A couple of weeks ago I was walking along Wilson Boulevard in Clarendon and noticed a series of large black and white photos displayed alongside a business. One that stood out in my mind shows a group of Union officers posing in front of a small wooden building.
Turns out this photo was taken at Fort C. F. Smith. Like Fort Ward and a handful of others in the DMV, it has partially survived and is managed by the National Park Service. Tucked away in the Woodmont neighborhood near Rosslyn and overlooking the Potomac, the 19-acre county park has a lovely setting. A counterpart to Fort Ward in Alexandria, it is the best preserved Civil War fort in Arlington.
This fort does not get any of the attention of a Fort Stevens or Fort Ward, but it is a jewel in its own right.
In the first part of the Civil War, Union soldiers built more than five dozen forts around Washington and Alexandria. It’s been noted that Washington was probably the most guarded city in the world.
Erected in 1863 on a farm owned by William Jewell, Fort C.F. Smith was built as part of the second round of fortifications around the capital city and Union-held Alexandria. Charged with helping to protect the Aqueduct Bridge and possible attacks along the Potomac River, it was named after Gen. Charles Ferguson Smith. He led Union troops to a victory at Fort Donelson, Tennessee in 1862.
An early factor in developing the Washington area was the building of bridges. In 1843, the Aqueduct Bridge connected the Georgetown side with the Virginia side. One year after Alexandria County retroceded to Virginia, Georgetown resident William Jewell took advantage of the new span. He bought this property and used it for a farm retreat. After he died in 1856, his widow and family members lived there.
During the war, soldiers took what they needed for supplies and materiel. After the war was over, civilian property owners filed documents with the US government.
In this case, the family of Thomas Jewell filed a petition to reclaim the land they had owned. The army had used his two and a half story house as their Headquarters and then demolished it. Outbuildings were also destroyed, and farm tools taken.
When the war was over, about two-thirds of the 68 forts were returned to the owner, while 25, including Fort C.F. Smith, were maintained. Companies I, K and L of the New York Heavy Artillery remained at the fort through September.
In the 1920s, the Hendry family bought the property and lived there until 1993. They maintained it with an eye toward landscaping beauty. Their cottage house is an eclectic mix of Gothic Revival, Stick, Queen Anne, Shingle, Craftsman, Neo-Colonial and Colonial Revival.