The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In Cherrydale, rediscovered history and old-growth trees

Residents of the Arlington, Va., community celebrate its role in the civil rights movement and its natural beauty

Shelby Colson and Jacob Coate walk their dogs, Moose and Teddy, in the Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington, Va. Residents love the community's green spaces and the shade and beauty provided by old-growth trees. (Craig Hudson/For the Washington Post)
6 min

On a wall between a hair salon and a sushi restaurant in the main commercial district of the Cherrydale community of Arlington, Va., is a small plaque testifying to the neighborhood’s contribution to American history. It commemorates the six Black students from Howard and Duke universities who took part in the first day of a lunch-counter “sit-in” protest in Northern Virginia.

That act of defiance in 1960 created its own momentum: A worker at the Cherrydale Drug Fair, Joseph Wooten, eventually joined the students, who weathered taunts and harassment as they sat at the counter and helped to propel the American civil rights movement.

It’s a history recently rediscovered. Cherrydale resident and amateur historian Greg Embree — who organized the community’s 125th anniversary celebration in 2018 with his wife, Suzanne — raised money for the plaque. Fittingly, it faces Langston Boulevard, the former Lee Highway, which was renamed in 2021 to honor Virginia’s first Black congressman, John M. Langston, rather than Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

“I get excited about it — to live in a neighborhood where these things happened,” said Embree, 75.

Cherrydale, established in 1893 and named for a resident’s large cherry orchard behind the local post office, was home to Stratford Junior High School, the first school in Virginia to desegregate, in 1959. (The new Dorothy Hamm Middle School, named for the Virginia civil rights figure, sits on the same property.) The community’s volunteer fire department contributed vitally to recovery efforts after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon by lighting the roof from the air.

Embree wrote about those events and the civil rights protest in “It Happened in Cherrydale,” a book he self-published in 2020. The memorial plaque, the anniversary celebration and that book have all helped to bring locals new awareness of and pride in their neighborhood’s history, Embree said.

But what drew him to the neighborhood in 1987 was proximity to the Cherrydale library, which was “about a 120-second walk from the front door” of his townhouse.

“That was the chief selling point,” he said, “and the obvious walkability of the general neighborhood.”

Quiet, shady streets make up most of Cherrydale, while restaurants and shops, including the beloved Cherrydale Hardware and Company Flowers on Langston, put many necessities within easy walking distance.

Cherrydale residents love the area’s green spaces and the shade and beauty provided by old-growth trees. They’re a major point of concern in discussions of a “missing middle” housing proposal that would allow construction of more multiple-family homes in Arlington to create affordable housing options.

Kevin Love, a real estate agent with Remax Allegiance who has been selling homes in Cherrydale since 1985, disputes that the proposed homes would be more affordable. He emphatically opposes the move.

“The people that live in this portion of the county bought in this area … because they liked the nature in the woods and the parks in this area, and that needs to be preserved,” he said.

Joan McIntyre, who leads the Cherrydale Garden Club, said she’s generally in favor of the proposal, as long as the county pays attention to tree cover, setbacks and stormwater drainage.

“The county’s got to be a little bit creative in terms of what are the opportunities and how different things can come together and still make Arlington welcoming for everybody, which is kind of an important issue,” she said.

McIntyre, a resident of Cherrydale since 1985, began the garden club in 2019 and led the installation of a demonstration pollinator garden at Quincy and 15th streets, near Cherry Valley Park, in 2021.

“It’s kind of a social opportunity to get together. Members share some of their plants with each other,” said McIntyre, 65. “And then we’ve actually been working on promoting more tree-planting in the neighborhood — putting together some material that we can share with neighbors, especially new neighbors, about the value of having trees.”

New neighbors also get connected with the community through the Cherrydale Citizens Association, which publishes a quarterly newsletter called “Sweet & Sour News” and maintains a residents’ email list for information and updates. Popular neighborhood events include a July Fourth barbecue and block party and a coordinated Cherrydale yard sale.

Patricia Kime, who moved to Cherrydale in 2005, said she and her husband retreated to the community from their previous home in Lyon Village because they felt that the nearby Clarendon and Court House areas were becoming too busy and built-up. She had a vision, she said, of her two young sons being able to play in the woods and walk by themselves to the local 7-Eleven for a Slurpee. Cherrydale delivered on both counts.

“Just the fact that we are so close to D.C. and yet it’s just a quiet little area — it’s really great,” she said.

Living there: The neighborhood, bordered by Interstate 66 to the south and east and by North Utah Street to the west, and stretching beyond Langston Boulevard to Lorcom Lane at its northernmost point, is a mix of detached homes, townhomes and condominiums, with a medley of architectural styles including Victorians, farmhouses and arts-and-crafts homes. It has seen home values soar in the past few decades and continues to evolve as buyers tear down smaller, older houses to build new ones. Of the 24 homes sold in the past year, 14 were new construction, Love said.

The top sale price this year is $2.5 million for a six bedroom, six-bathroom modern Tudor home; the lowest is $785,000 for a 2,000-square-foot fixer-upper. Three single-family detached houses are on the market now. Rentals are scarce, and the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom is $2,900.

Transit: The closest Metro stops are Virginia Square-GMU and Clarendon on the Orange Line, each about a 15-minute walk from the neighborhood’s southern edge. Several Metro buses stop along Cherry Hill Road and serve Military Road.

Schools: Glebe and Taylor elementary; Escuela Key Elementary Immersion; Dorothy Hamm Middle; Washington-Liberty High.