Today, dear reader, we will combine a “Where’s That?” with a “Deserving Candidate for an Historical Marker.”
This townhouse was one of the holdings of M.B. Harlow. He was the Donald Trump of his time, a real estate magnate and a familiar face in Alexandria. Harlow (1848-1931), also served as City Treasurer for 24 years, was the Vice President and Director for the First National Bank, and served on the City Council (1874).
Some might say that being a wealthy mover and shaker is not quite enough to earn commemorative marker status. Harlow, however, earned fame and respect in another way.
If you are one of the hundreds of thousands who have driven along the G.W. Parkway, you owe a thank you to Harlow.
The story of the George Washington Parkway is quite a long one. Timothy Davis covers it in an historical essay titled, “The Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Changing Conceptions of an American Commemorative Landscape.” (Places of Commemoration: Search for Identity and Landscape Design, Volume 19)
Working with E.W. Fox, the editor of the Washington-based National Republican, Harlow led the charge for a new road from Washington to Mount Vernon. For many years in the 1800s, tourists had been taking the ferry to the mecca, with only a brief stop in Alexandria.
Davis writes that Harlow and his fellow boosters wanted the avenue to:
“serve a patriotic function in addition to boosting commerce and real estate development throughout the region. The major obstacle to the economic development of northern Virginia, everyone agreed, was the abysmal condition of the roads linking Alexandria and Washington.”
These days we often observe just how long a rmajor road project can take. This one was no different. Either Harlow or Fox came up with the idea in 1887. Three routes were proposed and each had pros and cons. Finally, in 1932, almost fifty years from the planting of the seed, and just in time for the Bicentennial of Washington’s birthday, the new highway opened up on the riverside route we know today.
Of course, you’ll have to look up to see it at 119, a symbolic gesture to M.B. Harlow, who did a lot for Alexandria, and who, more than anybody else, helped bring us the George Washington Memorial Parkway.