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Military Might And The Spread Of Suburbia

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Historian Paul Dickson talks about the connection between the military community and our region's development.
Jessica Gould
Historian Paul Dickson talks about the connection between the military community and our region's development.

The growth of the U.S. military and intelligence communities since 9/11 has had a major impact on D.C.'s suburbs. But this relationship between the military and the 'burbs actually stretches all the way back to the Civil War. Jessica Gould went to Kensington, Md.--one of the first suburban communities to take root in the years following the Civil War--to speak with local historian Paul Dickson about the rarely-discussed connection between our nation's wartime footing and our region's development. Following are highlights of their conversations.

Dickson on Brainard Warner, the founder of Kensington, Md.: "Brainard Warner came here as a young man from Pennsylvania when he was 15 years old. Came to make his fortune when the Civil War broke out, which was a period of huge expansion for the city of Washington, because troops came in from all over the country to populate the city and defend the city... After the war, he decided he was going to become a financier and a builder of suburbs. So he decided he was going to build Kensington, Md. as a summer resort."

Dickson on suburbanization and growth in the area: "There was a slogan, for every trigger, for every person on the front lines with a gun, they needed 25 typewriters to support that person. So vast numbers of people came in. D.C. itself goes up about 40 percent, the population grows. But, boy, 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 County goes up 130 percent. Montgomery County goes up 95.5 percent."

Dickson on how recent conflicts have influenced the suburbs: "Once you want to run a military you need a nerve center. You need a physicality. You need a place where the top generals or the top admirals or whatever can sit down and decide what's going to happen tomorrow. Anytime there's conflict or change, you're going to see an increase in the size of Washington DC. Even a negative event like 9/11 brought more people here. There's a huge intelligence apparatus in Washington. It doesn't advertise itself. It's just that your neighbor is very likely to be somebody in the national intelligence agencies."

Listen to the full interview here.


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