On the heels of approving changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway, The City of Alexandria has created a website where respondents can suggest a new name.
Given that highway (Route One and Route 110) runs along a part of both Arlington County and Alexandria, this will not be an easy task.
Our guess is the City desires the new name to be a person. We offer the following thoughts, based on the history of this area.
Seems like we always overlook the American Indians when we discuss area history. We know they hunted and fished in these parts along the Potomac River, and they also carved out paths from the wilderness where we drive along today. In some cases these overland routes, as well as the rivers, were the first highways.
It would be great to see a name honoring them, but there is also the problem of wording. Some prefer Native American while others prefer American Indian, and still others prefer something else.
Robert Howson owned a 6,000 acre tract of land that ran from Great Hunting Creek up to Little Falls. As Ted Pulliam notes, Howson was thought to be the first European to own the property, and he received it for transporting 120 people to the colony.
In 1669, John Alexander (1605-1677), who had emigrated from Scotland, bought this property, known as the “Howson Patent.” Across the span of several generations, other members of the Alexander family owned the tracts on both sides of Four Mile Run. Historians believe Alexandria was named after either John Alexander, the Alexander family or both.
As noted by a series of markers in Potomac Yard, the fertile lands and farms between Washington and Alexandria gave way to transportation needs in the 19th century.
Opened with much fanfare in 1845, the Alexandria Canal stretched for seven miles and connected Alexandria with Georgetown and the C&O Canal. Most of the canal, which shut down in 1888, ran along a path that parallels Route One and Route 110.
Paying tolls to get around in parts of Northern Virginia is nothing new. The Washington-Alexandria Turnpike Company built a turnpike between the two cities around 1808. The hardened road was paid for by stock sales and tolls. When the horse rider or carriage conductor paid the toll, an employee turned the barrier.
Potomac Yard was a major rail classification yard and epicenter of activity and employment in its hey day.
Potomac Yard Boulevard rolls off the tongue nicely but there is already a Potomac Avenue there.
There is a long history of railroads between Alexandria and Washington.
The route of Jefferson Davis Highway was part of the District of Columbia from 1791 to 1847.
African Americans did not just step into their freedom, they earned it through a long hard struggle. But the defeat of the Confederacy marked a distinct moment.
As some people still cling to the “Lost Cause” and all its terrible echoes, we must modify the landscape of public memory into something that is commensurate with the way we are thinking today.
Concerning the above ideas for a new name, we should probably reject the ones that have to do with the colonial and antebellum periods. Not everyone owned enslaved humans during that time, but it is the saddest set of chapters in our history.
Changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway is certainly the right thing to do. Finding the new right name will require a lot of thoughtful work. I hope the above information and ideas can help.