“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Arlington in Arlington County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Pimmit Run and Chain Bridge

Pimmit Run and Chain Bridge Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 15, 2012
1. Pimmit Run and Chain Bridge Marker
Inscription.  Pimmit Run is a stream that runs from the Pimmit Hills neighborhood in Falls Church and joins the Potomac River immediately south of Chain Bridge. The mouth of Pimmit Run provided Native Americans and settlers access to fresh water and fishing, the transportation of goods, and the opportunity to harness the water's power for industry. This location was the first break in the Potomac palisades (a line of steep cliffs) below Little Falls, which allowed for an early river crossing. Two Indian trails met at the mouth of Pimmit Run and archaeological evidence suggest that there was a Native American settlement here.

In 1719, Thomas Lee - former Virginia agent of the Northern Neck Propriety for Lady Catherine Fairfax of England - acquired a land grant near the current crossing of Chain Bridge and started developing the property. The Lee family established and operated a grist-mill and tobacco inspection warehouse that operated until 1792. While the tobacco warehouse was moved to Matildavile, near Great Falls, the industrial area at Pmmit Run expanded in the 1790s, when ownership passed to Philip Richard Fendall and Lewis Hipkins. By 1805, the
Potomac River, Chain Bridge at Little Falls image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 15, 2012
2. Potomac River, Chain Bridge at Little Falls
Potomac River, Chain Bridge at Little Falls. Augustus Kollner, 1839. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Pictured from the Maryland shore, this chain suspension bridge with a wooden slab deck spanned one hundred twenty-eight feet and was supported by two large stone towers. On the Virginia side is the small manufacturing complex where Stephen Pleasonton initially hid the Declaration of Independence.
new owners had improved the existing structures and constructed a merchant mill, distillery, brewery, granary, cooper's and blacksmith's shop, as well as cottages. Ownership of the property passed to Edgar Patterson, a Georgetown merchant who built a wool factory, cloth mill, and paper mill along the run.

During the War of 1812, a mill at Pimmit Run was used in the heroic effort to save the Declaration of Independence and other prominent government documents. On August 24, 1814, British troops marched on the District of Columbia, burning various portions of the district, including White House and Capitol. The day before the British attack, on orders from Secretary of State James Monroe, a State Department clerk named Stephen Pleasonton acted to secure the Declaration of Independence, the laws, the secret journals of the Continental Congress, and the correspondence of George Washington. According to Pleasonton, he proceeded to place the documents in linen bags and pack them in a cart for transportation to "a grist-mill, then unoccupied, belonging to Mr. Edgar Patterson, situated a short distance on the Virginia side of the Potomac, beyond the Chain Bridge, so called, two miles above Georgetown." On the morning of the attack, Pleasonton, fearing discovery of the papers due to the mill's proximity to Foxall's foundry, a military industrial center, moved the documents from the
Wooden Trus Bridge image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 15, 2012
3. Wooden Trus Bridge
Washington, District of Columbia, Chain Bridge. Library of Congress's Civil War Glass Negative Collection, 1860s. In the 1850s, a wooden truss bridge was constructed. The picture was taken from the remains of the small manufacturing complex in Virginia.
mill to Leesburg. The documents remained in Leesburg until it was safe to return them to Washington, D.C.

While various mills in the area may have remained operational until the Civil War, only a "Burnt Mill" is denoted on an 1864 map. In the 1890s, the Columbia Light and Power Company built a small hydropower plant near the mouth of Pimmit Run that suppplied electricity to the bridge and Canal Road. Between 1930 and 1950, the area underwent its last period of development as a tavern, two gas stations, and four cottages were located near Chain Bridge. All are no longer standing.
Erected by Arlington, Virginia.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Bridges & ViaductsIndustry & CommerceNative AmericansSettlements & SettlersWar of 1812. In addition, it is included in the Former U.S. Presidents: #05 James Monroe series list.
Location. 38° 55.734′ N, 77° 7.109′ W. Marker is in Arlington, Virginia, in Arlington County. Marker is at the intersection of North Glebe Road (State Highway 120) and 41st Street, on the right when traveling south on North Glebe Road. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Arlington VA 22207, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Mouth of Pimmit Run (here, next to this marker); Chain Bridge
Trail Map image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 15, 2012
4. Trail Map
Follow the trail left of the Pimmit Run and Chain Bridge marker and continue right at the fork. Proceeding with caution, walk under Glebe Road Bridge. Then look east towards Chain Bridge. The historic mill would have been visible from this vantage point. Danger, do not cross Pimmit Run
(about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Clay and Randolph Duel (approx. ¼ mile away); Fort Ethan Allen—What to Look For (approx. 0.4 miles away); Communications along the Defensive Line (approx. 0.4 miles away); Lives of the Soldiers (approx. 0.4 miles away); Protecting the Fort (approx. 0.4 miles away); The View in 1865 (approx. half a mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Arlington.
New Location image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain
5. New Location
The marker was moved to a safer area for viewing in 2011.
Pimmit Run neer its mouth image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, October 28, 2007
6. Pimmit Run neer its mouth
Modern Chain Bridge image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, October 28, 2007
7. Modern Chain Bridge
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. It was originally submitted on September 23, 2012, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,012 times since then and 91 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. submitted on September 23, 2012, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.
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Oct. 30, 2020