The for­got­ten ru­ins at Rea­gan National

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

The Trav­el­ers Aid rep­re­sen­ta­tive at Rea­gan National Air­port seemed sur­prised and be­mused by my ques­tion. I had asked her where I could find the nearby ru­ins of a for­mer plan­ta­tion.

So, we be­gan talk­ing about the signs (or the lack thereof ) in the air­port’s Ter­mi­nal B in­di­cat­ing where to find Abing­don Plan­ta­tion, which was built in 1695 by the Alexander fam­ily for whom Alexan­dria is named. Long ago, the plan­ta­tion, which was once the home of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s step­grand­daugh­ter Nelly Custis, was built on land that is now just a few hun­dred feet from the bustling air­port.

The Trav­el­ers Aid rep said she would make a note of my con­cerns for her su­per­vi­sors, telling them that some­one had sug­gested putting up signs in the ter­mi­nal point­ing the way to the plan­ta­tion.

It seemed that, amid the hus­tle and bus­tle of air­port trav­el­ers, I might have won a tiny vic­tory for rais­ing the pro­file of the plan­ta­tion, which re­mains al­most in­vis­i­ble to the gen­eral public.

Leav­ing the Trav­el­ers Aid woman, I lum­bered (the mov­ing walk­way was bro­ken) from the main hall, turned left and ended up at the air­port’s Park­ing Lot B where a lit­tle sign di­rected pedes­tri­ans to go straight through the garage to find Abing­don. Un­for­tu­nately, I have no sense of di­rec­tion, and de­spite the sign, I couldn’t find the plan­ta­tion ru­ins.

Could it be that I had made a wrong turn, I won­dered. Who knew? I asked the park­ing lot at­ten­dant, but he just shrugged and said he was new on the job. Maybe, he said, I could ask the more ex­pe­ri­enced at­ten­dant on the other side of the garage. But that meant dodg­ing speed­ing garage traf­fic. In­stead, I acted on blind faith and kept go­ing straight. Voilà, there it was on a knoll, a lone­ly­look­ing de­serted site next to a rental car garage.

What I found were the re­con­structed por­tions of the brick foun­da­tions of Abing­don’s man­sion and what was used as a kitchen or laun­dry. There were his­tor­i­cal mark­ers and photographs about the plan­ta­tion’s his­tory and its oc­cu­pants. It would have been nice if even a few other peo­ple were tak­ing in what re­mains of this fas­ci­nat­ing slice of Amer­i­can his­tory, but I was alone.

If the weather is too hot or cold, or if it’s rain­ing, vis­i­tors can check out an ex­hibit hall in­side Ter­mi­nal A with a dis­play and video his­tory of Rea­gan National’s his­tory along with the story of Abing­don Plan­ta­tion. The Abing­don ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­play in­cludes ar­ti­facts dis­cov­ered on the land. It’s a great way to spend a lit­tle time ap­pre­ci­at­ing what went on be­fore you hap­pened upon this part of the world. And, per­haps best of all, it’s free.

On tripad­vi­, some peo­ple said that it’s not worth the bother to see the plan­ta­tion. One per­son wrote that it’s an “aw­fully long walk for very lit­tle.” But I dis­agree. I got a great his­tory les­son out of my lit­tle de­tour.

It’s past time to put a plaque or his­tor­i­cal marker of some kind in the air­port or on the nearby Mount Ver­non Trail to draw in more foot traf­fic. Mean­while, Abing­don awaits more vis­i­tors.

If only there were more signs to let you know it ex­ists.


A rem­nant of Abing­don Plan­ta­tion at Rea­gan National Air­port.

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