The Town of Potomac Historical Association takes its name from the Town of Potomac National Historic District, which forms the core of the neighborhoods of Del Ray in Alexandria, Virginia.
We support grounded historic preservation efforts through the sale of plaques, historical research, advocacy and preservation programs.
Members and volunteers are always welcome.
Hume Avenue, looking east towards Potomac Yard in 1929
Development of the areas north and northwest of the City of Alexandria began in 1890 and continued as part of Alexandria/Arlington County's Jefferson District until the City annexations of 1915 and 1930. Although our main focus is on the Town of Potomac (1908-1930) we contribute as well to the history and preservation of the other neighborhoods in the annexed areas, including Cottage Park, Braddock Heights, Mount Ida and Park Addition.
The Del Ray area we know today reflects the efforts of entrepreneurs who laid out a dozen developments between 1890 and 1924. These were very different from modern developments, however. With but one exception the developers here simply put in gravel or cinder roads and cut up the land into standard plots, leaving the owners to put up their own houses. The age of the development and the speed with which it was built up defines the unique character and architecture of each area of our neighborhood.
Architects had long designed urban buildings and homes for the wealthy, of course. But it was the advent of mass transit, in the form of streetcars, that made suburban living possible, leading to a whole new niche for architects – stand-alone or duplex houses for the middle class. The first house in the local developments went up in 1891, just as one of the first inter-urban trolley companies in the nation was planning its routes, and construction proceeded in fits and starts through the next fifty years. Over that time this new art form quickly went through a dizzying and exciting array of mutations, from Victorian to colonial revival, to craftsman, to Cape Cod, with transitional designs and permutations galore. Our neighborhood is living, breathing gallery reflecting this mosaic and the people who created and maintained it.
Arlington County (known as Alexandria County until it was changed in 1920 to reduce confusion with the entirely separate City of Alexandria) was divided into three magisterial districts, the southernmost of which was Jefferson. In 1930 the City, which at the time was essentially Old Town and Parker-Gray, annexed the entire area south of Four Mile Run, including about half of Jefferson and all of the Del Ray area. So what did life look like before the annexation?
The annexation brought changes to the area, these being magnified by the building boom to support the new Pentagon during the Second World War and the resulting housing glut afterwards.
On December 7th 1941 the Japanese Navy bombed Pearl Harbor, plunging the US into the bloodiest war in human history. The small monument in front of what was then George Washington High School records the names of the students from when it was a high school who died in World War II. Fifteen of those were from Del Ray. I write about their shortened lives here. The memorial is very nice, but they should also be remembered as real people, not just carvings into granite.
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