100 years ago, in place of the latte-lined streets and unique array of houses that comprise Del Ray today was a sparse suburb, albeit one of the first ones in the country.
In 1908, sick of government corruption and neighborhood vice, citiz
ens of the St. Elmo and Del Ray developments banded together and founded the Town of Potomac known now as the Del Ray neighborhood which will celebrate its centennial March 15.
There are more similarities between todays version and the black and white one than one might think. Del Ray is still known as a vivacious area, though its form has morphed from vice to virtue, and the blue and yellow lines currently running through the Braddock Metro Station are the afterthought of a streetcar system that tracked Commonwealth Ave. at the turn of the nineteenth century, the commute to the District remaining a century-linking thread of the neighborhood to this day.
In fact, getting to work in Washington may have been even quicker than it is today a 20 minute ride, according to Alexandria City Archaeologist Pam Cressey. You could get on right in Del Ray on Commonwealth Ave. and speed into DC, Cressey said. There were also less people.
Today, commuters must hop on a bus or hoof to the station.
The area was bound by transportation arteries, Cressey said. The Washington-Alexandria Turnpike (now Route 1) lay east of the neighborhood, while Old Georgetown Road (now Glebe Rd.) was to the west. With the rail line through Commonwealth Ave. as well, the area was easily accessible, helping develop the bustling residential marketplace thats there today.
People were able to get away and start that movement out of the city, said Alexandria City Historian Mike Miller. What killed it was the GW parkway and Americans fascination with the automobile.
Before Del Ray and St. Elmos incorporated, they were divided geographically by the Alexandria Gentlemans Driving Club, which would come to be known as the St. Asaph Race Track. Lively poker games took place in the pool room, and grift was commonplace. Trepidation among the law-abiding citizens led to an uprising and a riot, destroying the club and leading to the Potomac founding.
Today, Del Rays vivacity rivals that of the old, though it manifests itself in art communities like the Del Ray Artisans and specialty shops like Cheesetique.
It was a lively place, it really was, Cressey said.