How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, November 26, 2012

History of U.S. 1: Introduction

Back in 2005, the Mount Vernon Gazette ran a series of articles by local author Michael K. Bohn on the history of U.S. 1.  They provide some interesting history and context to why U.S. 1 runs where it is today.

The following was written by Michael K. Bohn and ran in the Mt. Vernon Gazette in April, 2005:
Introduction to the Route One Series
Michael K. Bohn
Mount Vernon Gazette, April 2005  
Route One. To some, it’s just a road, a way to get home after work. Residents close by, however, view it as their Main Street, the commercial center of their community. Others use “Route One” as a pejorative term to describe an area that has been down on its heels—a place of strip malls, fast food joints, and yellow crime-scene tape.
However widely impressions vary of Route One in Mount Vernon, there is one perception of the highway that is rarely acknowledged—the history of Route One is the history of southeast Fairfax County. Travelers along what started as an Indian path have witnessed the spread of English settlements north from Jamestown, the construction of colonial churches and court houses, and the creation of the grand plantations owned by Virginia’s first families—Mason, Fairfax, and Washington. Known in Colonial times as the Potomac Path, the route served General Washington and his French ally, Comte de Rochambeau, during their march to destiny at Yorktown, just as the route carried both Federals and Johhny Rebs during the Civil War. The road’s ford at Little Hunting Creek--Gum Springs--became not only a key intersection on the way to post-war Mount Vernon, but also a growing refuge for African-Americans living in segregated Fairfax County. World War I saw the opening of Fort Belvoir, with the Army paving the section of the highway between the new installation and Alexandria. The onset of the automobile, and later the motel, made Route One a prominent feature of the county during the middle of the 20th century. The route is a four-hundred-year timeline, one that began when the forest knew only the Dogue Indians.

In a series of periodic articles, the Gazette will tell the story of Route One. First will be a look back at the Indian paths, horse trails, and wagon roads that have become today’s highway, almost all of which still exist in one form or another. Other installments will describe historic homes along the route, prominent churches and schools, the airports that flourished for a time on the highway, the golden age of the motel, a history of Fort Belvoir, and the story of Gum Springs. The series also will take readers on a tour of a stretch of the Potomac Path that is remarkably preserved; a bit of Old Virginny that endures in the shadow of today’s Richmond Highway. The final installment will examine the ongoing revitalization of the Route One Corridor, as well as the circumstances that prompted attempts at rejuvenation.
Michael K. Bohn is a retired naval officer and former director of the White House Situation Room.  He is a nonfiction author and a sportswriter for McClatchy Newspapers, a national chain of thirty papers from Miami to Anchorage, and the McClatchy-Tribune news wire.  He wrote about local history for the Mount Vernon Gazette 1995-2008.  His website is www.bohnbooks.com
 

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