A Brief History of Dominion Hills Area Recreation Association of Fast Times on Snake Hill

by Brad Billings and Sam Gaines

The land presently owned by Dominion Hills Area Recreation Association (DHARA) has a storied history dating to the time of the first English settlements established in Virginia and the Carolinas. Prior to the arrival of John Smith early in the seventeenth century, the Tidewater Indians and tribes belonging to the Powhatan Confederacy traveled a well known trail to hunt and camp along the upper reaches of the Potomac and its tributaries. Parts of Braddock Road and Leesburg Pike still follow the course of the original footpath.

Powhatan’s Spring took its name from Chief Powhatan of the Tidewater region who used the site as council grounds. In 1669 the spring was within 6000 acres of land sold by Robert Howson, a tobacco merchant and justice of the peace, to John Alexander, the founder of the City of Alexandria.

Following Braddock’s defeat in 1755 during the French and Indian War, the spring refreshed survivors of the Virginia Line who had served under George Washington. In 1837 Nicholas Febrey became one of Arlington’s prominent landowners when he bought “Washington Forest,” a 600 acre tract that included the spring and parcels known today as Upton Hill, Dominion Hills and Westover.

During the Civil War, Spy Hill and other local sites were outposts for Confederate Forces. In 1861 a minor clash known as the Battle of Munson Hill was fought in Arlington near the home of Nicholas’ son, Henry Febrey. Another son, Moses Alexander Febrey, built a home (later destroyed) overlooking the spring and became a merchant, bottling and selling the spring’s water throughout the Washington DC region.

From the period of Reconstruction through World War I, Powhatan’s Spring continued to furnish a vital supply of fresh, potable water* that was widely distributed commercially, even to the White House. It is known that President Woodrow Wilson was particularly fond of the waters from the spring.

In 1926 J. Lee Wilkinson constructed the building that presently serves as DHARA’s Community House. William H. Martin acquired the house when Wilkinson was forced to relinquish title to the estate to satisfy debts. At the time Mr. Martin was, coincidentally, the President of People’s Loan and Real Estate which had recently foreclosed on Mr. Wilkerson’s property.

Poor stewardship led to a dark chapter for the house. Mr. Martin rented to a variety of tenants who used the building as a tea house, road house, bordello and speakeasy. The ignominious nickname of “Snake Hill” was ascribed to the area, named for the serpentine route taken by Wilson Boulevard at the time, as well as the numerous incidents of drinking, fighting and police raids occurring on the premises. There were indeed fast times on Snake Hill.

By 1938 peace and tranquility had been restored. On October 20, 1954 DHARA purchased Powhatan Springs and built the pool and recreation facilities its members currently enjoy.

Quiet summer days are no longer broken by the purposeful passing of a Native American, the urgent march of a soldier, or the fitful recuperation of a sinner. Instead, the air is punctuated by joyful sounds of DHARA families frolicking and relaxing during sweltering Virginia summers.