Neighborhood profile: Sherwood, in Falls Church, Va.
By Susan Straight,
Sherwood is tucked in the middle of Falls Church City under towering, majestic trees and tidy streets lined with Cape Cods, Colonials, Victorians, ramblers, and Craftsman- and farmhouse-style homes. It’s a pedestrian-friendly place with plenty of sidewalks — so many that you hardly need a car to get around.
“We can walk to everything. Washington & Old Dominion bike trail, the gym, groceries, the library, the schools, . . . restaurants,” said resident Stephanie Oppenheimer. “We only have one car. That was a big thing for us.”
Sherwood consists of about 150 houses just north of Route 7, within walking distance of the West Falls Church Metro station. Some families have been living in the neighborhood for generations, so the bonds and civic engagement are strong. This is enhanced by the small-town characteristics of Falls Church, the city of approximately two square miles and 12,000 people in which the neighborhood is located.
“I would feel lost and overwhelmed in Fairfax County,” said resident Sally Phillips. Like other residents, she mentioned the ease of communicating with city officials as a benefit of living there.
The neighborhood has “charming older homes, generally smaller, but there are many that have been renovated and big ones interspersed. Because they’re older, they have really nice architectural features,” said Long & Foster agent Rosemary Hayes Jones.
Although the majority of the houses were built in the 1930s and ’40s, some date to the turn of the 20th century and earlier. The oldest, on a large lot on North Oak Street, was built in 1890. At the other end of the spectrum are a number of new homes built on existing lots. The newest house in the neighborhood was built in 2010 after an existing property was torn down.
The Sherwood neighborhood owes its name to Archibald Sherwood, born in 1812. His ancestor Thomas Sherwood had arrived in North America from Europe in 1636 on the ship Francis, according to Falls Church historian Melvin Lee Steadman Jr. Archibald Sherwood married a Falls Church woman named Lucinda Fish and took over her family’s land, a 217-acre farm, now the site of the Sherwood neighborhood.
A map from 1891 (the year before Archibald Sherwood died) shows that the land had been redrawn as the “Sherwood Subdivision.” It was one of the first subdivisions in Virginia. An auction was held on June 9, 1891, for “230 choice lots in the Sherwood Subdivision, Falls Church, Virginia.” (Though Falls Church wasn’t incorporated as an independent city until 1950, the area — then within Fairfax County — was known as Falls Church.)
The Falls Church Improvement Co. flier advertising the Sherwood auction urged investors to consider the area for its air (“clear and fine”), the land (“high and rolling”), and the prevailing winds, which were said to “account for the remarkable health of the place, and its freedom from malarial influences.”
Oppenheimer and her husband, Peter, said they were delighted to live so close to one of the schools their sons, Jonathan, 9, and Danny, 6, would attend. Their primary concern when buying their home was the quality of the public schools. “Falls Church City schools have an excellent reputation. That’s what initially drew us to the neighborhood,” said Oppenheimer.
All Falls Church City children go through a single set of schools: Mount Daniel Elementary for pre-kindergarten through first grade, Thomas Jefferson Elementary for grades two through four, Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School for grades five through seven, and George Mason High School for grades eight through 12. “You see the same kids playing on the sports teams and everywhere. I love it,” Oppenheimer said.
Because families with children see one another through all 12 years of school, as opposed to funneling from small elementary schools into incrementally larger middle and high schools, there’s a certain familiarity. “People jokingly call it Mayberry,” Oppenheimer said.
People stop to talk in the Giant supermarket a short walk from the neighborhood on Broad Street. Families may know one another for generations. “We go to each other’s children’s weddings,” said Jean Lewis, who moved to Sherwood with her husband in 1975.
Phillips, who with her husband, Lewis, bought their 1938-built Cape Cod in 1972, says the neighborhood has always been extremely convenient for getting around on foot. “I almost never had to drive my kids anywhere — they could walk,” Phillips said.
Nevertheless, located between two busy Metro stations, Falls Church City finds itself in need of growth. “The city is trying to redevelop its older commercial areas such as old car uses or strip malls,” said City Manager Wyatt Shields. Thus, he added, the city is planning for “higher-density development of five to eight stories including retail, office and residential.”
Most of this mixed-use development will take place near the intersection of Broad Street and Washington Boulevard, about half a mile from the Sherwood neighborhood. A six-story Hilton hotel, to abut the south side of the neighborhood, will occupy what is currently a parking lot on Broad Street between North Oak Street and North Lee Street. “It’s been approved, building permits have been issued, and construction is scheduled to start soon,” Shields said.
The Broad Street development is not expected to affect the neighborhood, which has no cut-through traffic north to south because of the boundary created by Interstate 66. And besides the occasional tear down of an older home on an existing lot, there’s no room for new construction in the mature neighborhood. Streets remain calm and inviting for pedestrians, kids and pets.
“It’s a tree-lined street with sidewalks. It’s the kind of neighborhood I grew up in and the kind of neighborhood my husband grew up in,” said Oppenheimer. “It’s a really great community. We absolutely love it.”
Susan Straight is a freelance writer.