The Ghost of Snapped Shot

Or, welcome to my low-maintenance heck.

Commonwealth #5: Signs of the Times

Abingdon, ca. 1778. (NPS)
There is no house in all of Virginia that symbolizes the dramatic shifts of technology as does Abingdon Plantation, which was located along the banks of the Potomac River north of Alexandria, where Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport sits today.

The house was originally built in 1748 by the Alexander family, for whom the city of Alexandria is reported to be named. It passed through the hands of John Parke Custis, stepson of George Washington, back to the Alexanders, and through a handful of other families (the Wises and the Hunters) between 1778 and 1930, when it was destroyed by fire. The events which the property was witness to is what makes it of particular interest.

Abingdon played silent witness to the effects of the Revolutionary War, in which Custis gave his life in 1781 [Ed.:—Thanks, King James!]. Properties in the same general area—most notably, Lord Fairfax's Belvoir estate—went empty as English supporters fled the country. The Wise family, who lived there during the War of 1812, were reported to have witnessed the burning of Washington, D.C. by British forces. And, during the Civil War, a New Jersey regiment of the Union army seized and occupied the land, calling it "Camp Princeton."
Abingdon, ca. 1860. (NPS)
More significantly, the house bore witness to many technological shifts, the effects of which Virginia can still feel to this day. It witnessed the end of the Plantation era, and the downfall of Tobacco as the central staple of the Old Dominion's economy. The first Telegraph line between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, Louisiana ran in the general area of the property in the 1830's. In the late 1800's, a number of brick companies formed on the banks of the Potomac, purchasing the property around it and transforming it into a brickyard. In 1892, an electric railroad was built nearby, and it was soon followed by the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac railroad, whose tracks ran literally in the mansion's back yard. On the other side of the house, the Mount Vernon Memorial Parkway ("George Washington Memorial Parkway," today) was under construction by 1923, bringing some of the earliest automobiles within sight of the house.

By 1929, the property had fallen into severe disrepair, and plans were under way to restore it to its colonial appearance. These plans were never carried out, as the property was destroyed by fire on the 5th of March, 1930.

Shortly thereafter, the remains of the house bore witness to a final shift in technology, when the property was selected to host the Washington National Airport in 1938.

It's amazing to think that a single tract of land could have been witness to so many dramatic technological shifts over its lifetime.

Site Map

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The Pictures

Here are some pictures from my visit to the ruins of Abingdon Plantation. Abingdon is located next to the Parking Garage at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and if you follow the signs, it shouldn't be too difficult to find.

Click on the photo below to start the slideshow. Be sure to let us know if you run into problems using this feature!

Follow the signs—The property is located between two of the parking garages.

Looking up the hill towards the ruins. The shore of the Potomac River used to reach almost to where I'm standing, before the land was in-filled during various airport expansions.

Kitchen (foreground), ruins (background), National Airport (far background).

The stabilised ruins of the manor.

A closer look at the ruins.

Plaque placed on the premise by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Looking out across the Kitchen ruins.

Formerly, the well.

Abingdon, ca. 1930. (NPS)

"Good enough for Government work." Notice anything wrong with this rather expensive sign?

Brian's Commonwealth of Virginiana is Copyright © 2007, Brian C. Ledbetter, except where otherwise noted.



#1 Rooster 22-Aug-2007
OMG.. you wrote all that crap for nothing. I'm not reading a million lines of words with old pictures. BORING!
#2 James+F+McEnanly 23-Aug-2007
I have a minor correction to the above story. John Parke Custis served as a civilian aide-de-camp to Washington during the siege of Yorktown. He contracted camp fever and died in New Kent County not long after Cornwallis's surrender, on November 5 1781.
#3 Brian C. Ledbetter 24-Aug-2007

I'm crowning you the "King of Corrections." I was aware of that information from the park signs, but couldn't figure out an elegant way to weave it into my narrative. Thank you kindly for sharing it with us!

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