Northern Virginia Communities: Herndon

Most recently, I profiled the Northern Virginia community of Reston. Let’s go next door now, to Herndon. Herndon’s 2000 population was 21,655 making it the largest of three towns in the county.

Herndon was named for Commander William Lewis Herndon, American naval explorer. The settlement was named Herndon in 1858.

Originally part of the rural surroundings of the Washington, D.C. area, the town of Herndon developed into a hub of dairy farming and vacationing for area residents, aided by its presence along the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad (later to become the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad). When the railroad was converted into a hike-and-bike trail, Herndon capitalized on history and small-town feel (in a major metropolitan region) by converting its train station into a museum and visitors center by relocating a Norfolk Southern Railway caboose to a nearby site and repainting it in W&OD livery. Although the caboose does not resemble anything that ever traveled through Herndon, it remains an iconic part of the downtown area that both locals and tourists visit daily. The caboose and station offer a taste of the original town that has since faded into the suburban countryside.

The town of Herndon was part of a nationally reported controversy involving illegal immigration beginning in 2005. The controversy revolved around a day labor center called the Herndon Official Worker Center (HOW Center), constructed by the town and operated by Reston Interfaith’s Project Hope and Harmony under a grant from surrounding Fairfax County. The HOW Center was created in response to daily gatherings of Hispanic workers at a local 7-Eleven store and resulting allegations of gang activity, public drunkenness, and public urination. What had started as a local issue became national news when the Minuteman Project anti-illegal immigration group joined the local groups opposing the day laborers and watchdog group Judicial Watch sued the town and county to block the center’s construction. The HOW Center opened in December 2005, on the site of the former Herndon Police headquarters. The 2006 election for Mayor and Town Council revolved mainly around the issue, and resulted in unseating the pro-center Mayor and two council members. The center closed after less than two years of operation, in September 2007. The Town Council had demanded that any operator of the day-labor center check the laborers’ identification, and a subsequent court decision required the town to open the center to all workers. The Town Council chose instead to close the center entirely.


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