Dunn Loring is the oldest platted subdivision in the county — and possibly the state — but it was intended to be more than that, explained Ray Worley, president of the Dunn Loring Improvement association, at the neighborhood's annual picnic. It was intended to be a town.
"He had a good idea and everything, and then it sort of lagged," said Worley, as families ate and socialized around him. Children played touch football and made crafts. Adults examined century-old newspaper clippings and admired antique cars from the picnic's car show. Local politicians met their constituents. And the whole roasted pig lying on a nearby table kept losing weight.
The "he" to whom Worley referred was Gen. William McKee Dunn, one of the subdivision's founders, whose great-great grandson was in attendance at the celebration.
"His idea was what we take for granted now," Patrick Buford of Alexandria said of his ancestor. "The key was the railroad lines." Transit-oriented development was also important before the advent of the automobile, and the Dunn Loring community lies adjacent to the W&OD Trail, which was then a railroad.
Dunn, he said, was a lawyer and a U.S. representative from Indiana, who worked his way up to the rank of brigadier general during and after the Civil War and ultimately served as the Army's judge advocate general. Buford noted that Dunn had a hand in the investigation of President Abraham Lincoln's assasination and that he had kept assassin John Wilkes Booth's dagger and a piece of Lincoln's scalp on his desk.
IN 1886, Dunn and his wife, Elizabeth Lanier Dunn, purchased the property — which started out as about 600 acres — and transferred the land to the Loring Land Improvement Company, consisting of Dunn, oculist and former congressman George Loring, and temperance hotel proprietor George LeFetra.
"They actually laid it out with streets and lots and houses, which was not the way, historically, it was done prior to that time," said Buford. He noted that Dunn had also owned a farm in Reston called Sunrise Valley and had hoped to create a planned community there, as well. However, he died before any of these plans could be realized.
Worley noted that after World War II, the area around Dunn Loring was developed, but it was not until at least 30 years ago that development finally began within the subdivision.
"It was envisioned that people [from D.C.] would come out here and spend the summer where it's cooler," said Lee Saegesser, who penned the book "The History of Dunn Loring" with the help of his wife, Ruth. But it was never incorporated as a town, and after Dunn died, the project went bankrupt, he said. Saegesser said the area never looked much like Dunn and his partners had planned.
The property was bought out in 1912 and was re-subdivided into its current layout.
Ruth Saegesser grew up in the neighborhood and remembers walking to get the mail from the old Dunn Loring Train Staion, which has been torn down. "They think the Metro put Dunn Loring on the map," she said, pointing out that the neighborhood had had a train station long before trains ran underground. When she was young, she said, there were only five houses in the neighborhood.
"When I walk down to the cul de sac, I can still see the trees I used to play under," she said. She noted that one part of the neighborhood that has not changed in 120 years is the park at its center, where the picnic was being held. "When Mr. Dunn and Mr. Loring set it up, they put the park in the trust," she said.
AMONG THE REVELERS at the park Sunday were numerous local officials, including but not limited to Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth; Board of Supervisors chairman Gerry Connolly; School Board members Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, Steve Hunt and Janet Oleszek; U.S. Rep. Tom Davis; State Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis; Del. Jim Scott and Del. Steve Shannon, who lives in Dunn Loring.
"This is probably the best turnout we've had in years," said Shannon, as he, Scott and Devolites Davis presented a joint resolution from the General Assembly commending and congratulating the neighborhood.
Connolly and Smyth presented a proclamation from the county Board of Supervisors declaring the day to be Dunn Loring Day throughout the county.
Prior to 1986, the neighborhood had held picnics occasionally, said Worley. In '86, on Dunn Loring's 100th anniversary, the picnic celebration drew some 6,000 people and required the nearby roads to be closed down. "After the 100th anniversary, we proposed to have Dunn Loring Day every year, and we've done that," Worley said. This year's celebration was nicknamed the "Cen-Ten-Ten," he said, signifying a century, plus 10, plus 10.
The picnic rollicked along for about three hours and then was brought to a close in time for the evening's football game.