Potomac West in Alexandria, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
Mount Vernon Avenue
Town of Potomac
— 1908 - 1929 —
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
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.
Special Collections, Alexandria Library
Produced for the Town of Potomac Centennial in 2008 by the City of Alexandria. Research and text by Lee Ness
Erected 2008 by City of Alexandria.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Government & Politics • Industry & Commerce • Railroads & Streetcars • Roads & Vehicles. In addition, it is included in the Virginia, The City of Alexandria series list.
Location. 38° 49.608′ N, 77° 3.518′ W. Marker is in Potomac West in Alexandria, Virginia. 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 at or near this postal address: 2311 Mount Vernon Avenue, 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. The Town of Potomac (here, next to this marker); Universal Lodge No. 1 (a few steps from this marker); Potomac Yard History (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); St. Asaph Racetrack (about 400 feet away); Schools in the Town of Potomac (about 600 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 Potomac West.
Credits. This page was last revised on April 17, 2020. It was originally submitted on March 18, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 132 times since then and 14 times this year. Photos: 1. submitted on March 31, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. 2. submitted on March 18, 2018, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.