Historic Site At Airport Open to Travelers And Public

Published: November 12, 1998


Alexandria, VA— Next time you travel through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or meet someone there, take a look at the results of several unique historic preservation projects now on view for travelers and members of the public.

The projects include the site of a former Colonial plantation called Abingdon, which was the home of George Washington's granddaughter and other prominent families in the Washington and Virginia area.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates National Airport, has spent the last several years improving the facilities at the Airport. As part of this effort, great care has been given to preserving both the colonial heritage of the land and the aviation history.

Terminal A, which is the original historic 1941 terminal, is also in the process of being restored while continuing to function for Northwest, TWA and Midway Airlines. As part of the restoration, the Airports Authority has also opened an Exhibit Hall in Terminal A with fascinating artifacts from an archeological dig on the Abingdon Plantation, displays about the early aviation history of the airport, and audio-visual presentations.

The Abingdon site is located between Garage A and Garage B/C and can be reached by walking from either garage. Visitors to Abingdon using Metrorail should take the exit for Terminal B, use the bridge to Garage B/C and walk through the garage on level 2 to the site. Passengers may reach the Abingdon site by taking the pedestrian bridges from Terminal B/C to Garage B. The Abingdon site will be open daily from dawn to dusk.

The Exhibit Hall is located on the mezzanine level of Terminal A and may be reached via the connector from Terminal B. The Exhibit Hall in Terminal A will be open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

At the Abingdon Plantation site, visitors will be able to walk among the remains of the once prominent plantation and view informational placards detailing its history. Archaeological digs, necessary for the stabilization of the Abingdon site, have resulted in the recovery of a wealth of artifacts.

"It is important for us to preserve the historic past of the airport while we continue to serve the Washington region in the future," said James Wilding, President/CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. "A component of our Capital Development Program was the restoration and preservation of this historic site at National."

The land on which Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport stands was originally granted to Robert Howson in 1669 who sold it to John Alexander for 6,000 pounds of tobacco. The first house was likely built in the 1740's by Gerard Alexander I, John's great grandson. Once home to some of the most prominent families in the region, Abingdon flourished on the banks of the Potomac River for generations. Through the years, ownership of the property changed hands among the Alexander, Custis, Stuart and Hunter families. George Washington's adopted stepson, John Parke Custis lived on the site for several years.

The Abingdon site was affected by Union occupation during the Civil War, and later, by the progress of industry which took its toll on the site and transformed the landscape. In 1892, a railroad was built west of Abingdon. In the l920's, the current George Washington Memorial Parkway also was constructed on the site.

In 1930, abandoned and deteriorating, Abingdon burned to the ground. The Washington Branch of the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities stabilized the ruins and commemorated the site in 1933 where it remained largely untouched until the current preservation process undertaken by the Airports Authority.

Portions of the brick foundation of two structures are preserved at the site today -- the Plantation=s Main House and Kitchen. Under the auspices of the Airports Authority, extensive archaeological work was conducted to stabilize and preserve the site and to make it accessible to the public. The preservation of the Abingdon Plantation site and creation of the Exhibit Hall is part of the ongoing Capital Development Program at National Airport to renovate the original historic terminal, known as Terminal A which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Exhibit Hall is located in a portion of the restored former Dining Room of the original terminal. Along with the archeological display in the Hall is another display on the design and development of the airport itself -- covering events from 1941 to the present.

In addition to the space used for the Exhibit Hall, the remaining portion of what was once a formal Dining Room has been restored for use as an airline club. Care has been taken in both spaces to restore the original terrazzo floor and to recreate the wood wall panels and the original window draperies.

The Airports Authority's Capital Development Program also calls for the future rehabilitation of Terminal A to provide modern and convenient facilities and new shops and restaurants, while at the same time retaining the historic character of the building. The future construction will include: demolition of the non-historic extensions to the 1941 building; construction of a new concourse to provide improved airline gates; and the historic rehabilitation of the original building.