A time capsule in Ballston that has been largely forgotten to time is set to be opened at some point next year, and no one seems to know what’s inside.
An inconspicuous plaque on the side of the Fairgate office building (1005 N. Glebe Road) announces the time capsule.
“A time capsule celebrating Arlington County and the building of Ballston, placed by the Rouse and Associates in 1988, to be opened in 2020,” the plaque reads.
A lot has happened since 1988, however. For one, Rouse and Associates no longer exists. In 1994 it was sold and the company, based in suburban Philadelphia, is now known as Liberty Property Trust.
“Oh wow, that would be us [behind the plaque],” says Jeanne Leonard, vice president of Liberty Property Trust. Over the phone, she detailed how Rouse and Associates did have a Northern Virginia office at one point, but it was shuttered several decades ago.
“We developed this office building in 1986,” Leonard said, confirming the site of the capsule. “But we have not owned it in many years. Unfortunately, there is no one here now who was with our Northern Virginia operation back in the 80s. I’ve got no idea what could be in it.”
Per county records, the building was sold in 2012 to WashREIT, a D.C.-based real estate company. Deanna Schmidt, a communications official at WashREIT, confirmed that the firm knows about the capsule and said they are exploring the best ways to celebrate the capsule come 2020.
They aren’t quite sure how to go about opening it and said they will update their plans once that detail is figured out.
As for what’s in there?
“No idea,” said Schmidt.
A reader first tipped ARLnow off about the plaque, which can be seen from the corner of 11th Street N. and N. Vermont Street. Representatives for the Ballston Business Improvement District, Arlington County and Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History were similarly unable to find any information on the time capsule.
“I’ve probably walked past that plaque 100 times without noticing,” said Peter Golkin, spokesman for the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services.
Update on 9/20/19 — We now know at least some of what is in the capsule.
Today, Chain Bridge is a sleepy three-lane crossing between Virginia and D.C., but the bridge and its predecessors have played a prominent — if curious — role in the nation’s history.
“Most modern-day Arlington commuters who use Chain Bridge in their daily trek to and from the District would be astonished to learn how prominent the area at Pimmit Run at the Virginia end of the bridge was in the early days of our fledgling country,” Jim Fearson wrote in his “Chain Bridge: A History of the Bridge and Its Surrounding Territory from 1608-1991.”
Long before ferries ran from Virginia to the budding village of Georgetown, there was reportedly an American Indian village at the mouth of the Pimmit Run near Chain Bridge. It was also the furthest point up the river reached by explorer and Disney hero John Smith on his 1608 journey up the Potomac.
A town was planned in 1772 on 100 acres of land on the Virginia side of where the bridge is today. It was to be named Philee after Philip Ludwell Lee, the owner, but the town never materialized.
After the American Revolution, the removal of restraints on trade between states led to an increase in traffic across the Potomac and made a bridge necessary. The first bridge, built in 1797, was tolled — from 3 cents for pedestrians to 25-50 cents for horses and wagons — but ultimately collapsed in 1804 under the weight of a heavy load of cattle.
Another succession of bridges appeared in the 10 years that followed, including a short-lived, single-span suspension bridge from which the bridge derived the name it still holds today.
It was across one of these bridges that, on Aug. 2, 1814, the Declaration of Independence and other national relics were smuggled out of Washington, D.C. during the burning of Washington. They were reportedly hidden in an unoccupied grist-mill on the Virginia side of the river, according to documents in Arlington’s Center for Local History.
Later that month, the papers were moved to Leesburg, where they remained until being brought back to the city following the departure of the British navy.
The Virginia side of the bridge was also a popular dueling ground in the early 1800s. A historical marker commemorates the spot where a duel between Secretary of State Henry Clay and Senator John Randolph took place at the Virginia side of the bridge.
Control of the bridge was critical during the Civil War, during which a Union outpost was established on the Virginia side. After the war, the foundations of the outpost would be used as the basis for a casino, beginning the criminal descent of the Virginia side of the Potomac.
During the prohibition era, Fearson said the Virginia side of the bridge became something of a red-light district.
“Local lore had it that the tavern at the end of the bridge was a drop-off point for rum-runners during prohibition,” Fearson said in his history of Chain Bridge. “Supposedly they came up the river and put into Pimmit Run which joins the river directly behind the tavern.”
The bridge was rebuilt a few times throughout the mid-1800s, but by the 1920s heavy auto and truck traffic was starting to put a strain on a bridge built for carriages. Severe weight and speed limits were put into place. Eventually, the strain became too much. Following a flood, in 1939 the bridge as it mostly exists today was built on top of stone piers constructed for the 1850 bridge.
The last building at the Virginia side of the bridge was a service station, which last appeared in a 1955 Arlington County directory. In the early 1980s, the deck of the bridge was rebuilt to increase the width of the roadway by 10 feet, creating the final form of the bridge that is there today.
“A walking trip along the banks of Pimmit Run reveals little of what was there; a few possible foundation stones near the bridge, the early abutment,” Fearson said. “Further upstream the abutment of an early bridge that used to carry Glebe Road over the Pimmit, a large depression and stones that may have been a building site… nothing of substance to indicate more than 200 years of man’s involvement.”
Arlington Public Library unveiled a trove of photographs and documents this week that spotlights the women in Arlington who’ve shaped the county’s history.
The digital exhibition is called Women’s Work: Stories of Persistence and Influence and it contains photographs, letters, bumper stickers, and voting guides taken from the Center for Local History’s (CLH) Community Archives. The exhibition organizes the records under several categories from politics to education.
Library spokesman Henrik Sundqvist said the project has been in the works for the past two-and-a-half years.
“The Center for Local History’s mission is to collect, preserve, and share the history of Arlington County,” he said.
One of the project’s stories chronicles how women created at network of neighborhood libraries before WWI, despite the work being considered “too dangerous” for women not long beforehand.
After the war, the county’s population grew enough to sustain a more formal library system, the exhibition’s page on libraries explains. Arlington resident Eleanor Leonard was appointed as the first professional librarian.
Other stories introduce readers to famed figures like suffragette Gertrude Crocker, who was jailed multiple times while fighting for women’s right to vote, and Margarite Syphax, who created her own real estate company to serve all families after learning other companies refused to sell or buy from African-Americans.
The digital exhibition is a permanent one funded by the library’s fiscal year 2018 budget, and staff hopes the project will continue to grow.
“Our goal is to highlight some of the untold stories of the many women pioneers who helped shape Arlington,” Sundqvist said. “Our hope is to uncover more stories as our collections grow.”
Although the files shared online were already a part of Arlington archives, the exhibition’s organizers wanted to shine a light on women’s history in the county.
“We always knew that women played an important part in building this County, but the extent of their contributions was amazing,” said Judith Knudsen, who works as a manager at the Center for Local History. “We learned, for example, that one of the many initiatives of The Church Women United was to help migrant workers in the early ’60s.”
Currently, none of the women featured in the digital collection are Vietnamese and few are African American. Both groups have helped build historical Arlington landmarks like Little Saigon and the newly re-named Green Valley neighborhood.
Sundqvist said the library hopes to expand the collection to include additional diversity.
“Yes, of course,” he said in response to a question from ARLnow. “The library welcomes donations of materials that help tell the stories of Arlington in a more comprehensive way.”
Those interested in donating materials to the Community Archives can learn how here.
Photos via Arlington Public Library
(Updated 2:35 p.m.) The Arlington Public Library’s Center for Local History has unveiled a new digital profile collection of women who influenced Arlington’s development through their “quiet but not silent” persistence.
The collection seeks to bring up the names of those women who “were frequently hidden in the background” but “were nonetheless ground breakers and trailblazers” who fought for better education, libraries, conservation, and health care in a modernizing county.
Focusing on women from 1900-1975, the center is seeking community donations and oral histories of little known facets of Arlington history to add to the their collection.
The center “will follow their journey as it is revealed through [the] archival collections and oral histories” over the next year, according to the collection’s website.
One subject of the in-progress collection is Dr. Phoebe Hall Knipling, who was responsible for bringing an annual science fair to Arlington Public Schools and was the first APS science supervisor — and the first in Virginia. Dr. Knipling, finding that there were few pristine natural spaces in the fast developing county, took three years to track down an outdoor lab in Fauquier County for her students to experience and work in nature.
Margarite Syphax, a U.S.O. entertainer turned prominent African-American businesswoman and real estate developer, was also featured. The archive entry on her life stated that after World War II, she and her husband had a difficult time finding adequate housing in still segregated Northern Virginia.
The injustice led the couple to eventually form W.T. Syphax Real Estate Company, a property development and construction business focused on minority affordable housing.
Other notable Arlington women in the collection include the members of an interracial, interdenominational women’s group focused on community building and social justice, as well as several groups of women who either founded or contributed to the creation of several Arlington libraries.
Photos via Center for Local History