Transcripts

Military Might And The Spread Of Suburbia

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Another local community that owes its origins to a kind of train line is Kensington, Md. It was one of the first suburban communities to emerge after the Civil War. And as with many of our suburbs, its growth was directly related to the role of the military in our region. Jessica Gould spoke with local author and historian Paul Dickson about the connection between military might and the spread of suburbia.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:00:25
We're in the heart of Kensington, Md. and we're sitting in front of a spacious, beautiful, Victorian mansion, which was the home of a man name Brainard Warner who was actually the founder of Kensington, Md. in the 1870s, 1880s. Brainard Warner was a young man, came here from Pennsylvania when he was 15 years old when the Civil War broke out, which is a period of huge expansion for the city of Washington because troops came in from all over the country to populate the city and to defend the city.

MR. PAUL DICKSON

00:00:51
Brainard Warner enlisted as a private in the Army but then they realized he was sort of a financial genius so they put him in charge of some of the economy of the war. After the war, he decided he was going to become a financier and a builder of suburbs. The B&O had built the Metropolitan branch that enabled people to start using these suburbs, Chevy Chase, Kensington and Garrett Park as places to live.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

00:01:13
So I think we tend to think of suburbanization as a World War II phenomenon, a post World War II phenomenon. But it actually started way before that.

DICKSON

00:01:22
It actually starts in the Civil War but I think what happened here in World War I was fascinating. Many, many people had to come here to run the war. So after World War I, Arlington which has been booming because of the war workers, they decide to stay. So what does Arlington do? Arlington becomes, right after World War I, the fastest growing county in the country. And how do they support that? They build sewers, they have countywide water supply. They have a health system. They have a school system. You needed libraries. You needed newspapers. You know all this infrastructure to support them.

GOULD

00:01:54
So how did World War II affect the growth of this area?

DICKSON

00:01:58
There was a slogan, every trigger, meaning person out there on the front lines with a gun, needed 25 typewriters to support that person. And then at the end of the war, comes the GI Bill and supported housing. So there's this huge, huge build up from 1940 to '50. D.C. goes up about 40 percent. The population grows. But where the real growth is in the suburbs. The suburbs are booming. Alexandria goes up in that same period, 84 percent. PG County goes up 117 percent. Arlington goes up 130 percent. Montgomery county goes up 95 percent.

GOULD

00:02:33
Why did people move from the city to the suburbs during these various periods?

DICKSON

00:02:37
Housing was expensive. It was in short supply during the war. There was huge housing shortages. Even a place where I live in Garrett Park, these little houses called Chevy houses, they were built by veterans after World War I. You could buy the house for a couple hundred dollars down and when you bought the house, you had the option of paying also in your monthly payment for a Chevrolet automobile.

GOULD

00:02:56
Paul Dickson, tell me a little bit about how the more recent conflicts have influenced the suburbs of Washington?

DICKSON

00:03:02
Once you want to run a huge military, you need a nerve center. You need a physicality, you need a place where the top generals or the top admirals or the top whoever can sit down in a meeting room and decide what's going to happen tomorrow. So the military was here right from the War of 1812 when the city was attacked, when the British burned Washington. Any major conflict or major change, you're going to see an increase in the size of Washington, D.C. Even a negative event like 9/11 brought more people here.

SHEIR

00:03:29
Paul Dickson is co-author of "On This Spot: Pinpointing the Past in Washington, D.C." He spoke with WAMU's Jessica Gould. And if you have thoughts you'd like to share about the militaries impact on Washington suburbs, we want to hear from you. You can reach us at metro@wamu.org.

SHEIR

00:04:04
Time for a quick break. But when we get back, helping the needy in one of Washington's wealthiest suburbs.

MR. LANCE FLOWERS

00:04:11
I feel, in my position, I giving them basic needs and the basic needs is something that consists of shelter, food and water. And what we do here is provide that.

SHEIR

00:04:22
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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