We’re still sorting through photos from Morocco, so in the meantime, a quick post closer to home about some nearby history hidden in plain sight.
Within the parking garage at Reagan National Airport just north of Old Town there lies the ruins of a colonial-era plantation connected to George Washington. The ruins are completely enveloped by the parking garage structure, but you can tell where the plantation ruins are as you’re driving by on the parkway by the looking for the trees that appear to grow out of the parking garage roof.
After seeing this for years, and as consummate history dorks, we checked it out.
Abingdon Plantation ruins’ green space within the garage from in a satellite view on Google Maps:
There are a few signs in the Reagan National Airport parking garage leading to the ruins of Abingdon plantation. However, considering that most people parking there need to catch a flight and don’t have time to wander around to see the landmark, we’re no sure how often the spot actually gets visitors.
However, since National Airport is a short bike ride away for us, we rode there on the way to a longer ride up the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda for lunch. There’s actually biking infrastructure involving a few paths, a tunnel, and the parking garage that connects National Airport to the Mt. Vernon bike trail next to the parkway. (We have a friend around the corner who used to tow one of his kids in a Burley and bike from Old Town to the National Airport terminal for lunch at Legal Seafoods, which is located outside security. Go figure.)
The first helpful sign in the ground level of the garage near the bike entrance:
Directions to the plantation ruins in the breezeway between the terminal and parking garage:
Entrance sign to the plantation ruins; Parking Garage B is to the right:
The ruins are just up a path:
Remains of the main house with the airport terminal in the background:
Context of the ruins within the airport from signage at the site:
Remains of the kitchen building with Parking Garage C behind it:
Lots o’ signage at the top of the mound, overlooking both the ruins and the terminal:
Layout of the ruins:
Pretty well done historical markers providing the history of the place:
Instead of trying to read the signs, here’s an easier approach – this article on Atlas Obscura (which is an absolutely phenomenal site, btw):
“Abingdon was built in 1695 by the Alexander family, whose name was later conveyed to the nearby port town that we know today as Alexandria. Years later, George Washington’s adopted stepson, John, purchased the house so that he could live closer to the Washingtons’ home at Mount Vernon.
The property later reverted to the Alexander descendants, named Hunter, up until the Civil War when the confederate sympathizers fled south. Like the nearby Custis Lee Mansion (today, Arlington National Cemetery), Union troops took the property over and made camp on the lawns. After the war, the Hunters returned and successfully sued the government for rights to Abingdon. The lawyer, incidentally, was James Garfield, the future president of the United States.”
“The mansion itself burned down under suspicious circumstances in 1930. It was possibly an act of arson—the RF&P Railroad wanted to build on the site, and had previously “invited employees to strip the house” in order to “save demolition costs,” according to the Washington Post.
The ruins of Abingdon then sat abandoned for 11 years until Washington National Airport was built on landfill just north of the site. The airport’s continued expansion over the years again threatened Abingdon. In 1990, the Washington Metropolitan Airports Authority proposed bulldozing the fenced-off site to make way for a new parking garage. A vigorous preservation campaign played out in the city’s newspapers, and the ruins of Abingdon reopened in 1998 as a little park.”
The George Washington connection: Abingdon is the birthplace of Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis Lewis, Martha Washington’s granddaughter: