The other day we took a look at the history of the Eisenhower East neighborhood. As a follow-up, I wanted to add a few things.
The 44AX112 report prepared by R. Christopher Goodwin & Associates shows an overlay map in terms of the area before the Hoffman 22 Theatre was built. I printed it out and drew in the current buildings and roads.
As the song goes, “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” In this case, they put up a parking garage. The Cameron Farm and Mill buildings were located where the parking garage is next to the Hoffman 22 Theater. The house itself was located in the northwest corner of the parking garage.
I forgot to mention that the final resting place of Hubert Hoffman, the visionary who passed away in 2002, is also nearby. He and his sister rest in the mausoleum he built behind the Holiday Inn. I imagine when he proposed it to the city, some objections were raised. But how brilliant he was to find a spot that is inconspicuous. Hoffman’s sister’s remains were reenterred and are also located there.
While I was working on all this, I got an email from the mother of Jean Hunt Roberts Burke. Jean is the daughter of the late Edmund Hunt Roberts and Bertha Stulz Roberts, who owned the farm. Jean was one of six children born in the farmhouse and is the last person alive who lived there. She lived there from 1926 to 1944 and recalls dodging the trains to get to Alexandria.
The archaeology investigator interviewed Jean. She remembered the house was deteriorating and was still around in 1955. Several years before that, a large trailer park (American Trailer Corporation) and small industrials had crept up to within shouting distance of the telescope-shaped home.
Hoffman purchased the tracts in 1958 and built the pair of buildings just west of the Hoffman 22 theatre. I remember the Pentagon Federal Credit Union had a branch in one of the buildings.
When the movie theater opened, you could park in the parking lot in front, which is now a construction site for the NSF. A couple three years later, they put up a “Coming Soon” sign and you could not park there. That sign must have set some kind of record. "Soon," it turned out, was more than ten years!
Don’t Forget the West Family
Perhaps the most underrated early player in the history of Alexandria is Hugh West. Jim Bish wrote a fine piece on West and retired City Archaeologist Dr. Pamela Cressey echoed his sentiments, saying,
“(t)he West family—Hugh West in particular—was a tremendously instrumental force in the establishment of Alexandria as a town.”
West built tobacco warehouses at the foot of Oronoco in the 1740s. West Point held the first tobacco inspection station and warehouse in Northern Virginia. His public career included service as one of Alexandria’s original trustees and as a vestryman for Truro Parish.
Prior to the establishment of Alexandria’s founding in 1749, the West family owned property on the land that became the Cameron Farm. Their plantation included a family vault. In 1999, archaeologists identified the vault and re-enterred the remains of the family members to Pohick Church, where West served as a vestryman.
A report shows the location of the vault. It is steps north of the theater and extending into the southeast corner of the surface parking lot.
In closing, I have to say we owe such a great debt to the folks who work on these digs and the massive reports they give us. I'd like to thank Martha Williams, the investigator for the Cameron Farm and Mills report.
There is next to nothing left of what used to be here, which makes pinpointing the past quite a challenge. The one exception is the creek which runs under Mill Road before ending at the Eisenhower Avenue entrance to the construction site for Park Meridian. The Goodwin report notes that wharfs and piers could be located there, which would have been used to load up small craft that would take goods to the larger seagoing vessels using Great Hunting Creek.
And we are pleased the City evoked the past when they named streets such as Mill, Grist Mill, and Roberts Lane.
Note: The Goodwin report has a photo of the house towards the top of the document.