Monday, June 18, 2012

*UPDATED* Some Historical Context on Woodlawn

Most of my constituents know that the widening of U.S. 1 through Woodlawn has been a hot local issue lately.  I wrote about this previously here when things originally got contentious:

Today, most people do not realize that Fort Belvoir employs more people than the Pentagon.  This is clearly part of the reason congestion on U.S. 1 and through Fort Belvoir has become a daily problem.  Since the new $800 million Army Hospital has opened congestion has appeared at the Mt. Vernon Estate, and the Walker Gate on Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. 

Since I was elected, the widening and improvement of Route 1 is one of my highest priorities.  Also, being a local, I'm also a local history geek, and this widening project has been a very interesting but extremely challenging problem. 

First, there is a lot of history about Woodlawn and also history about the widening of U.S. 1 that has brought us to this point.  More about that below. 

 Recent Route 1 Widening History
About 20 years ago, Senator Puller, then a state delegate, got the planning process started for the future U.S. 1 roadbed by passing legislation requiring the Route 1 Centerline Design Study.  The study covered U.S. 1 from Fredericksburg to I-495 in Alexandria, but because of disagreements over alignments, loss of businesses, etc., no centerline was ever agreed upon between Belvoir Woods Parkway and I-495 in the final study issued in 2009.  You can see detailed schematics that were under discussion by following these links:

Notwithstanding the lack of a final plan, last year, Congressman Jim Moran was able to authorize a grant program to provide federal funding for transportation improvements for new military medical facilities as part of the BRAC process.  Fairfax County was awarded $180 million for improvement to be constructed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).  I wrote a series of articles about this last year. 

Woodlawn History
Most people in the area do not realize just how much history exists around Woodlawn.  Here's a list of some of the historical assets around Woodlawn.  I've hyperlinked each title to their approved National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) listing if applicable.
  • U.S. 1/Richmond Highway - Redesignated Historic Richmond Highway in 2010 by General Assembly due to an amendment I requested to House Bill 530 by Governor Robert McDonnell.  This segment was rebuilt in the early 1930's from what I've been able to figure out. 
  • Woodlawn Mansion - Building, outbuildings and gardens constructed between 1800-1805.  Listed on the NHRP as a National Historic Landmark in 1998.  Owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1957. 
  • Woodlawn Historic District - 126 acres of 2000 acres gifted to Nellie Custis by George Washington.  Area North of U.S. 1 is eligible for listing to be a NRHP historic district on the State and National Register of Historic Places.  Entire area is also covered by an historic zoning overlay district (click on picture above to see/enlarge) established in 1971 that is controlled by the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board.  Parcel south of U.S. 1 is used an equestrian facility called Woodlawn Stables which has leased the property for 61 years which also contains a "bank barn" which is eligible for listing on the NRHP but has not been listed. 
  • Grandview House - Constructed in 1850's and sits between Woodlawn Mansion and U.S. 1.  Is in Woodlawn Historic District, but is not individually listed and I have seen anything stating whether it's been evaluated for listing. 
  • Quaker Meeting House - Constructed in 1850's.  Has an historical relationship with the Woodlawn Mansion.  It was Listed on the NHRP as in 2009.  Owned by the Alexandria Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends at Woodlawn. 
  • Pope-Leighy House - Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1942 and moved to property in 1964 due to the construction of Interstate 66 through Arlington.  Listed on the NRHP in 1970. 
  • Otis Mason House - Constructed in 1840's and sits near Woodlawn Stables complex.  Is not eligible for listing, but it contributes to the Woodlawn Historic District. 
  • Woodlawn Baptist Church - Founded in 1870.  Original church demolished, but cemetery with 170+ graves goes way back.  I'm not sure if they have figured how far yet.  Cemetery is not eligible for listing. 
  • George Washington's Grist Mill and Distillery - Seven acre property.  Mill was reconstructed in 1932 on George Washington's 200th Birthday.  The Distillery was constructed recently.  It is a State Park but operated by Mount Vernon Estate.  It was listed on the NRHP in 2003.
All of the above are within the Woodlawn Historic Zoning Overlay District (see picture above).  Also, the original Woodlawn zoning historic design guidelines are also interesting. They state that the parcel across U.S. 1 should be "retain[ed] . . . primarily as open fields, as it is now, or woods."

The National Historic Preservation Act
National Historic Landmarks have the highest status.  NRHP listings are significant, and it is also important to know whether a specific building is "contributing" to historic districts or not. The National Park Service has a nice FAQ on the criteria for listing.

All of this above is relevant in terms of the widening of U.S. 1 because the National Historic Preservation Act requires the following:

Prior to the approval of any Federal undertaking which may directly and adversely affect any National Historic Landmark, the head of the responsible Federal agency shall, to the maximum extent possible, undertake such planning and actions as may be necessary to minimize harm to such landmark, and shall afford the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation a reasonable opportunity to comment on the undertaking.  16 U.S.C. 470h-2(f). 
"Harm" can mean a lot of different things. For example, it's not just a question of loss of acrearage. It can also including interference with "viewsheds," noise pollution, or changes that can destroy historic character of an historic district.   Ironically, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has a legal defense fund specifically dedicated to litigating these issues and have 272 pages of legal summaries describing what all of this above means if you want to figure it out. 

All of this is just one piece of the overall legal backdrop that this road widening is playing out, but it's a very big piece that seems to be driving a lot of the discussion.  Federal agencies have significant responsibilities especially when dealing with National Historic Landmarks (see here).

More Later
Tomorrow, I am going to post up another article about some of the correspondence that has been circulating and the public documents, and I will also put up a form for people to provide comments which I will be forwarding to the FHWA before they make further decisions.


  1. As a long-time resident of southern Fairfax County and the Rt. 1 corridor, I am sickened by the attempts of certain parties to destroy Woodlawn Stables and build a "by-pass" on that property. I am also sickened by the fact that these parties have not fully disclosed to the community the plans for the "by-pass." The "by-pass" will be a two-level monstrosity with drainage ponds and sound barriers, not unlike portions of I-95. Yes, Rt. 1 needs attention to solve traffic congestion, but building a mini-mixing bowl at the corner of Mt. Vernon Highway and Rt. 1 is not a proper solution. Widening in place would preserve the stables, as well as relieve traffic congestion. There is MUCH unused property directly in front of Woodlawn Plantation. A very large, unkempt field. Further south on Rt. 1 there are wooded areas (and a sports field on Fort Belvoir property) on both sides of Rt. 1 that would allow widening in place. Considering this widening is necessary due to BRAC realignment and the Ft. Belvoir hospital, perhaps Ft. Belvoir should sacrifice portions of their own land instead of taking a beloved and beautiful local treasure from the citizens of southern Fairfax County.

  2. Interesting post, I look forward to reading part 2. ALso appreciate you keeping us informed on this

  3. I think you meant the Walker Gate on Mt Vernon Highway. The Davison Gate is off of the Fairfax County Parkway.

  4. You are correct Tess - I meant Walker Gate. I've fixed that.