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Built for WWII veterans, Jefferson Manor neighborhood celebrates 75th anniversary this weekend

Jefferson Manor neighborhood in Groveton (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

One of the oldest neighborhoods in southeastern Fairfax County is holding its birthday party this weekend, despite the likelihood of rain.

Jefferson Manor near Groveton is celebrating its 75th birthday tomorrow (Saturday) with a block party that will include food trucks, music, beer, a kids’ zone area, and a magician. Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay are both expected to attend.

Held on Monticello Road between Fairhaven Road and Edgehill Drive from 4-7 p.m., the block party is expected to draw about 300 attendees, even with the potential for dicey weather, Jefferson Manor Citizens Association President Derek Cole told FFXnow.

“We started the block party in 2017 just to celebrate how tight-knit our community was,” he said. “The turnout that we get speaks volumes to the community participation that we have.”

Consisting of about 550 semi-detached duplex homes, Jefferson Manor was built in 1947, as thousands of veterans returned home from World War II for jobs in the military and government.

Then covered in dairy farms, Fairfax County was a perfect place to build a home and settle with a family near enough to the urban core. Between 1940 and 1960, its population sextupled, growing from about 41,000 to nearly 249,000 people in just two decades. Those new residents needed homes fast.

A D.C. developer named Clarence W. Gosnell began buying up land across the county, including about 80 acres near Old Town Alexandria from S. Cooper Dawson, the co-owner of the well-known Penn-Daw Hotel.

Gosnell immediately went to work on the land, naming the neighborhood and the surrounding streets after president Thomas Jefferson.

Gosnell was one of the developers who was able to put up housing quickly and affordably,” Tammy Mannarino, a local historian who recently presented at a Jefferson Manor Civic Association meeting. “And he did that by having them be partially prefabricated.”

Gosnell’s company built and installed 12 to 16 homes a month in the neighborhood, a rate only exceeded by how quickly the homes were being sold, The Washington Post reported in 1947.

Every time they released a section of Jefferson Manor, it sold out,” Mannarino said. “They almost couldn’t build them fast enough.”

Homes were directly marketed to veterans, with Gosnell often advertising the starting price of $8,750 — about $114,000 today — as something “you can afford.”

Amenities soon sprang up to serve the budding neighborhood. Mount Eagle Elementary School (then called Penn Daw School) was built in 1949 to accommodate the new families.

However, as was the case in many county neighborhoods, there were restrictions on who could buy the homes.

The original contracts to purchase a Jefferson Manor home all contained a discriminatory covenant precluding anyone “not of the Caucasian Race” from occupying, using, selling, renting, or being given the home. The only exception was for “domestic servants.”

“That was par for the course in 1947. Jefferson Manor was not unique. It was the number one restriction listed on the covenant,” Mannarino said.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act was intended to put a stop to these types of restrictions and practices, though housing discrimination remained in other forms and continues to have a large impact on the region.

Fast forward to 2022, and Jefferson Manor has nearly 600 homes, mostly built in the late 1940s. It remains a popular place to buy, considering its closeness to the Huntington Metro station.

It also has a reputation for having engaged citizens. The citizens association recently received a proclamation from the county for fostering a tight-knit and “welcoming community” as well as an award for cleaning up and reforesting Jefferson Manor Park.

“I always enjoy speaking with Jefferson Manor residents, including hearing their updates on the famous beer fairy and their annual block party,” Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk said. “The Jefferson Manor neighborhood is well known for its tradition of citizen participation and creating an inclusive environment. Also, the community’s efforts to revitalize the surrounding area have been vital in ensuring that this area is not only a bustling transportation hub but an excellent place to raise a family.”

However, the immediate area is changing, with large developments going up and a population increase expected in the coming years. The county is also planning significant pedestrian and bicycle-friendly improvements to the corridor.

Cole said he’s less “worried” about the coming development than how the county responds to it.

“We are concerned about more people and less space, but we want to see intelligent designs,” he said. “And I think our supervisors have embraced that…with more green space and, hopefully, more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly initiatives.”

This weekend will give Jefferson Manor a chance to commemorate its past while looking to the future.

“We are going to keep doing what we’ve done and build on that, with more requests for volunteerism and keeping our community strong,” Cole said.

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