Back in 1910, Elmer Hooper, one of Arlington County's most upstanding citizens, was peeved at the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad. Seems the railroad passed right through Hooper's quiet neighborhood, Cherrydale, and brought undesirables and unwanted noise right to his doorstep.
So "Elmer and some other Cherrydale citizens banded together and petitioned the county to slow the trains down and cut the noise off," said Kathy Holt, a Cherrydale resident and director of the Arlington Historical Museum. "It worked, and the group stayed together, calling themselves the Cherrydale Citizens Association."
The Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad no longer exists, and neither do the elevated railroad tracks that used to run above Lee Highway, but the Cherrydale Citizens Association still is thriving, and still battling problems wrought by a railroad -- the Metro.
"After all those years, you'd think we'd have it right," joked Holt, 33. She said that many of Cherrydale's approximately 2,700 residents are worried about the planned expansion of Lee Highway, the effect of large-scale development in neighboring Ballston -- an area to the south of Cherrydale with an important Metro stop developing so fast experts say it soon could eclipse Rosslyn -- and in-fill, the process that starts when developers buy older houses on large lots, knock them down, and replace them on the same lot with three. Or four. Or five.
"Cherrydale is primarily single-family, detached residences," said Charles Monfort, 33, vice president of the citizens association and a lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "We like green spaces and distance between houses, and some developers want to build town houses. We don't want to see the county give developers exemptions on any particular piece of property." So far, only a few lots have been sold for development in Cherrydale.
The citizens of Cherrydale -- a neighborhood in the northern part of Arlington County bounded by Lorcom Lane on the north, Rte. 66 on the south and east, and Utah Street on the west -- are trying to preserve a way of life somewhat closer to rural tranquility than urban rush, even though Cherrydale is just a little more than three miles from the District.
The Cherrydale seen on Lee Highway doesn't seem tranquil or rural: Car dealerships, gas stations and supermarkets line the road. But the side streets are a completely different story. Turn off Lee Highway onto Quebec Street, and the noise lessens, replaced by virtual silence except for an occasional bird chirping.
In Cherrydale, a hilly area, some roads are so narrow that compact cars sometimes have trouble squeezing by, and the streets are thick with huge oak and walnut trees. Old, rambling houses and newer, brick colonials are set back from the empty roads. Cherrydale is indeed semirural, which is just the way its residents would like to keep it.
"I like having trees around me, I like to have birds and the occassional racoon in my backyard," said Stafford Street resident Wendy Jessup, a curator with the Smithsonian Institution. "Having lived in cities, I like having this more pastoral setting to remind me that we're on earth, but we can still benefit from living near an urban center."
Cherrydale began as farmland for English settlers around the time of the Revolution, and stayed farmland until the late 19th century. Easy access to fruit and vegetable markets in the District made the area ideal for planting after the Civil War. Cherries were a favorite crop, and the area was dubbed Cherrydale in 1893; a few of the original cherry trees remain. The community and its economy were quiet until the steam railroad, which provoked so much of Elmer Hooper's wrath, came through in 1904. Development soon followed.
By the 1920s, Cherrydale was a bona fide suburb, with schools, libraries and the first firehouse in Arlington. Many current Cherrydale residents live in houses built between 1890 and 1930, and neighborhood activists say it's the houses that make the neighborhood special, so special some would like to see Cherrydale declared a historic district.
The citizens association has appointed a committee to study whether Cherrydale should apply for historic district status, and Tom O'Reilly, the president of the association, said the proposal has many pluses.
"It would be more difficult for developers to buy historic houses," said O'Reilly, a real estate appraiser for Arlington County. But O'Reilly added that some residents who would want to add rooms or wings to their homes might dislike "government intrusion," because any changes in houses in historic districts must be approved by a county board.
The status of the neighborhood's homes is just one of the concerns of the citizens association, a large group dominated by young professionals. Although many senior citizens live in Cherrydale, along with some blue-collar workers, the majority of Cherrydale residents are white collar, many employed by the government.
The 1980 census reported that more than 40 percent of Cherrydale residents completed four or more years of college, and the median income is rising -- it is now at about $26,000.
The area is homogenous -- very few blacks or other minorities live in Cherrydale, although Arlington is an extremely diverse county. Homes sell from about $90,000 to $215,000, and they sell fast, O'Reilly said.
In a recent interview, O'Reilly said that the citizens association's primary goal is to preserve the way of life that has made Cherrydale stand apart from much of Arlington County. Citizens are very involved in the Neighborhood Conservation Program, a county-sponsored plan that assists neighborhoods in preservation and conservation efforts.
O'Reilly said the citizens association is focusing on the maintenance of the neighborhood's old houses, assisting the sometimes-seedy-looking businesses along Lee Highway in beautification efforts and making sure that zoning ordinances aren't bent in favor of large-scale developers.
O'Reilly also said that the citizens association will be studying the effects of traffic overflowing into Cherrydale from Ballston and may be proposing that the county restrict several streets to one-way traffic to stop commuters from taking shortcuts through Cherrydale. And then there's Lee Highway.
The citizens association opposes a plan at which the county has hinted: expanding the highway to six lanes. O'Reilly said that his association will be negotiating with the county to work out a compromise. "We'd like to do conservation work on Lee, but we can't until we know what's going to happen," said Monfort, the association vice president. John Hummel, the county's chief engineer, said nothing has been decided and that the county is looking forward to talking with the citizens association, which he called "very active."
The very active citizens association has much to do in the coming years if they "want to keep Cherrydale the way it is," O'Reilly said.