of the layout of the house from the 1930s to the 1960s.
The house had a conventional lay-out for the time. There were two living spaces, a formal parlor and an informal living room behind it. By the 1930s George was wheelchair-bound with arthritis and eldest son James Robert converted the storage room at the back of the side porch to a bathroom so the living room could become his bedroom.
At the top of the stairs was another hallway that lead straight ahead to the upstairs bathroom with doors to the two smaller bedrooms at the rear of the house and the main bedroom across the front.
At its peak, one bedroom would have housed George Sr and Mana, one would have held the four girls, and the other the three boys.
The house remained the home of the Walters for the next twenty years. Annie moved out in 1923 to marry Junius Cobean, also of the Town of Potomac, a bookkeeper for the railroad. James Robert, a machinist at the US Navy Torpedo Factory, married Clara Bradley and moved to Oxford Avenue in 1927, and then to Franconia in the late 1930s. Frances Virginia married William Jackson in 1935 and moved out, eventually to North Columbus Street in Arlington.
Grace married Walter Herbert, a clerk at Citizens National Bank, in 1936 and he moved into the Walter home, but they moved to a rental unit on North St. Asaph about a year later.
A newspaper photo of the Walter house on the move in 1939.
By the end of the 1930s it was clear that the intersection of Mt Vernon and Monroe was prime commercial property. Finally, George agreed to sell his land to the Sanitary Grocery Company. But he had a provision – the company had to move his family house to a new location. Apparently it just held too many memories to see it torn down to make way for a supermarket.
The company agreed and on 10 February 1939 George Walter bought the undeveloped Lot 3 of WW Borough's Addition to Cottage Park, initially designated 221 E Linden, then quickly renamed to 221 E Nelson Avenue. He then sold the original land to the grocery company on 11 February. Shortly thereafter the house was braced, lifted up off its foundations and, using a winch truck and fourteen men, slowly hauled to its new location.
The Family Disperses
By the time the house had settled in the family-in-residence had shrunk to George and Mana; Elva, a clerk; George Jr, a purchasing agent for AB&T Transit; and William Watson, a service station attendant. George Jr married Elizabeth Caton moved to Washington DC in 1941.
Walter and Grace Herbert had finally purchased a house of their own, one of the new rowhouses across the street from the Walters on 308 E Nelson in 1939, at the same time as Grace gave birth to daughter Beverly
William Watson married Ellen Creel from Mt. Ida Avenue in 1945 and moved out to Chinquapin Village in Alexandria. He worked as an inspector at the Torpedo Factory until 1952 when his brother James purchased a gas station on Duke Street and renamed it the JR Walter Esso Service Center. That operated until 1955, when William Watson took work with another station.
George Sr passed away of heart disease in October 1948 at age 73 and Mana followed, also of heart disease, in April 1950. In July 1948 George and Mana had brought in their unmarried daughter Elva as a third joint owner of the house and on their passing she became the sole owner. Elva continued to work, as a clerk for the International Association of Machinists, until she retired in the 1960s. Cancer finally claimed her in July 1973, ending 53 years of Walters in the house, in two locations.
.The Safeway Company, which had acquired the Sanitary Grocery Company and all 429 of its supermarkets in 1928, wasted little time. They had the new Sanitary Grocery built, up and running by 1940. Shortly thereafter the company renamed all the stores as Safeways and they remained there for the next 30 years. The store was small by the now-developing standards of supermarkets and parking was tight, and in 1972 they closed the store and it was taken over by Gordon Keller Music for $85,000. The building was fine for a music store but the market for pianos, which was the heart of the Gordon Keller business, had been in decline since the 1960s and in 1996 he closed up shop and sold the building to Mancini's for $550,000. Mancini's Cafe and Bakery continued serving breakfast and lunch until it was sold to Junction Bakery in 2016, still serving food today. As an aside, the 2015 assessed value of the site has risen to $1.8 million.
The Walter house today on Nelson Avenue, showing the changes subsequently made, especially to the windows.