Starting with a $500 allocation in 1933, Arlington has grown over the past 75 years from one public park on Four Mile Run in 1941 to a Countywide system of parks, playgrounds, and programs.
In 1933, the Arlington County Board earmarked $500 for parks and playgrounds – amenities that at the time were still rare in the county. The initial funding of $500 was reduced from a proposed $2,500, but it allowed for the acquisition of land and maintenance of parcels that had been donated by developers.
This was the beginning of the County's first parks and recreation department, formally established in 1944 as the Department of Parks and Playgrounds.
First Public Park
Starting in 1936, the Arlington County School Board was given oversight of all recreational programs. That year also marked another major milestone - the acquisition of the County’s first public park. Located in the Four Mile Run-Lubber Run area, the park spanned 54 acres, and maintenance and development of the park were completed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a work relief program established as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
In 1941, the Lubber Run Park formally opened to the public. Opening day was planned as a grand celebration, with a ceremony attended by State and County officials, and a massing of the colors performed by the Fort Myer Color Guard. But the festivities were rained out in a torrential downpour, and the park’s ceremonial start instead began simply, with its use by members of the County.
In 1948 the County Board shifted the responsibility of County parks to the County Manager.
In 1951, Arlington County purchased the Henderson House at 4811 Third Street North to establish its first recreation center, later called the Arlington Recreation Center. The Center burned down in 1954, and in 1956 it was replaced with the Lubber Run Community Center, which remained open until 2018.
Growth and Innovation
The Department of Recreation and Parks (as it was known starting in 1953) continued to grow, as did its innovations and additions.
In 1954, the department established the Silver Age Club No. 1, Virginia's first public recreation program designed for senior citizens. In 1960, Arlington's first therapeutic recreation playground was established for children with special needs. And by 1971, the County's parks included lighted outdoor sports facilities, an amphitheater in Lubber Run Park, and the establishment of nature trails.
Lubber Run Park Entrance Sign and Lubber Run Park Amphitheater, respectively. Photos courtesy of Arlington, VA Parks and Recreation.
Negro Recreation Section
Until 1962, the Arlington parks system was segregated. The Negro Recreation Section was designated by the parks department for African-American members of the community who were denied access to County parks. Created in 1948, the Negro Recreation Section provided sports and arts-related programming and held public events, which were often held at the Langston Recreation Center or Hoffman-Boston School. Ernest E. Johnson served as its supervisor from 1948-1962.
Parks and Recreation Today
In 2012, the parks system became formally known as the Department of Parks and Recreation, as it is referred to today. Currently, about 11 percent of Arlington’s land is reserved for parks, amounting to thousands of acres across the county.
To learn more about Arlington's history, visit the Center for Local History on the first floor of the Central Library.
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