For a probable nuclear first-strike target, Arlington, VA is a surprisingly good place to grow up. The smallest self-governing county in the US, Arlington is home to the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, indie rock, and oh so much more. It occupies the area on the Virginia side of the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D.C.

Arlington has very good public schools, and is quite safe relative to the rest of the metropolitan area. Like most of Northern Virginia, Arlington is educated, affluent, and more left-leaning politically than the rest of the state (the local government has been solidly Democrat for years). It also has a sizeable immigrant population, as well as foreign nationals working in the nation's capital, so has a more international flavor than much of the state. Arlington's recent dense high-rise development has, within the last 20 years, altered the face of the county from nearly all one-story houses and small businesses to 20-story gleaming concrete and glass facades -- corporate offices and upscale apartments. (Shudder.) The areas most hit by this trend are centered around the corridors served by the Metrorail, Washington DC's subway system (see below).

Notable Landmarks

Famous Offspring (some of these are unconfirmed)

Evidence of occupation by American Indian communities dates back 10,000 years. The area was first explored by Europeans in the early 1600s. Captain John Smith, English explorer, made a trip up the Potomac River as far as it was navigable in 1608; on his map he noted a village called Nameroughquena ("the place where fish are caught") at the location of present-day Arlington. The villagers were Necostins, of the Algonquian language group.

By 1680, most natives had left the area due to pressure from Europeans and other native tribes, and sporadic white settlement began in the late 1600s. Tobacco farming was the major industry, and the area would remain rural for the next 200 years.

The boundaries of present-day Arlington were not drawn until 1791, when George Washington accepted Virginia's offer of land for use in creating a capital city for the new nation. Benjamin Banneker and Andrew Ellicott surveyed the parcel -- the boundary stones they set are still largely in place around the county's perimeter -- and the 10-mile square District of Columbia was created from Maryland's portion (renamed Washington County) and Virginia's portion (present-day Arlington plus the city of Alexandria, together called Alexandria County). In 1846, under political pressure from powerful citizens of Alexandria County, the U.S. Congress held a referendum on whether Alexandria County should be returned to Virginia; supporters of retrocession won, and the county once again became part of Virginia, leaving Washington, D.C. in its current asymmetric shape.

During the first half of the 1800s, George Washington Parke Custis (grandson of Martha Washington, raised by George and Martha) had built his mansion Arlington House (named for the estate on which he'd lived as a child, which in turn had been named for the Earl of Arlington) on a great hill looking across the river at the fledgling capital city. His daughter married Robert E. Lee and the couple would live in Arlington House for 30 years leading up to the Civil War.

The war began with the ratification of Secession, May 23, 1861, and the federal government immediately occupied all of Alexandria County. Arlington House, which Lee would never set foot in again, became headquarters of the Union Army. The property surrounding the estate would become Arlington National Cemetery, with the first war dead buried there in 1864. The Arlington House property was also the site of Freedmen's Village, a temporary settlement for blacks fleeing the South, until the 1890s.

In 1860, 1486 people lived within the boundaries of Arlington -- 982 slaves, 251 slaveholders. The county was devastated by the force of the occupation; 22 forts were built in the tiny area, fields ripped up, forests cleared, and residents driven away. After the war, the area was under a military governor until Virginia was readmitted to the Union in 1870. Alexandria County was split into city and county -- the county parts would ultimately be re-named and become the Arlington we know today. Free public education in the county also began at this time.

Parts of the county were lawless during the late 1800s, but in the early 1900s a law and order movement made the county safe again, and it became a popular area for Washingtonians to build summer cottages. In 1909 the first road was paved, and in 1913 electricity was available to some parts of the county. During World War I the county's population rose dramatically, and the early 1920s saw a demand for sewers and a public water system. In 1920 the county's name changed to Arlington, after Arlington House (which is pictured on the Arlington County Seal). In the 1930s, New Deal programs increased the size of the federal government, and thereby Arlington's population. In the early 1940s, the Pentagon was built in Arlington to house America's Department of Defense; as the largest office building in the world, it brought further infrastructure changes and population increases, and put Arlington on the nuclear first-strike list. In 1958, Arlington defied Virginia's stated policy of "massive resistance" to school desegregation by beginning to racially integrate its public schools. Arlington's population has increased further since the late 1960s, due to immigration from Southeast Asia and Latin America, and the development of lobbying, consulting, high-tech, and other businesses in the county.

Statistics (figures from 2000 Census)
Area: 26 square miles
Population: 189,453
Median Age: 34
Median Household Income: $57,244 (among the highest of any county in the USA)
Percentage of residents who are below the poverty line: 8.1
Percentage of children who are below the poverty line: 15.9
Of those listing one race, percentages: white: 68.9; black: 9.3; Asian: 8.6; other: 8.3
Percentage Hispanic/Latino, any race: 18.6 (overwhelmingly from places other than Mexico, Cuba or Puerto Rico)

Arlington's population growth through the 1900s, selected years:
1900: 6,430
1920: 16,000
1940: 57,000
1950: 135,400
1970: 174,300
2000: 189,400

Voting Districts
Virginia House of Delegates districts: 45, 47, 48, 49
Virginia Senate districts: 30, 31
U.S. House of Representatives: 8th district of Virginia

Metro Stations-- (see The Washington DC Metro Project also)
About 1/3 of Metro's stations are in Arlington.
The county is served by the Orange and Blue lines. Outbound, the Orange line passes through Arlington east to west, in the northern part of the county. The Blue line, outbound, runs roughly north to south on the eastern edge of the county, along the river. Inbound, the two lines meet at Rosslyn, where they both run under the river into the city.
Stations as of this writing: Rosslyn, Court House, Clarendon, Virginia Square-GMU, Ballston-MU, East Falls Church, Arlington Cemetery, Pentagon, Pentagon City Mall, Crystal City, National Airport. Go to for maps and more info.

Elementary: Abingdon Elementary School, Arlington Science Focus Elementary School, Arlington Traditional School (formerly Page Elementary School), Ashlawn Elementary School, Barcroft Elementary School, Barrett Elementary School, Claremont Elementary School, Drew Model School (at Wilson), Glebe Elementary School, Glencarlyn Elementary School, Henry Elementary School, Hoffman-Boston Elementary School, Jamestown Elementary School, Key Elementary School, Long Branch Elementary School, McKinley Elementary School, Nottingham Elementary School, Oakridge Elementary School, Randolph Elementary School, Taylor Elementary School, Tuckahoe Elementary School
Middle: Gunston Middle School, Jefferson Middle School, Kenmore Middle School, Swanson Middle School, Williamsburg Middle School, H-B Woodlawn
High: Wakefield High School, Washington-Lee High School, Yorktown High School, H-B Woodlawn High School

Direct quotes are attributed, see these sites for more information:,,,


On September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was damaged when terrorists deliberately crashed a passenger jet into it. Current best estimates, 4 days after the crash, place the death toll at nearly 200 in this attack.

For a time during the first day, there were reports that a second plane was on its way (this plane did not make it to Arlington); there was a single (false) report that a second plane had gone down somewhere else in Arlington. Phone circuits were overloaded and I could not reach my family, saw only reports of all federal office buildings evacuated in D.C., and pictures of a smoking hole in the Pentagon. My observation which opens this writeup doesn't seem as funny as it seemed to me growing up.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.