Centennial of Arlington name change

The Washington Star in 1920 put news of the new name of Arlington County on its front page, but gave it just a single paragraph of coverage.

Government officials hope county residents will take an interest in the upcoming centennial of the name change that made Arlington, well, “Arlington.”

Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the name change from “Alexandria County” to “Arlington County” will be a chance to “learn and have fun at the same time,” said County Board Vice Chairman Libby Garvey, detailing the upcoming commemoration and announcing its theme – “Looking Both Ways” – during the Sept. 24 County Board meeting.

“We really welcome everyone’s involvement,” Garvey said, expressing the hope that a salute to the name change will prove “less partisan than many of the things going on in 2020.”

The Arlington Historical Society is among the community organizations that will play a part in the commemoration. The organization plans to launch an interactive online tool showing parts of the community from the 1920s that remain today.

The project was coordinated by local historian Charlie Clark, society officials say.

It was in the winter of 1920 that the General Assembly approved the name change in order to differentiate what was then known as Alexandria County from the city of Alexandria to its immediate south. The two jurisdictions – county and city – each had been independent and autonomous since the early 1870s, but the similar name inspired confusion.

Garvey, who is likely to rotate in for a one-year stint as County Board chairman in 2020 (and also is likely to face the voters next year, too), said the commemoration is expected to begin as early as January.

Any commemoration is likely to be less involved than the 2000-01 celebration of the county’s bicentennial, marking the 200th anniversary of modern-day Arlington being carved out of Northern Virginia and incorporated into the boundaries of the District of Columbia. (It was returned to Virginia, along with Alexandria, in the 1840s.)

And for those who don’t mind planning ahead, perhaps the next big governance-palooza will come in 2032, the centennial of Arlington’s change in governance structure to its current five-member, at-large County Board and county manager. Previously, the community had been governed by a three-member Board of Supervisors elected by district.

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