Arlington, Virginia is full of military history, but the history of the city itself is as diverse as the people who call it home. But what is the history of the city? If you’re moving to Arlington or just thinking about visiting, there is much history to explore. Let’s dive right in.
Arlington is a suburb of Washington DC, positioned just across from the Potomac in Virginia. It is not a municipality but rather a county. In 1846 it was returned to Virginia as a city and was not included in the District of Columbia.
However, Arlington’s history stretches back further.
In 1740, Gerard Alexand built Abingdon, which was a mansion built within modern day Arlington. Today, the ruins are restored and open for visitors to the Reagan International Airport.
One of the first settlers besides Gerard, was John Ball. He bought 166-acres through a grant in 1742 and built himself a small log cabin. The cabin made it some two centuries before it was turned over to the Arlington Historical Society who renamed it the Ball-Sellers House after its private owners.
Originally, Arlington was called Alexandria County. The District of Columbia at the time was ten square miles, but the Arlington portion of the district was deemed too much for the federal government to own, so Congress turned it over to Virginia.
When tensions grew during the Civil War, Union forces occupied and propped up forts to defend Washington in the area surrounding it, including Arlington. As the war drew to a close, only a few residents remained, and the area was in disarray. In 1870, Alexandria City was separate from Alexandria County, and by the 19th century, the citizens of the area decided to install government to the county to restore order.
By 1920, the confusion over the city of Alexandria and the county, the name of the city, was changed to Arlington. This was done to honor Robert E. Lee, where the Arlington National Cemetery reservation sits today.
Arlington is the home of the Pentagon today, which was constructed during World War II to be the United States Department of Defense Headquarters.
The Arlington Historical Museum provides a unique opportunity to explore the history of this historic city. The museum itself is historic, as it was once the site of former Hume School, which was built in 1891. It is one of the oldest schools in the city. It was also one of the first schools to admit black students after school integration passed in 1959. Today, the museum takes visitors behind the veil of this history and so much more.
Inside the Pentagon, the Drug Enforcement Administration runs the DEA Museum and Visitor Center in Pentagon City. There are countless museums and historical sites worth exploring if you come to Arlington, Virginia for a visit. The untold stories of hundreds of years of American history await you to explore, learn, and grow.