Snow Day Memories in Arlington
Dudley family home in snow, ca. 1920s. This is where Cherrydale Library is currently located. From PG 204: Dudley Family Photographs.
While Virginia may not be known for frigid winter weather, it's had its fair share of record-breaking blizzards.
On January 28, 1772, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both noted in their diaries that 3 feet of snow fell, marking Virginia’s largest snowfall ever recorded. In January 1857, March 1888 and February 1899, Virginia experienced extreme snowstorms that froze rivers, took down telephone poles and brought transportation by road and water to a halt.
On January 28, 1922 – exactly 150 years after the “Washington-Jefferson Storm” – 28 inches of snow immobilized the D.C. area, collapsing the roof of the Knickerbocker Theater in Northwest Washington and killing 100 people.
The Nelson J. Jewett house, covered in snow, 1920. The house was an early meeting place for the Rock Spring Congregational church. From RG 123: Records of the Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ [UCC], 1908-2003.
In an era before reliable city-organized snow removal, even mild snowstorms would present serious challenges for workers and travelers. In an interview with George L. Vollin, Jr., who was born and raised in Queen City at the turn of the 20th century, he recalls how impossible it was to ride his bike in the snow to make his rounds as a Post Office messenger while he was in junior high school.
He remembers sidewalks and streets full of snow in the winter. "The snow just laid there. They didn't have too much clearing at all. You'd see it there, they had sometimes anywhere from 4 to 6 inches of snow. And then another snow would catch it.”
Floyd A. Hawkins had a similar struggle getting to work on unplowed roads in his Ford Model-T Ford. In 1925, the year he moved to Arlington, “The snow got so deep that I could hardly get it out a distance of about 4 or 5 blocks from home.” When Hawkins got off work after midnight, he would have to change his tires before driving home.
A house covered in snow somewhere in Arlington, Virginia, possibly Rock Spring, 1925. From RG 123: Records of the Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ [UCC], 1908-2003.
For others, however, snow meant sleigh rides and ice skating.
Mildred H. Ritchie grew up in Barcroft in the 1920s and remembers the snowy days of her youth fondly.
“Palmer’s Hill (on Columbia Pike) was a source of delight to the young at heart, parents and children alike, for miles around—in wintertime snows. The Pike from Taylor Street East (for a distance of three long, downhill blocks) ran in an S-curve to the little bridge over Doctor’s Run at the bottom. Few (if any) cars traveled in snow or ice at night, and the hill was always filled with sleds as soon as the snow was deep enough. Bonfires were kept going at the top, for warming frostbitten fingers and toes—and [for] storytelling. Sometimes, too, we could use Palmer’s Hill—cow field hill—a long, sweeping stretch—wonderful and fast when there was a crust on top.”
Children have enjoyed sledding down Arlington’s snowy hills for many decades.
Ernest A. Golden, who graduated from Washington-Lee High School in 1942, remembers going sleigh riding on 15th street and earning a scar on his chin that lasted a lifetime. In his interview, he said the winters seemed snowier when he was young, before the city began combatting it with salt and chemicals: “[W]e’d wake up in the morning and everything would be covered in snow. We’d get out the old sleds and down the hill we would go.”
Presbyterian Church of the Covenant on Military Road, date unknown. From RG 100: Arlington County Government Photographs, 1915-1997.
Another popular sledding spot was at the Reeves farm, also known as Reevesland. The last owner of the Reevesland dairy farm was Nelson Reeves, who was born in the farmhouse in 1900 and spent his life there, working as a third-generation farmer. His three children, Marcia Nelson Reeves Rodgers, Ronald Irving Reeves and Cheryl Louise Reeves Scannell, remember how their own Reeve’s Hill was widely known as one of the best sledding hills in the county:
CHERYL: You talk about the winter activities. We would go sledding of course, sledding on Reeves Hill. You probably heard, it’s talked about through the county that Reevesland Hill is one of the best hills to go sledding on. I know dad always got such enjoyment of the people being out there on the hill and watching them sled. We loved it. We built our little ramp with the snow and jump over and see how far we could go on the bottom, the flat land like you said, see if we could make it all the way to the creek. I don’t think we ever made it that far but had a good time.
RONALD: I remember the best hill to actually slide down I think was 5th Road. It was the steepest road in the neighborhood and still is I guess.
CHERYL: Was it a traveled road at that time?
RONALD: Yes, but they’d slick it over. We actually pool water down, have it ice over real good and you’d get at the top of that, and we had several sleds. We’d soap the runners down with soap. You started at 5th Road and go down the hill and you’d actually cross over Manchester Street. There were homes down there then. You’d go between these two houses and go actually into the park itself. And there was a little drainage ditch there that, when you went through the houses and down into the park, you had to cross over that drainage ditch. And then there was kind of a berm there. But you’d hit that ditch and go up that berm. That was the end of your trip. Then you’d see how far you’d get down into the park. That was the best ride.
MARCIA: I want to just add one thing to Ron’s. That was the neatest hill to ever go sledding on, and it was so high and so long, but the only trouble was once you got down it took half the day to walk back up to the top of the hill to go down again.
RONALD: And the fun part was, if you get behind somebody—the sled I remember that I had and some of the others had, the runners that would actually curl up into the back part of the frame, you could hold onto it. But if you didn’t like the guys you were sliding down with, you’d take that and you’d kind of flip his sled sideways and he’s go tumbling down the road.
When snow comes to Arlington this year, take advantage of it and have some fun. Don’t forget to thank your neighborhood snowplow while you’re at it!
- Ernest A. Golden Interview. VA 975.5295 A7243oh s.3 n.198.
- Floyd A. Hawkins Interview. VA 975.5295 A7243oh s.3 n.59.
- George L. Vollin, Jr. Interview. VA 975.5295 A7243oh s.3 n.134.
- Marcia Nelson Reeves Rodgers, Ronald Irving Reeves, Cheryl Louise Reeves Scannell Interview. VA 975.5295 A7243oh s.3 n.210.
- Mildred H. Ritchie Interview. VA 975.5295 A7243oh s.2 n.26.
- Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative. Virginia’s Historic Snowstorms.
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