Birth of a Community
by Carl Sell

In the very early 1950s, a Sunday drive out to the country from Washington, Alexandria and Arlington could include the pastoral scenes along Telegraph or Franconia Roads. From either road, you could see the cattle grazing on the 700-acre farm called Rose Hill owned by R.L. May, president of the Alexandria, Barcroft and Washington Bus Company (AB&W). Mr. May also invited his employees to the farm for an annual country picnic.


Home of R.L. May was located near the end of what is now May Boulevard.  c.1950 

The silos that stored the grain to feed those cattle are still standing as part of the private school on May Boulevard. They were incorporated as showers for the Rose Hill Swimming and Tennis Club that opened in 1956. Heritage Academy is now located on the site.

Those Sunday drivers must have liked what they saw "out in the country." For when May sold the property to Morrell Construction Company for development, there were a large crop of buyers. The cows remained for awhile, sometimes wandering into the yards of their new neighbors.

Morrell broke ground for the new community named Rose Hill in the spring of 1954. The first homes were occupied in time for Christmas. The model homes were on Apple Tree Drive, just off Rose Hill Drive. There were no phones, no stores, no school and Rose Hill Drive was but a dirt road, but spirits were high for the first celebration in a new home. Phone service arrived the following year with a four-digit exchange.

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Corner of Rose Hill Drive and Apple Tree Drive, 1954

Many of the new arrivals took advantage of the low-interest loans for veterans to exercise the American dream of home ownership. The Washington area was expanding rapidly in the wake of the end of World War II and Rose Hill was an early part of the push into the countryside. Early sales were in the $13,000 range.

And if you think there weren’t any traffic concerns, think again! Getting to Alexandria on Telegraph Road involved a one-lane underpass at the railroad just south of Duke Street. Seemed as if someone was always getting stuck in there! There was no Beltway, no Wilson Bridge, no Parkway, Shirley Highway hadn’t been totally completed and there were no nearby four-lane roads.

Within four years, the community had a Safeway store, a new school and two swimming pools. The elementary school opened in September of 1957 at a cost of ‘only’ a half million dollars. Highland Park pool had opened a few months earlier and the Safeway was the only store in what would become the shopping center

An issue that galvanized the community in the early years was the announcement of plans by Virginia Power to install the high poles and power lines on both sides of the school. Despite protests from the Civic Association, there was little that could be done to stop the installation because the line served a public purpose. In later years, the County was able to pass legislation that mandated a public hearing (Special Exception) and established the right to attach conditions to any approval. The substation in the bend of Roundhill Road went thought that process in the late 1980s and a number of conditions were imposed, including screening and buffering, hours of construction activity, and maintenance of the site.

The Rose Hill Civic Association was formed in 1956. The hot issue in those days was swimming and recreation. The Association supported Highland Park, which already was open, and opposed Morrell’s plans to construct what would become known as Meadowview. Morrell went ahead with his plans, but the club couldn’t make it financially and finally closed.

During the design of the community, Fairfax County insisted that the right-of-way for Rose Hill Drive to be wide enough for an eventual four-lane highway that would reach from Franconia Road, through what is now Lee District Park, cross South King’s Highway and find its way to Route #1. Those plans no longer exist and that is why we enjoy a wide buffer between street and sidewalk on Rose Hill Drive. Can you imagine living on a four-lane Rose Hill Drive?

Over the years, the Rose Hill Civic Association has been extremely active in supporting efforts to provide the outstanding public facilities we enjoy today. Former Supervisor Joseph Alexander, who bought his first home in Rose Hill on Leewood Drive, was chiefly responsible for the County’s investment in Rose Hill and Franconia during his 32 years on the Board of Supervisors.

In subsequent vignettes, we will at a look at the history of our schools, parks and library, and shopping center.

Please let me know if you have any information to contribute to the history of Rose Hill. Carl Sell

Schools - First Priority

Photos courtesy Twila Noble

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