I came here December 7, 1940, and have lived here since that time. My dad came here to open up the Torpedo plant. He was one of the four men picked to open the Torpedo plant to make torpedos for World War II. We bought a portion of the B. M. Smith farm. Nine people got together and bought lots to build on which later became Marshall Street. Now it's called Schooley Drive.
The airport was owned by Reid. There was a big white house on it sort of like a mansion. It had a big sun porch, and from that sun porch you could see the river because you were so high. It was built about where the filling station portion of Memco is though it was closer to the road. The Reids had lived there at least two generations and Reid remembered clearly before World War I. They built a road from Alexandria to Ft. Humphrey, which is now Ft. Belvoir. It was a dirt road about the equivalent of three lanes wide but just mud, and went past Mr. Reid's place where #1 highway is now. Just before World War II, his son became interested in aviation.
He was interested in aviation and so he built him an airport. It was a hill top and it was cleared. During World War II the Navy rented out the airport for pilot trainings, and also the area down in Hybla Valley.
Reid's son came back from the war and started a flying school there. He had hangars and fueling facilities, gasoline, and a small tower that had a beacon light. That's why it's called Beacon Hill. The beacon was on the nautical charts for the ships going up and down the Potomac River. The beacon was timed. They had it timed how long it was white and how long it would show red, so it could be distinguished from others along the river.
Reid leased the airport for a commercial airport after the war. It was approved as a school for the veterans. He had instructed flying for a long time. He flew an awful lot himself.
After Reid died his son closed this airfield and opened up an airfield on the other side of the river. Each morning be would take off and fly to the airport on the other side, and each night he would come back. No landing lights or anything, so he would use Marshall street as a guide.
During the time they were using the airport for pilot training they had a lot of accidents because the people who were learning to fly were not familiar with the airport. When they crossed #1 highway the cement and temperature would create air currents. Very often the planes would misjudge, hit the high power electric lines next to the airport, and flip over. We had one fellow that had just gotten himself a new plane --he ran out of gas just before he reached the airport and he tried to coast on in. He crashed into the bank and drove the nose back into the cockpit. I don't think the occupants were killed, but it certainly tore the plane to pieces. We had quite a few accidents like that.
They had two runways. One running parallel with #1 highway, the other perpendicular to #1, back where the cemetery is. There was a small plane coming in for a landing parallel to #1 highway. Using this runway they would have to fly right over the school (Groveton Elementary) or right next to the school. The house on the west side was hit by a plane which flew into the second floor and ended up inside the building. Nothing caught fire and luckily no one was up in the bedrooms. There was a lot of commotion about what might've happened because school was in session. But generally speaking, Beacon Hill was a safe airport.
The airport was never torn down. They just stopped using it and started building on to it. First thing that was built was the Giant. While the Giant was there Reid was still landing on the strip directly behind the Giant. Giant was built somewhere around the early 60's.
The B. M. Smith subdivision was on this side of the highway. When Grandma Almarine Crowther was on the school board she bought sites for 27 schools. But the Groveton Elementary School was here in 1940 and the old Mt. Vernon was just finished. and the only other school in the area was the old Lee-Jackson. They temporarily made a high school out of it until they could finish Mt. Vernon. Lee-Jackson is the school on Duke Street about where Quaker Lane comes in. Dean Crowther, my brother. went to Lee-Jackson. I went to Mt. Vernon and my graduating class was the first to go through all 4 years.
The Fire Department was started in the late 30's. I drove the new ambulance when we got here around 1941. That was more like a recreation center, they held dances and stuff in the top of the fire hall.
From the creek at the end of Memorial Street there were only about 3 houses on Viar's Hill, and from there to the river one or two old mansions were back there, but it was all wooded and a few meadows --and I used to squirrel hunt. Back then it was permissible to hunt. I saw fox and used to hunt rabbits and squirrels in the area where we live. The Thorpe estate was one of those mansions. Then there was one white house and it had an apple and prune orchard --raised plums --50 plum trees and 100 apple trees.
The area now Bucknell Manor was nothing but woods, and it had been willed to Bucknell University, and Bucknell University owned 1,000 acres. They sold the property. On that property was 2 springs, and where the church is, if you go down Belleview Blvd. behind the church, was a natural spring, a pool of water about 12 ft. in diameter with rather huge trees around. The other is just off of Ft. Hunt Rd., back behind the library. That spring had a stone trough. We were told by the old-timers here that that was the way you had to go to get to Mt. Vernon. The people passing would stop to water their horses at the trough. That was still there when they were developing Bucknell.
There was a street car that came out here from Washington into Rosslyn and along Arlington Ridge Road. Then the line would go down the hill through Alexandria and then where Ft. Hunt forks, take to the left to Gum Springs on Sherwood Hall Lane. Where there aren't any roads, it went through the woods. The tracks are still here today on #1 highway between King Street and Duke Street. Then they had a station called Snowden's station. It was directly west of Ft. Hunt's fire station. There was a two-story country store there and in the bottom of it was the street car station. The last stop before Mt. Vernon. Those tracks are probably still there, back in the woods.
