News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Flashback Monday: Dairy Farmers, Hucksters and $10 Rents in the Proto-Reston of the 1940s


From the newly released 1940 U.S. Census, please to be enjoying this fancy map of what would eventually become Reston. Our favorite correspondent, The Peasant From Less Sought After South Reston, recently dove into the newly released Census records for the area that would become everybody's favorite earth-toned community. Here is what he found:
Channeling his inner PBS History Detective persona, The Peasant From Less Sought After South Reston took a leap backwards in the space-time continuum via the just-released 1940 U.S. Census to discover...that there was no South Reston back then! Nor even a sought after North Reston! Our earth-toned wonderland-to-be was just a twinkle in 25-year old Bobby Simon's eyes. Now, none of this is news to anyone even remotely familiar with our area's not so distant past, but The Peasant discovered that this census count offers a fascinating snapshot of an America simultaneously on the brink of entering a world war yet living in a much simpler time.

Through navigational skills finely honed by trying to find the correct lane on the Dulles Toll Road to enter the inner loop of the Beltway, we successfully locate the right "enumeration district", as it's called in Census-speak, for our part of NoVa. District 30-8 encompasses the area bounded by Loudoun County on the west, Rt. 50 on the south, Difficult Run on the east, and Rt. 7 on the north. 43 pages of census records at 40 persons per page...using our advanced placement math skills, we realize this entire area had only about 1,700 residents back then -- fewer than will live just in the redeveloped Fairway apartments. Studying the map of District 30-8, it soon becomes obvious that the area where we now live, work, play, and pay ever higher RA assessments contained in 1940 only a handful of homes centered around the drunken village of Wiehle. (No homicidal nudist colony to be found on the map, alas). Indeed, the entire district was obviously a rural community with the vast majority of its inhabitants living on farms.

As we scan the individual records for 30-8, some trends appear. The area was so rural that houses did not have street numbers, and the census identified those streets only by their three-digit numbers (673 for Lawyers Road, 608 for Ox Road, etc.) And speaking of houses, no real estate bubble back then. Most houses were worth between $1,000 and $3,000 -- barely enough to cover a walk-in closet in today's McMansion -- and monthly house rents for the non-landed gentry were between $10 and $15.

It was a time when people held honest jobs. It was udderly fascinating to see that just about every other person in ED 30-8 appeared to work on a dairy farm. Other salt of the earth jobs included carpenters, coal deliverymen, laborers, and the like. Not a single lifestyle coach, lobbyist, spinmeister, flack, or hack. For a fleeting second we thought we saw an exception to the rule when a certain Mr. W. Garner Haines living on Rt. 602 listed his profession as "huckster", but no, he didn't peddle half-truths; he sold...produce.

And finally, for those Restonian readers who wonder how to break teenagers of their electronic gadget addiction or motivate them to go out and earn some honest money, the following may be instructive. When Junior complains how hard it is to shovel snow in the cold or mow a lawn in the summer heat to earn some $$$, tell him about 16-year old Joseph Stotts and his family of wood cutters who lived on Lawyers Road. His father and two older brothers each earned between $400 and $500 of annual income in 1940. Young Joey, meanwhile, pulled in $296 for 12 weeks of work -- but he fully deserved every cent of the $5 a day he earned for his backbreaking summer job of excavating a basement.

Somehow, whipping up a grande soy caramel macchiato at the local Starbucks just doesn't seem to fall in the same league, or even the same universe.
But what did our favorite earth-toned community look like? Please to be enjoying this photo from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection at Indiana University.

Looks like the invasive plant problem was already in full bloom (rimshot).

Meanwhile, here's a photo of a 1940s-era Loudoun commuter on his way to work from his particleboard McMansion farmhouse:

Loudoun Commuter.jpeg
He's apparently unaware that the Wiehle Avenue Metro garage won't be open for another 73 years, the end.

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