News and notes from Reston (tm).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Flashback Monday: For Want of a Sewer, a Town Was Lost

Wiehle 1950s.jpg

This exciting photo from the Reston Museum shows the drunken village of Wiehle in the 1950s. If you just removed the railroad crossing signs and added some spandex-clad cyclists zipping across Old Reston Avenue with total disregard for life and property, it could have been taken today.

A recent Reston Historic Trust lecture shed some new light on what led a German doctor to decide to build a planned community in the hills of Virginia a century before homicidal nudist colonists and New Town devotees moved into the neighborhood. Turns out land was cheap out in them thar hills.
“Land was just beginning to become expensive in Washington at that time,” said [historian Karen Washburn]. “The recovery of Northern Virginia after the Civil War, on the other hand, was very, very slow. Land was cheap and people were willing to sell.”

According to Washburn, Wiehle formed a partnership in 1886 with Gen. William McKee Dunn to buy 6,450 acres of heavily forrested land in Fairfax along the railroad in the area (today located near Sunset Hills Road) for about $20,000, or about $4 per acre.

“Believe it or not, that really wasn’t a great bargain back then,” she said.

Washburn said the land later was equally divided between Wiehle and Dunn — who later developed the area today known as Dunn Loring.
Have you been to Dunn Loring? Wiehle got the better deal.
Wiehle took the 3,228 acres north of the railroad tracks, where he eventually built his own home, a post office and a town hall. In 1892, he hired a German city planner to draw up plans for the town of Wiehle, which was to include 800 residences laid out along a grid of streets and avenues named after famous locales, such as New York and Paris.

“Much like Reston today, he envisioned the area as a planned community where people could work, play and live, and to be able to do it in a healthy way,” Washburn said. “Washington at that time was pretty unhealthy and there were frequent outbreaks of Cholera and other communicable diseases within the city.”

But according to Washburn, only 12 of Wiehle’s 800 planned residential lots were ever sold —and, of those, only about half ever had homes built on them. Only one remains today, and is privately owned.
That would be this place, which was recently on the market.

Flash forward to 1961, when Bob Simon saw the contiguous chunk of land that would someday become Reston--and realized something that has affected Reston's governance ever since:
“I knew that he had tried to set up a town and so I looked at his ideas for it. I discovered that if we tried to use the same license for setting up a new town, Fairfax County would not give us access to sewer hookups, so we instead just became part of the county.”
That's right: For want of sewer hookups, Reston didn't become Res-Town.


  1. Biggest mistake ever.

  2. I still think we could start another Nudist Colony instead of redeveloping the Spectrum.


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