We have a whole series of forts surrounding Washington, particularly along the river. At most of the high spots there was a Fort on top. The most accessible way into Washington was up the river. Right across from Ft. Washington was Ft. Hunt, and during World War II supplies were brought there by ships. They had a big pier out there. You can see some of the pilings now. Ft. Hunt was also used as a prisoner-of-war camp. I had to go in there during the war because I delivered newspapers and had a pass to deliver to all the forts.
Another less known fort was Fort Willard. If you go to Belle Haven there is a circle, and if you walk through the circle you'll find ditches and long trenches preserved the way the trenches were when it was used as a fort during the Civil War.
Ft. Lyon is at the crest of the hill, just at the north side of Penn Daw. A road went smack through the middle of it. They've now built a doctor's office on the right hand side. Immediately behind it you can find some trenches. We used to go down there and play cops and robbers, and they were good for that because you could run and dive over the ditches and roll into the trenches.
In 1812, when the British burned the capitol, a portion of the capitol steps were removed and brought to the mansion that was in the middle of the parking lot of K-Mart, before it was Spring Bank trailer camp.
They had what they called equal but separate, and the only High School that blacks could go to was on in Manassas. They ran school buses from here. In fact, I drove the school bus part time to Manassas. It was a good trade school but not academically acceptable for college, but most blacks didn't go on to college anyway. The trade school was very valuable to them. The elementary school was at the end of Quander Road next to #1, but was torn down about 1957. It was a one-room black school.
I can remember at Mt. Vernon High School, a black that tried to apply there was thrown out. So he and some lawyers went to Fairfax County and proved that he was not a black, in the sense that the state law had identified a black. He was Puerto Rican. and that technical difference allowed him to go to school.
Where the name Groveton came from I don't really know, but probably Mr. Reid had something to do with it. The people that settled out here came mostly because of the war effort. I would say nearly everybody that lived in this area moved there because they were working at the torpedo plant or Fort Belvior. World War II was what built this place up. It was really a typical middle class area. There were very few people who had large salaries or any wealth at all, including old man Reid. He might have had a lot of land but that didn't mean he was wealthy. But old man Reid was on the board of supervisors and I can remember him having a difficult time paying his taxes, and most of the airport land was zoned farmland because of his being on the board of supervisors. He had it arranged that way.
Most of the people out here were the type that wanted some independence. They bought a small lot and constructed their own homes. Or else a community group would get together to assist in that construction and would build something tailored to what they could afford and materials that they could get hold of. That's probably why you don't find structured streets, curbs. guttering, sidewalks. My dad happened to help start a citizen association called Groveton Citizens' Association. They got together to get a lot of things accomplished.
The area where Belle View was built was all one big swamp except for a small part that was called New Alexandria. There must have been 50 houses in New Alexandria, most of which were built during the War. That was the only point that was probably high enough and dry enough to build on; from New Alexandria south was all swamp land. Landrith bought the land and he cut big ditches to carry the water from Belle View around Ft. Hunt clear out to the river. Now the Belle Haven area was built up during World War I. It was on a hill, and I guess the people came from Alexandria the ones who were more wealthy were buying hilltop property that had a view. The army built big sewage lines along the edge of Cameron Station and then straight into the river. People in Belle Haven petitioned the federal government to permit them to connect onto that sewer. Belle Haven was the first area in Fairfax County to have sewage established.
In 1942 we had a flood. I rode a bicycle down toward the bridge that goes over Little Hunting Creek. I rode the bicycle until the water got up above the handlebars, then got off of it and waded as far as Huntington Avenue. Before I reached Blunt's Lane the water was up over my bike and you could see nothing. Both the bridge from Mt. Vernon Blvd. and #I highway were under water.
Mt. Vernon Parkway was owned by the National Park Service. I believe it was probably built about 1930 and 1933 because they had difficulty putting in that bridge there. It was nothing but mud. They would fill it in and then in about a year it would start sinking so they would drill holes in the concrete, and I can remember --for years they would go in there with a truck and put a hose-like nozzle down into the hole and pump mud into it. Then they got wise and started pumping cement.
I can remember one of the guys that lived down near Woodlawn. That property had been in his family for several generations, and he owned most of the property in back of Woodlawn -probably about 3,000 acres. Some of his kinfolk kept diaries, and he used to come to our place occasionally and he would bring the diaries with him and read to us. George Washington would canoe over to about where the old grist mill is now and through that creek. He could follow that creek across #1 highway and back over toward Telegraph, and then North almost to Hybla Valley by canoe to check on his land and cattle. This was one of the stories he told out of his diary.
From Collard Street down to Hybla Valley, that hill was known as "Snake Hill." It wasn't straight like it is today, and when we came here it was a winding, snake-like hill. It was a very difficult road for trucks. That is the only road that trucks could come up from the South to New York and the trucks were not of very big horse power and didn't have the gear ratios they have today. They would overload them, especially during the war. So the trucks would try to come up that hill and they would creep. They could hardly make it.
It was a common thing for us to go back behind St. Louis Church and sit there on Sunday watching the accidents. It was also a favorite past time of the Groveton kids when the truck loads of watermelons came up from the South. The trucks would move so slowly that they would catch one that only had one person in the cab, and would get one boy up on the truck tossing watermelons to 5 or 6 boys below. You could practically unload the truck while he was trying to make it up Snake Hill.