The following was sent in by Ann Felker, a longtime resident of Ashton Heights.
I can speak only to the years since 1947, but here goes. When I was a little girl, there were sidewalks from the 600 block of N. Irving all the way to Clarendon. The streets were lined with elms and silver maples, both of which succumbed to the forces of nature …elms to disease and silver maples to soft limbs and both to power company pruning. I distinctly recall meeting a girl friend at a weather worn hitching-post that protruded from the grass in the boulevard up near 904 N. Irving. Obviously, the sidewalks have been worked on since then, more than a few times, and the hitching post is gone.
My traffic on Irving Street memories include DC Transit buses on Irving Street because it WAS a main thoroughfare and proud of it…next stop, Clarendon. While there was no horse traffic on Irving Street in my time, .we never played in the Irving Street corridor and neither did our children, a generation later.
In they 50’s, the sidewalks were heaved by the tree roots, so that roller skating south was a very slow proposition. Heading north and downhill coming around the corner of 6th and Irving on the smooth cement that was the result of some sidewalk work when Clarendon Methodist was built was a roller skaters dream run. We still roller skated much to the sadness of the Highland Street and the number street kids who envied us our sidewalks.
Irving Street from Route 50 to 10 Street has been excavated, remodeled, narrowed, widened, lowered, raised, drained, and calmed many times. I always wondered about the derivation of the word “Bucyrus-Erie” that was written on the side of a steam shovel that lived in front of our house one entire summer before I started school. I think it was the first real word I could read.The sidewalks were covered and obliterated during that operation and walking to my hitching post was dangerous.
But the tree canopy survived, until the aforementioned disease and weakness left us with just a few trees. Julie Mangis and I, both subject to our husband’s far flung assignments, promised to become tree sitters if ever there was a threat to the venerable trees. We did not ever really do that, but two trees at the corner of 6th and Irving Street were huge in 1947 and they remain today, sidewalk covered and arborist protected.
Some street work that was done in the late 80’s/early 90’s brought about a renovation that included a new generation of street trees, which were planned by the arborist to be short enough to avoid pruning and beautiful enough to give us a glorious shade cover/fall show every year, except one or two when they were growing. Of course, we lost some of the property that we had been mowing and likely planting hedges on to the new configuration, but it was always easement, not ours. A handsome stone wall, constructed by the county’s artisan stonemason’s, finally gave our house a beautiful setting after 60+ years of sloping to a flood zone in front. And some smooth skating sidewalk, too late in my life to enjoy though our children loved it.
Indeed, we have lost many trees in the course of 67 years of street work but mostly from natural causes: Hurricane Hazel, the blizzard of ’66, snowmageddon, the Derecho, Sandy. And just plain old age, the trees, not us. This was a veritable forest except where it was farm fields when people started civilizing Arlington in the 20’s. The county does not take out trees with any cavalier attitude, because such a project is as expensive for the county as it is for individual homeowners. The man-made menace to our trees is more consistently the construction of new homes with different dimensions from the original homes . Still we are blessed with a arboreal canopy because as street trees have disappeared, others seem to take over where they had been overshadowed.
Once we moved south of Pershing Drive, 20 years ago, the county heard that we had left the north side and project after project has been initiated directly in front of our house.
We often brag that we could never pay enough county taxes to cover the cost of one of the street/sidewalk/sewer/traffic calming projects that has been carried out in the name of community health and safety. We didn’t always vote affirmative for the NC street work, but our vote was counted as a “no” and lost to the greater good. We readily admit our error, almost all the time, except when we are sitting on our lovely side porch and are confronted with the vision of a gigantic orange, glow-in-the-dark sign that says “Speed Hump.” But we feel like that is a sign of progress and good will in the community.