Potomac West in Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
The Town of Potomac / Mount Vernon Avenue
Town of Potomac
1908 - 1929
Del Rey and St. Elmo are early examples of commuter suburbs, since one of the first inter urban electric railways in the country provided a rapid means of travel for workers going between Washington and Alexandria. The Town of Potomac was also one of the first recipients of federal highway funds in 1915 when modernization
The Town of Potomac was formed around two subdivisions, Del Ray and St. Elmo. Other subdivisions followed through the 1920's, but only one (Del Ray Section 2 by David N. Rust, Jr.) was sold with houses. All the rest were said simply as lots and the owners built their own homes, often considerably later than the land purchase. The result is a wide range of architecture that reflects the dynamic evolution of styles between 1894 and 1930, including Folk Victorian, Colonial Revival and Crafts, Foursquare and even row houses of various types. The presence of so many well-reserved styles within such a small area helped it receive designation as a state and national historic district.
The Bank of Del Ray opened in July 1923, in temporary quarters in the Mt. Vernon Drugstore. The bank later constructed a new building, which still stands, at 2018 Mount Vernon Avenue, as does the house of its first president, John R. Harding, at 2100
On the eve of annexation in 1929, many of the streets had been paved and lighted, and additional house constructed had created a true town feel to Potomac. Street lighting had been installed in 1910 in the form of forty-five 40-candlepower incandescent lamps. The hard paving of streets began with Mount Vernon Avenue in 1911 and gradually expanded to other streets, although this process was still not complete in 1930. This view shows Hume Avenue from the top of a small ridge, looking east towards Potomac Yard.
Alexandria County (which became renamed Arlington County the next year) established a Health Department in 1919 and constructed one of its clinics in Potomac in 1923 and 2704 Mount Vernon Avenue. The clinic was open one or two days a week, concentrating on pregnancy and infant care, functions later taken over by City agencies after town annexation. Seen here are most of the professional employees of the Arlington Health Department in December 1929: Director Peyton Chichester, MD, second
A massive railroad classification yard (for switching and sorting trains) was built in 1904 to the east of Del Ray and St. Elmo, named Potomac Yard. This brought employment to the area, and spurred housing and retail growth. It also brought life to what had been the poorly maintained Washington & Alexandria Turnpike, along the eastern boundary of the Town of Potomac. here that road is seen about 1930, improved as the Jefferson Davis Highway, with Potomac Yard on the right and the eastern edge of the town on the left.
The appearance of mass-produced automobiles changed American life in many dramatic ways, including the need for high-quality paved roads. In 1914, the federal government began subsidizing "experimental roads" to test various materials and construction techniques. An early form of transportation largesse, these projects were eagerly sought after. One of the first to be launched was the "mount Vernon Avenue Experimental, Road", which ran from the foot of the Highway Bridge at 14th Street down what is now Arlington Ridge Road, along Mount Vernon Avenue and into Alexandria.
The 1920s saw remarkable growth in the commercial density along Mount Vernon Avenue. The core area between Bellefonte and Mt. Ida avenues in 1921 was the site of fifteen residences, five stores, and the Mount Vernon School. Ten years later, that stretch of road had gained only one house, but now had eighteen commercial buildings along with the school.
The few hard-surface roads in the US by 1900 were mostly of macadam construction, using several layers of rock and gravel. With the advent of the automobile, a new technique came to the fore called tarmacadam ("tarmac" for short), that involved pouring tar or asphalt over the gravel so that it would seep in a few inches and form a hard, dust-free surface. The most miserable job on a road-building crew was that of the "oiler," whose function was to pour the hot molten liquid on the gravel surface. Here an oiler, wearing his leather protective outfit is working on Mount Vernon Avenue near Uhler Avenue in 1915. About half of the experimental road was done using this technique, while the other half received the pioneering (now standard) method called "hot-mix asphalt," in which the asphalt or tar and gravel are mixed together before spreading.
Since 1894, Mount Vernon Boulevard had been the widest road in Del Ray and St. Elmo. In recognition of its role as the main street, the Town of Potomac had Mount Vernon Boulevard surfaced with tarmacadam in 1911, while the rest of the streets in the town remained clay and gravel. The surface failed early, due to poor specification. here a steam roller heads north on Mount Vernon, pulling a device to scarify, or rip up, the old tarmac surface at the intersection with Windsor Avenue in 1915.
By 1929, Mount Vernon Avenue (below) in the Town of Potomac was starting to lose its rural and largely residential character in favor of a more commercial main street. This view looks north from near Windsor Avenue. The building on the near right is a Sanitary Grocery Company store, a Washington, D.C.-based chain that was bought by Safeway in 1928, but kept its own name into the late 1930s. The curbs and gutters were just a year old at the time of this photo.
Erected 2008 by City of Alexandria, Virginia.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Government & Politics • Railroads & Streetcars • Roads & Vehicles. In addition, it is included in the Virginia, The City of Alexandria series list. A significant historical date for this entry is January 21, 1930.
Location. 38° 49.608′ N, 77° 3.519′ W. Marker is in Alexandria, Virginia. It is in Potomac West. Marker is at the intersection of Mount Vernon Avenue and East Oxford Avenue, on the right when traveling north on Mount Vernon Avenue. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Alexandria VA 22301, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Universal Lodge No. 1 (a few steps from this marker); St. Asaph Racetrack (within shouting distance of this marker); Potomac Yard History (within shouting distance of this marker); Schools in the Town of Potomac (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named St. Asaph Racetrack (about 700 feet away); Corporal Charles William Hill (about 700 feet away); The Electric Railway (about 700 feet away); Potomac Town Hall and Firehouse (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Alexandria.
Credits. This page was last revised on January 27, 2023. It was originally submitted on March 18, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 311 times since then and 18 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on March 31, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. 2, 3, 4. submitted on April 17, 2022, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. 5. submitted on March 18, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.