Our Man in Arlington

September 12, 2017 2:41 PM0 comments

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Herewith some fresh details on one of Arlington’s most famous – and vanished – historic homes.

Falls Grove, built in 1852 near the intersection of N. Glebe Rd. and Little Falls Rd., was the scene of luxury living and Civil War drama before its demolition in 1966. I’ve learned of one unsung effort to save it.

The two-story white wood home with a triptych bowed window and a six-columned porch was built in 1852 by Gilbert Vanderwerken (1810-94).  A Georgetown resident and coach line operator, he needed a summer residence and farmhouse to graze his horses. (Vanderverken’s other role in Arlington was operating the first stone quarries on the river banks off what is now Potomac Overlook Park.)

The best dope on Falls Grove must be credited to historian Eleanor Lee Templeman. Her 1959 “Arlington Heritage” describes how after the First Battle of Bull Run, Vanderwerken – who stayed safely in Georgetown – allowed Union forces to set up a hospital in his home as well as a construction staging area for building nearby Fort Ethan Allen. General Winfield Scott Hancock used its carpentry shop as a headquarters, and President Lincoln himself visited the ailing troops.

During that friendly occupation, Vanderwerken himself was once denied entry because he didn’t have the password, forcing him to ride all the way to Alexandria for Army help. After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Templeman reported, soldiers ransacked the home looking for the killer.

The pain and death of soldiers in the hospital later spooked the neighbors, who circulated ghost stories. But Vanderwerken recalled being pleasantly serenaded by the Fort Ethan Allen military band. In 1869, mounted Army officers surrounded the house in a semi-circle and Vanderwerken gave them all cigars.

With peace restored, the Vanderwerken family found initials of hospitalized soldiers in the woodwork. The misspelled word “Hospitol” had been carved on a door (only to be later painted over by an un-historically minded painter).

Flash forward to the mid-20th century. Falls Grove owners George Truett and Lillie Hughes, listed at 3502 N. Glebe, sold the property to the Yeonas Organization. Construction crews demolished the century-plus-old home on Jan. 25, 1966, to make way for 20 modern homes. They’re now on a cul de sac of N. 35th Rd., shielded by a wooden privacy fence on Glebe across from Memorial Baptist Church.

In 1967, the Northern Virginia Sun reported on the new Falls Grove subdivision, calling Arlington “one of the most rapidly developing areas in the nation.” One of today’s owners,George Varoutsos, told me his house has the same front-door footprint as the old Vanderwerken house, and that Civil War artifacts are still discovered.

Richard Malesardi, an Arlington architect (he was instrumental in construction of Dulles Airport in the early 1960s), recently told me that in 1966 he negotiated with homebuilder Steve Yeonas to buy and preserve the Vanderwerken home. He even drew up an alternative plan for the lots for new homes. But in the middle of their talks, the wrecking ball hit. (Reached for comment, Yeonas said he has no recollection). Malesardi did persuade the builder to retain the Falls Grove name.

“There was no hue and cry,” I was told by John Stanton, researcher at the Central Library’s Center for Local History, who helped with my research. “There wasn’t much of a preservation movement at the time.”

***

Glen, the panhandler who stakes claim to the median strip at Sycamore St. and Washington Blvd., got injured on the job.

On the morning of Saturday, Aug. 26, a motorist struck a nearby traffic sign and knocked it out of the ground. Glen dove out of the way but was struck on the head, sending him to the hospital with a concussion.

Glen is back collecting quarters at his favored public location, an endeavor that clearly can be dangerous.

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