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You are here: Home > Learn > Walking tour

Walk through Washington’s forest

Stops on the trail....

--John Ball house
--Washington oak
--Ball-Carlin cemetery
--Moses Ball grant
--Monument
--Four Mile Run
--Arlington Mill site
--Washington Forest
--Original owners of land
--Boundary stone

George Washington owned extensive lands throughout Virginia and one of his properties is located partly within present-day Arlington County. Washington purchased this approximately 1200-acre tract of land in 1775. The American Revolution then broke out and he was kept away leading the Continental Army for the next eight years. Only when the war was over and Washington returned to his beloved home in Northern Virginia was he able to survey the property that he had purchased. Washington continued to own the land at the time of his death in 1799 and afterwards it became known as “Washington’s Forest.”

When George Washington acquired Washington Forest, the land was largely still covered by forest, as the name of the tract implies. Since then, however, most of the land has been developed. Today much of Washington Forest is home to subdivisions, stores and soccer fields, instead of the quiet forest of Washington’s day. A small portion of Washington’s Forest, however, has been turned into parkland by Arlington County. Here the trees have grown back and the land again looks something like it did when Washington walked here. Walking through the parks alongside Four Mile Run creek, you can imagine Washington beside you surveying his property or selecting timber to cut for use at Mount Vernon.

This trail covers approximately six miles of moderately hilly terrain over both county streets and bike trail. You can either walk it or ride a bicycle.

This tour was developed by Kevin Vincent.

Stops/Directions for Trail

Park at the Glencarlyn Library or on South Kensington Street: GOOGLE map

1. John Ball House, 5620 South Third Street: The east end of this house was built prior to 1755. John Ball and his wife and five daughters originally lived in this little house. There has been some speculation that the Ball family was related to George Washington’s mother Mary Ball Washington but no proof of any connection has ever been found. William Carlin, who was one of several tailors who did work for George Washington, purchased the house following John Ball’s death in 1766 and was living here when Washington purchased the nearby Washington Forest tract. For visitors coming directly from Mount Vernon, this very modest home will provide a very interesting contrast to the grand homes that wealthy people like George Washington lived in. The John Ball House is owned by the Arlington County Historical Society and is open to the public April through October on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. and at other times by appointment by calling 703-379-2123 or 703-525-8295.

Go west on South 3rd Street to corner with South Kensington Street.

2. Washington Oak, in Glencarlyn Library: On display in the library is a section of the trunk of an oak tree that George Washington used as a survey marker for the northernmost point on his Washington Forest land. You will pass the site where the tree once stood later in the tour.

Go south on Kensington, turn right (west) on South 4th Street and stop at historical marker for cemetery (adjacent to Glencarlyn Library).

3. Ball-Carlin Cemetery, 300 South Kensington Street: The historical marker discusses the members of the Ball and Carlin families who are buried in this cemetery who were contemporaries and acquaintances of George Washington.

Continue west on South 4th Street one block, turn left (south) on South Carlin Springs Road, go two blocks to historical marker at bus stop in front of Northern Virginia Community Hospital.

4. Moses Ball grant: The historical marker explains that Moses Ball and George Washington together surveyed the boundary between their adjoining properties in 1785.

Continue south on Carlin Springs Road, past Northern Virginia Community Hospital, turn left (east) on entrance road to Long Branch Nature Center. At nature center, continue on Long Branch trail downstream (east) to Four Mile Run. At the lower parking lot, there will be two bridges: one, to your right as you face downstream, goes to the off-leash dog park. The other, to your left, you will cross over in a minute. Between the two, you’ll see the ...

5. Monument at the confluence of Long Branch and Four Mile Run (inside metal cage): Although it is no longer legible, this monument marks the site of the oak tree that Washington used as a survey marker when he surveyed his property in 1785 (you saw a section of the trunk of this tree in Glencarlyn Library). This spot was the northernmost point of the Washington Forest tract.

Cross bridge and take Four Mile Run Bike Trail downstream (south) through Four Mile Run Park. The Four Mile Run Bike Trail is lower in elevation and closer to the stream than the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

6. Four Mile Run: This stream was the eastern boundary of Washington’s property. The trail crosses the stream several times. When you are on the right (west) side of the stream for the next two miles you are walking on the Washington Forest tract. Although none of the trees have survived from Washington’s day, the hardwood forest in this section probably looks much the same as it did when Washington purchased the land. The left (east) side of Four Mile Run was not owned by George Washington. The land on the east side of the stream has been greatly altered by the construction in the 1840s of the Washington and Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad. The W&OD is now an elevated bike trail that runs parallel to the Four Mile Run Trail on which you are walking.

After approximately ½ mile, cross underneath Columbia Pike bridge, stop across road from two historical markers on north side of Columbia Pike adjacent to W&OD Trail.

7. Arlington Mill site: Columbia Pike at South Four Mile Run Drive: One of the two historical markers explains the history of the mill here that was built in 1836 by George Washington’s step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis.

