As Dulles International Airport celebrated its 40th anniversary last month, I was reminded of a gala marking the airport's 10th anniversary.
A guest asked one of the hostesses, a young African American woman, "Just where is Dulles?" She paused, smiled and said, "Why, at Willard, of course."
Willard was largely a black community in Loudoun County; a young white person answering the question most likely would have said Chantilly, for mail leaving the airport then bore a Chantilly postmark.
Willard's heyday had long passed by that 1972 party, but old-timers could recall its store.
Joseph Edward Willard, for whom the village was named, was a Fairfax County delegate to the Virginia General Assembly from 1893 to 1901. If you're wondering why a Loudoun village was named for a Fairfax politician, Willard's main intersection was a scant 1,500 feet from the Fairfax line. More people from Fairfax than Loudoun traded at the general store and got their mail at the Willard post office.
Willard was considered one of Virginia's richest men, and those who passed his 14-bedroom house on a 50-acre estate in Fairfax certainly believed that assertion. The money came from his father, Joseph Clapp Willard, who owned the Willard Hotel in downtown Washington.
The younger Willard became Virginia's lieutenant governor in 1901, but after placing third in the three-way race for the governor's office in 1905, he had to settle for the post of state corporation commissioner.
The focus of black Willard was Shiloh Primitive Baptist Church, built by its members in 1899.
In 1901, Elder James Bailey from Occoquan in Prince William County became preacher. He was then 21 and soon would become circuit pastor for every black Primitive Baptist church from Occoquan north into western Fairfax and lower Loudoun. His pastorate ended in 1976; he was 95.
Near Shiloh, usually called just the Willard Church, stood Willard School, an 1890s weatherboard one-roomer finely built with tongue-and-groove wood-lined walls inside.
Black and white Willard came together each summer when the "medicine show" and minstrel men came there.
Holding sway onstage was the medicine man, who was sometimes a singer and comic and sometimes a pitchman for patent medicines, often laced with alcohol. Between acts, minstrels strolled among the crowd, playing fiddles and banjos and hawking "New Life" and "Golden Oil," names for pills and elixirs extolled by the pitchman.
Willard changed with the coming of Blue Ridge Airport in 1938. The airport's founder, Harry A. Sager Jr., learned to fly when he was a student at Herndon High School. Sager chose the name because the airport was the first place from which the mountains could be seen.
The other Washington-area airports, from north to south, were George Brinkerhoff's College Park; Hoover Field, the commercial airport at the site of the Pentagon; Franklin Reid's Beacon Airport at Alexandria; and Hybla Valley, north of Fort Belvoir. National Airport opened in June 1941.
Blue Ridge Airport was forced to close in early 1942. World War II decrees specified a 24-hour guard over all operable airplanes or removal of their propellers at night. Sager, soon to be with the U.S. Air Transport Command, couldn't afford the manpower.
The success of air power and abundance of pilots and planes after the war were factors leading to a search in 1948 for a second international airport for Washington.
The Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) began exploring three sites: Burke, Annandale and Willard, which it called Chantilly.
In summer 1951, Burke was chosen. But protests from local residents and the growing realization that the suburbs were expanding more rapidly than expected led the CAA to rethink its decision. During the next six years, Andrews Air Force Base, the Pender area in Fairfax five miles southeast of Willard and today's Baltimore-Washington International Airport were the CAA's alternative sites, with Chantilly still in the running.
Finally, in January 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Chantilly.
In reality, the site was chosen by his special adviser on aviation, retired Lt. Gen. Elwood R. "Pete" Quesada. Eisenhower valued the judgment of the former World War II fighter-pilot commander.
Without public hearings, the federal government sent condemnation letters to all 87 Willard-area landowners early in September 1958, and the letters came like a bolt. Many landowners formed a citizens association, but it disbanded, and everyone followed separate courses. Several hired lawyers, who took one-third of anything over the condemnation price.
The government paid an average of $500 an acre, and more than 300 buildings were bulldozed. Between January 1959 and April 1961, the 87 property owners deeded 9,800 acres to the government.
Shiloh Church received $4,000, and the congregation and church graveyard were relocated to their present location near Conklin, where several other black
families from the Willard area had moved.
Sager, then a senior pilot with Eastern Airlines, had asked Quesada to name the airport Blue Ridge. But Quesada chose Dulles to commemorate Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who had died in 1959 and had been fond of flying. To forestall further name suggestions, the late secretary's staff took pains to research his travel logs, citing 559,988 miles, 400,000 of which were out of the country.
While land was being acquired, the Federal Aviation Administration (successor in January 1959 to the CAA) interviewed companies to plan, design and build Dulles as the world's first airport to handle only jets. James A. Wilding, president of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority since 1979, was a junior member of the hiring team.
Wilding, who had just graduated from Catholic University, recalled his colleagues describing "the incredible impression" made by the New York City civil engineering firm of Ammann & Whitney, builder of the George Washington and Verrazano Narrows bridges.
Wilding told me that Finnish-born architect Eero Saarinen, a member of the Ammann team, was the last person to speak during the interviews. Wilding paraphrased Saarinen as saying: "Boyd Anderson [an Ammann partner] has told you everything about the engineering and structural aspects, its bones. Robert McDonald [another partner] has talked to you about the mechanical and electrical aspects, the heart and nervous system. And I am going to talk to you about its soul."
Dulles's soul was Saarinen's terminal, described by many as similar to a bird in flight, as the high control tower between the building's wings appears to change position while one approaches the terminal. Saarinen also created an interior "sky" in the terminal as its concave ceiling simulates a plane's takeoff path.
Wilding said that "for the first time in this country, Saarinen separated the 'airside' and 'landside' functions of the airport," with landside denoting ticketing and baggage checking.
"Saarinen and the Ammann firm had the idea to use mobile 'lounges' to carry passengers to the airplanes," he said. "If the terminal had long fingers on it [to take people to the planes], it wouldn't have been as powerful." Saarinen, who did not live to see the airport open, called the terminal "the best thing I've ever done."
Overseeing landside functions during the early years was Charles Waddell, who at various times handled crew and flight schedules and passenger relations for American Airlines. Waddell would become a Democratic state senator, serving Loudoun and western Fairfax from 1971 to 1998.
Waddell transferred from National to Dulles when it opened on Nov. 17, 1962. The first commercial flights landed two days later.
Waddell said, "We had three [flights] in and three out each day: Flight 58 from Dallas, 76 from Los Angeles and 77 from L.A.; that's the flight that hit the Pentagon [on Sept. 11, 2001]." Its number has been retired.
The name Dulles caused problems -- then and now. Waddell recalled rerouting passengers to Dallas who had mistakenly gotten off at Dulles.
Similar incidents led to my naming the airport "Washington Dulles International Airport" on a map that I prepared of the airport for its 20th anniversary. Winn Porter of Paeonian Springs, a member of the Committee for Dulles, a group of business executives who oversaw the airport, told me to think of a new name. In 1984, Congress officially adopted that name.
One quote always sticks in my mind when the airport's early years are discussed. Two days before President John F. Kennedy dedicated Dulles on Nov. 17, 1962, J. Terry Hirst of the Loudoun Board of Supervisors summed up the feelings of much of rural lower Loudoun, western Fairfax and upper Prince William.
Hirst spoke of the commerce and industry that soon would join the airport: "Yes, industry pays taxes, big taxes to the state and federal governments. It'll be the county that pays for the population boom."
Eugene Scheel is a Waterford historian and mapmaker.