One of the last remaining vestiges of the Washington & Old Dominion railroad that once ran where the W&OD Trail now sits was partially torn down yesterday to make room for a self-storage facility.
The piece, a concrete trestle with rail running on top of it, is along the W&OD Trail in East Falls Church just north of Lee Highway. According to Executive Director of NOVA Parks (formerly the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) Paul Gilbert, 75 percent of the trestle sits on park-owned land and will remain standing, but the 25 percent that sits on the property of 6873 Lee Highway, owned by the Robert Shreve Fuel Company, has been demolished.
Shreve Fuel had tried to develop its property into a grocery store, according to Preservation Arlington’s Eric Dobson, which led the historic preservation group to place the trestle on its 2013 list of “Endangered Historic Places.” The plans for the store fell through, so Shreve Fuel is planning on building a by-right, five-story storage facility, according to Arlington County building records.
“We had been talking to the developer, sending letters, working as hard as we could to persuade the preservation of this area,” Gilbert told ARLnow.com today. “Just yesterday, about the time the trestle was coming down, I was talking with the developer, trying to see if there was any solution that could be found. We offered to buy that portion from them, we were looking for every solution we could to see if we could save it.”
The developer turned down NOVA Parks’ request, Gilbert said, because the plot of land “isn’t enormous” and every foot was needed for parking and other aspects of the storage facility.
The trestle was constructed in the 1920s to store coal and railroad tracks were laid on top of it, Gilbert said; Shreve Fuel Company has owned the plot of land for “a very long time.” The railroad went out of business in 1968 and was converted into a trail, making the trestle and tracks one of the last pieces of rail anywhere along the 45-mile trail that runs from Shirlington to western Loudoun County. Dobson said it’s “allegedly” the only piece of rail left in Arlington County.
“The rail was an incredibly important part of the development of Arlington,” Dobson said. “It would be good to have more informational signs along the trail, and certainly there’s a lot of history with the rail.”
According to Arlington Historic Preservation Coordinator Cynthia Liccese-Torres, Shreve Fuel does not need a demolition permit to tear down the rail, and surveyors were dispatched to the site to paint lines along the trestle illustrating where the property line was (the spray-painted pink in the above photos, and the horizontal line in the diagram).
“Despite the demolition of Shreve’s section, the Park Authority remains very supportive of continuing to pursue the local historic designation of their portion of the siding, and so we will continue to work with them through the remainder of that process,” Liccese-Torres said in an email. “We are planning to bring a request to advertise forward to the County Board on June 17, with the Board’s review and action on the designation request expected in July.”
Gilbert said that Shreve Fuel has agreed to give NOVA parks the tracks itself, which will be moved to the park’s land and, eventually, turned into some sort of interpretive site.
“My guess is that it’s really only in the last 20 or 30 years that it’s been viewed as historic,” Gilbert said. “Before that it was just some concrete bins and leftover rails from the railroad. Today, it’s more meaningful because it tells a story about the history of the rail.
“We have a number of the train stations preserved along the trail, which tells the story about how it was a transportation route for people, but we don’t have very much that speaks to the industrial side of the train and what role it played,” he continued. “We will work on interpreting the site.”