Today I would like to profile another Northern Virginia community, the county (and municipality) of Arlington. Much of the information for today’s blog entry comes courtesy of Wikipedia.
The land that became Arlington was originally donated by Virginia to the United States government to form part of the new federal capital district. On February 27, 1801, the United States Congress organized the area as a subdivision of the District of Columbia named Alexandria County. Due to issues involving Congressional representation, the abolition of slavery, and economic decline, Congress returned Alexandria to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. The state legislature changed the county’s name to Arlington in 1920 to avoid confusion with the adjacent City of Alexandria.
With a land area of 26 square miles, Arlington is the geographically smallest self-governing county in the United States and has no other incorporated towns within its borders. Given these unique characteristics, for statistical purposes the county is included as a municipality within the Washington Metropolitan Area by the United States Census Bureau. As of 2010, Arlington County had a population of 207,627 residents.
Given the county’s proximity to Washington, D.C., Arlington is headquarters to many departments and agencies of the federal government of the United States, including the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The many federal agencies, government contractors, and service industries contribute to Arlington’s stable economy, which has made it one of the highest-income counties in the United States. Arlington is also the location of national memorials and museums, including Arlington National Cemetery, the Pentagon Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial, and the United States Air Force Memorial.
The name Arlington comes from Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington whose name had been applied to a plantation along the Potomac River. George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of First Lady Martha Washington, acquired this land in 1802. The estate was eventually passed down to Mary Anna Custis Lee, wife of General Robert E. Lee. The property later became Arlington National Cemetery during the American Civil War, and now lends its name to present-day Arlington County.
The area that now contains Arlington County was ceded to the new United States federal government by the Commonwealth of Virginia. With the passage of the Residence Act in 1790, Congress approved a new permanent capital to be located on the Potomac River, the exact area to be selected by President George Washington. The Residence Act originally only allowed the President to select a location within Maryland as far east as what is now the Anacostia River. However, President Washington shifted the federal territory’s borders to the southeast in order to include the pre-existing city of Alexandria at the District’s southern tip. In 1791, Congress amended the Residence Act to approve the new site, including the territory ceded by Virginia. However, this amendment to the Residence Act specifically prohibited the “erection of the public buildings otherwise than on the Maryland side of the River Potomac.” As permitted by the U.S. Constitution, the initial shape of the federal district was a square, measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2). During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants placed boundary stones at every mile point. Fourteen of these markers were in Virginia and many of the stones are still standing.