Daily Archives: 16 September 2010

Forgotten Roads of Northern Virginia

The Hunter Mill Defense League recently posted a 36-page book titled “Forgotten Roads of the Hunter Mill Road Corridor” written by James G. Lewis Jr. with Charles Balch and Kenneth Jones.  The work was referenced in an article on the Washington Post today:

Hunter Mill Defense League members detail history of Virginia traffic arteries in book
By Kali Schumitz
Fairfax County Times
Thursday, September 16, 2010; VA17

If you are inclined to traipse through the woods around Reston and Vienna, you might come across the vestiges of roads that farmers, Civil War soldiers and lawyers once used to travel through rural Fairfax County.

Three members of the Hunter Mill Defense League, a nonprofit civic association, did just that and have chronicled the 270-year history of Lawyers Road and other former arteries in a new booklet, “Forgotten Roads of the Hunter Mill Corridor.”

About two years ago, James Lewis Jr., Charles Balch and Kenneth Jones set out to find the road networks shown on Union Gen. Irvin McDowell’s 1862 map of Northern Virginia. Their research quickly took them beyond the Civil War era.

“We started going into the woods, and immediately we started finding roads,” Lewis said.

The three men met through their involvement in local history groups.

Lewis, a retired marketing specialist with Xerox , and Balch, who is retired as a partner with Accenture, also were involved in creating the 2007 Hunter Mill Defense League documentary, “Danger Between the Lines.” The film chronicles life in the Hunter Mill corridor during the Civil War.

Both also were part of a group within the Defense League’s history committee that did extensive research to support the placement of six historical markers, installed last year, which document significant events in the corridor. Lewis also leads occasional bus tours highlighting local history.

Their work researching local Civil War-era history led them to the McDowell map and piqued their curiosity about local roads. Jones, a retired research scientist with the U.S. Navy, served as the cartographer for the project.

Much of the 36-page, illustrated booklet focuses on the long history of Lawyers Road, believed to be so named because lawyers from the western reaches of the county used the route to travel to the first county courthouse, near the present-day intersection of Old Courthouse and Chain Bridge roads in Tysons Corner. The courthouse was there from 1742 to 1752.

“We feel we have found the original route,” including a segment that runs through the present-day Polo Pointe community, Lewis said.

The booklet uses maps Jones created, as well as photos and historic maps, to trace the shifts of the road’s route in the context of local history.

“All of us travel through these areas at high speed,” Balch said. “I think [knowing the history] adds context as you’re driving through.”

The men also discovered a 0.6-mile mill race that once fed Broadwater’s Mill, built in the 1740s, which is one of three mills once located along Hunter Mill Road.

“It is still in very good shape,” Jones said of the mill race. “If you don’t destroy it, these things will last a long time.”

The booklet identifies old sections of Stuart Mill Road (identified as “Bad Road” on the McDowell map), Vale Road (“Old Bad Road”) and Crowell Road, as well as several unnamed roads.

“What’s really cool is that this area has been protected,” Lewis said. “If you go looking for it, it will blow you away, what’s still out there.”

Copies of the booklet will be sold for $14 at http://www.hmdl.org to support the Hunter Mill Defense League’s preservation efforts, historical research and placement of historical markers.

I haven’t purchased my copy of the book yet, but Jim Lewis has aided me on several occasions while tracking down some of the out of the way Civil War sites in Fairfax County.  So I know the attention to detail and effort he puts into his work.  The booklet will be a valuable resource for anyone interested in the movements through the western part of Fairfax County during the 1st Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg Campaigns.

As the article mentions, proceeds go toward preservation and awareness (um… markers!).  I’ve mentioned the League before.  They are a fine example of what can be done locally toward preservation goals.