Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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The county board, after 16 years of indecision, voted March 21 to unload the 117-year-old Reeves farmhouse atop Bluemont Park.

The 5-0 vote—taken after nearby neighbors and preservationists had struggled for years for funding and a partner willing to make a go of the estimated $2.5 million in needed renovations—left few happy.

The good news is that chipped and weather-beaten house on the hill retains historic protection status. And the park containing the children’s sledding slope and neighborhood garden will remain. No homebuilder will be allowed to swoop in and subdivide the 2.4-acre site for a new McMansionland at the site of what until the 1950s was Arlington’s last active farm.

But overall, “the neighborhood is disappointed in the Reeves outcome,” I was told by Phil Klingelhofer, president of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association. “Many residents who personally knew Nelson Reeves still live here.” Many in the association “think of the house as a treasure for the community and the country, and we’re still hoping for some way that a nonprofit could come forward with resources that might allow the county to reconsider.”

The promised restrictions prompted one neighbor to say, “It’s not the best outcome, but it’s certainly not the worst.”

My recent visits to the neighborhood off Wilson Boulevard caused me to take up another history dilemma. The metal historical marker at the entrance to Bluemont was bent this February, apparently by an automobile. The text has always struck me as similarly slanted.

“Confederate Outpost,” says the headline written in 1969. The inscription:

“In August 1861, while U.S. forces were constructing the Arlington line three miles to the east, the Confederates established a fortified outpost on the high ground about 200 yards west of here, to guard the bridge by which the Georgetown-Falls Church Road crossed four mile run. In October they withdrew to Fairfax Court House. The Federals then established a signal station at the top of the hill and constructed Fort Ramsay just across the County Line.”

But the rebels were there for just two months, while union troops stayed from the fall of 1861 to 1865. The Fort Ramsay lookout at Upton Hill was where future president Col. Rutherford B. Hayes was stationed with the 23rd Ohio, and singing troops nearby inspired Juliet Ward Howe, while staying in D.C. at the Willard, to write “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” No mention of that? How about a neutral headline, like “Civil War Outpost”?

I consulted my Civil War experts. Marymount University professor Mark Benbow, director of the Arlington Historical Museum, agreed.

But Kathryn Holt Springston, who gives Smithsonian tours of Arlington during the war, doesn’t think the sign is pro-Confederate or pro-Union, and cites space constraints. She would warm to a second sign, one that mentions the “Quaker guns,” logs made to look like cannon, with which Confederates successfully fooled the Yanks on nearby Munson’s Hill. (She also says Howe’s lyrics were inspired farther away on Columbia Pike.)

Cynthia Liccese-Torres, coordinator of Arlington historic preservation, said she is working to replace the damaged sign. But “I am hesitant to change the marker style since it would no longer match the remaining markers in this series,” she said.

Changing its headline would make for better balance, the Boulevard Manor president agreed, and would probably be fine with neighborhood folks.

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Arlington lost a cultural fixture last week.

Rich Massabny, cable TV host and a longtime witty theater and restaurant critic, died at 80 at his home adjacent to Reevesland.

With roots in Arlington going back six decades, he became the area’s longest serving critic. Got his start on the old Northern Virginia Sun in the 1960s, and garnered his invite to appear on community cable’s “Arlington Weekly News TV” in the 1980s–at the county fair.