Long history of Jones Point far precedes bridge controversy

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Long history of Jones Point far precedes bridge controversy

May 2, 1996
by Pamela Cressey

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Pipers Island is depicted on this 1746 map, as only a portion of the land we now call Jones Point. Conversely, Great Hunting Creek is much larger than what we see today.
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge has captured many people's attention in recent months. While thousands of drivers sit nearly motionless on either side of the bridge in the daily gridlock, others are studying alternatives for the decaying bridge's future. As a part of looking at the present to plan for the future, it is also valuable to understand the past.

A portion of the Wilson Bridge spans the land we call Jones Point, the southeastern tip of Alexandria today. Jones Point is owned by the National Park Service and maintained by the City of Alexandria. The place has a multiple of uses which are apparent as soon as you enter Jones Point. Gardeners, soccer players, fishermen, joggers, dog walkers, boat builders, nature lovers, and history hunters abound.

In fact, Jones Point has also had diverse land uses which were important to the local inhabitants. These uses, however, were far from recreational. Jones Point was a critical place for Native American camps and the economy of the historic city. In the next series of articles, I will follow the history of Jones Point and other places near the Wilson Bridge to chronicle the dramatic changes which have occurred over thousands of years.

Perhaps one of the most noticeable differences over the last 200 years on Jones Point and the Belle Haven Marina can best be seen through maps and historic transcriptions. The transformation of the landscape can be studied using maps from the Alexandria Library, Lloyd House, the Alexandria Archaeology Museum and T. Michael Miller's volume "Jones Point Haven of History."

Today Jones Point includes about 40 acres of land, but 300 years ago it contained only about 6 acres. Margaret Brent was granted 700 acres on Hunting Creek, including Jones Point in 1654. Eventually, John Alexander gained title to the property.

The earliest map we have for the Point dates from the Fairfax County Book of Surveys, 1746. Great Hunting Creek appears huge by our perspective and a point of land sticks out at its opening into the Potomac River. The land is called "Pipers Island" on this map. We do not know anything about the Piper person, but a fascinating transcription from a Prince William chancellory case documents the island nature of Jones Point in this period.

Reverend Lee Massey provided answers to a series of questions about the area' in the 1730s. Q: " Was Jones' point, otherwise, Piper's Point, ever an Island?" A: " In high tides the water followed around it and in low tides it did not." Q: What divided the firm land on the point from the main land?" A: "A wet pocoson grown with yellow, small ash." Q: "Were there any guts that surrounded the land of the Point?" A: "There was one that emptied into the waters westward of the Point, which run northwardly a considerable distance, then took a turn eastwardly and emptied into a pocoson." Just as Rev. Massey would not have known the meaning of the "beltway," so we are in mystery about his words. Q: What are a pocoson and a gut?

Pamela Cressey is the Alexandria City Archaeologist.