When Vivian Bly moved to Vienna almost 50 years ago, mature maple trees arched over Maple Avenue, forming a shaded canopy. It was a place where it seemed everyone knew each other. And when Bly would rumble past Tysons Corner, she saw nothing but a little country crossroads.
Now 94 years old, Bly started her life when the century was fresh and so radically different. She grew up in a small Tennessee town called Tiptonville, where she saw the soldiers getting ready to head off to France and the First World War. She was there at the town's railroad station, waving to the "doughboy" soldiers in their crisp uniforms and smiling faces as the steam engine pulled them toward the trenches and the mustard gas and the machine guns.
And she remembers the exact day WWI ended, Nov. 11, 1918. She can still hear the bells in town ringing and can see the people flooding out into the streets to hug and cheer, not knowing of what was to still to come.
When Bly was young, she would go to the edge of the Mississippi River next to her hometown and watch the Huck Finn-era paddle steamboats cruise past with their loads of cotton. She remembers vividly the day she saw an automobile for the first time. Actually, she and her family heard it first. Only one very wealthy man in Tiptonville could afford such a machine, and Bly's family rushed out the front door when the sputtering came near.
"That was wonderful!" Bly said. "Because up to that time we had a [horse-drawn] buggy. We walked most everywhere."
Her family would eventually get its own horseless carriage like everyone else. She laughs when she thinks back to those trips to the beach in their new automobile when her father would yell, "Now hold on, we're going 30 miles per hour!"
Bly left Tennessee when she began studying drama at a Mississippi Presbyterian college. Then she began her elementary and high school teaching career in Arkansas.
"There were two jobs people considered acceptable for women: being a nurse or being a teacher," said Bly, who now lives at the Virginia Continuing Care Retirement Community on Arlington Boulevard, where she's been since 1994.
It was when she went back to Tiptonville in 1930 that she met her husband, Merwyn Bly. He'd just moved from Leesburg to take over as the editor of the local newspaper. In 1939, the two married and she moved to Leesburg to be with him, staying at home like most women at the time. She remembers the social gatherings and the formal parties where they announced the couple at the door. And she remembers those long evening gowns and the kid white gloves that came to her elbow.
When Bly, her husband and young son moved to Vienna in 1950, it was what she describes a quiet town more reminiscent of Mayberry than today's bustling suburb. And that's exactly why they wanted to live there. Her husband, who worked with the Defense Department as an electronic engineer and then as a consultant, liked the slow pace.
When they settled into their Park Street home, 2,000 people lived within the 1 1/2 miles that made up the town. There weren't any shopping centers, and the main street had hardly any traffic. She used to shop at a general store where the owners knew her by name.
But like the region, she would see the town change. The maple trees downtown would eventually come down eight years after the Blys arrived when Maple Avenue was widened. By 1960, the town's population would mushroom to 11,750.
"It was a very small town," Bly said. "I have seen many changes . . . in my lifetime."
CAPTION: When Vivian Bly came to Park Street, 2,000 people lived in the 1 1/2-mile town.