The Travelers Aid representative at Reagan National Airport seemed surprised and bemused by my question.
I had asked her where I could find the nearby ruins of a former plantation.
So, we began talking about the signs (or the lack thereof) in the airport’s Terminal B indicating where to find Abingdon Plantation, which was built in 1695 by the Alexander family for whom Alexandria is named. Long ago, the plantation, which was once the home of President George Washington’s step-granddaughter Nelly Custis, was built on land that is now just a few hundred feet from the bustling airport.
The Travelers Aid rep said she would make a note of my concerns for her supervisors, telling them that someone had suggested putting up signs in the terminal pointing the way to the plantation.
It seemed that, amid the hustle and bustle of airport travelers, I might have won a tiny victory for raising the profile of the plantation, which remains almost invisible to the general public.
Leaving the Travelers Aid woman, I lumbered (the moving walkway was broken) from the main hall, turned left and ended up at the airport’s Parking Lot B where a little sign directed pedestrians to go straight through the garage to find Abingdon. Unfortunately, I have no sense of direction, and despite the sign, I couldn’t find the plantation ruins.
Could it be that I had made a wrong turn, I wondered. Who knew? I asked the parking lot attendant, but he just shrugged and said he was new on the job. Maybe, he said, I could ask the more experienced attendant on the other side of the garage. But that meant dodging speeding garage traffic. Instead, I acted on blind faith and kept going straight. Voilà, there it was on a knoll, a lonely-looking deserted site next to a rental car garage.
What I found were the reconstructed portions of the brick foundations of Abingdon’s mansion and what was used as a kitchen or laundry. There were historical markers and photographs about the plantation’s history and its occupants. It would have been nice if even a few other people were taking in what remains of this fascinating slice of American history, but I was alone.
If the weather is too hot or cold, or if it’s raining, visitors can check out an exhibit hall inside Terminal A with a display and video history of Reagan National’s history along with the story of Abingdon Plantation. The Abingdon archaeological display includes artifacts discovered on the land. It’s a great way to spend a little time appreciating what went on before you happened upon this part of the world. And, perhaps best of all, it’s free.
On tripadvisor.com, some people said that it’s not worth the bother to see the plantation. One person wrote that it’s an “awfully long walk for very little.” But I disagree. I got a great history lesson out of my little detour.
It’s past time to put a plaque or historical marker of some kind in the airport or on the nearby Mount Vernon Trail to draw in more foot traffic. Meanwhile, Abingdon awaits more visitors.
If only there were more signs to let you know it exists.