At this point you may wish to cross to the north side of Columbia Pike to read the markers and then retrace your steps or return on the W&OD Trail to the Long Branch Nature Center. If you want to walk further, continue south on Four Mile Run Trail on east side of stream for approximately ¼ mile to George Mason Drive. Cross to west side of stream on George Mason Drive and then continue south on Four Mile Run Trail through Barcroft Park.

8. Washington Forest: All of the land on the west side of Four Mile Run was part of Washington Forest. When Washington owned this property, very few people lived in this area. There were only 978 people in all of present-day Arlington County when the first census was conducted in 1800. Today more people live in the apartments on the east side of the stream that you just passed then lived in the entire county during Washington’s day. Although the land along the east side of the stream (which was not owned by Washington) has been almost completely developed and looks nothing like it did in the 1700s, the trees here in Barcroft Park have grown back to look somewhat like the forest Washington owned. You will notice many changes, however, as you walk through this land. All of the roads you cross on this trail have been built since Washington’s death. The bed of Four Mile Run creek has been altered in many places due to the construction of roads and buildings and to prevent flooding and many of the streams that used to flow into Four Mile Run are now in culverts. And, of course, there was no.htmlhalt bike trail but only a muddy horse path in Washington’s day.

Continue south on Four Mile Run Trail for approximately ¾ mile to Walter Reed Drive.

9. Original owners of land: The property that Washington purchased was actually composed of two separate tracts of land. About half of the property (378 acres) was a narrow strip of land along the west bank of Four Mile Run. This land had originally been patented by Stephen Gray in 1724. You have been walking through this section of the property. In Washington’s day, there were mills on Four Mile Run near the southern edge of this tract approximately one-half mile south of here near the present-day Shirlington Shopping Center. Nothing remains of the mills today. The second tract of land (790 acres) that made up Washington Forest extended to the west beginning a little to the west from this point and had been patented by Gabriel Adams in 1730. Both properties were then acquired by John Mercer in 1733 and his heirs sold the combined properties to George Washington in 1774.

Turn right (west) on paved trail next to Walter Reed Drive for ½ mile to small marker in wire cage in grass to the right of trail a few yards before the intersection with King Street/Leesburg Pike (Rte 7).

10. Boundary stone: You are now at the boundary between present-day Arlington and Fairfax Counties. When Washington surveyed this land in 1786, Arlington County had not yet been created and all of Washington Forest was in Fairfax County. During Washington’s first term as President, Congress voted to move the capital from Philadelphia to a new location on the Potomac River and both Virginia and Maryland agreed to provide land for the new capital. In 1791, President Washington ordered a survey for the to-be-created District of Columbia. As part of the survey, stone markers were placed at one-mile intervals on the boundaries of the ten-mile-square federal district. One of these original boundary stones is to the right. This boundary stone is located on the Washington Forest land that George Washington owned at the time of the survey in 1791. Although much of Washington Forest lay to the west of this point in present-day Fairfax County, all of the property to the east of this point in present-day Arlington County became part of the District of Columbia when the District was organized in 1801 two years after Washington’s death. What is now Arlington County remained a part of the District of Columbia until 1847 when it was returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Reverse route to return to Long Branch Nature Center (alternatively, you may want to take the W&OD Trail on the east side of Four Mile Run rather than the Four Mile Run Trail); from Long Branch Nature Center take trail next to the Nature Center that heads north and west through woods. The trailhead on Jefferson Street at the top of the hill is near the site of the Moses Ball house which may have been visited by George Washington in 1785 when they jointly surveyed the boundary between their lands. From trail head, go four blocks north on Jefferson Street, turn left (west) on 4th Street South to return to John Ball House.

Related sites to visit in Arlington

Two other sites in Arlington have important connections to George Washington. The ruins of Abingdon House can be seen at National Airport. Abingdon was purchased by Washington’s stepson John Parke Custis (although Washington thought it was a bad deal) in 1778. Arlington House (Custis-Lee Mansion), in Arlington National Cemetery, although it was built after Washington’s death, was the home of John Parke Custis’s son (and Washington’s adopted son, heir and namesake) George Washington Parke Custis. Arlington House also provides an incomparable view of the capital city which was named for our first President, Washington, D.C.

Additional information concerning George Washington’s connections to Arlington County can be obtained at the Arlington Historical Museum at 1805 South Arlington Ridge Road. This museum is operated by the Arlington Historical Society and is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1-4 p.m.

Sources

Donald A. Wise, “George Washington’s Four Mile Run Tract”, Arlington Historical Magazine, October 1975

Martha Beggs Orth, The House That John Built, 1993

Eleanor Lee Templeman, Arlington Heritage, 1959

Randy Swart, “Arlington History Bicycle Ride”, http://www.bscl.org/histride.htm

Notes from Sara Collins

Notes from Martha Orth

Thank you to Martha Orth and Sara Collins for their kind assistance with this project.

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