The whole point of the NoVA Nomad is to explore these great places in our Northern Virginia backyard. Therefore, I found it fitting to explore the park in one of my favorite parts of Alexandria: Jones Point Park.
The National Park Services often tell us to “find your park.” For Alexandrians, that park is just a quick jaunt down Washington Street, just south of Old Town. Jones Point Park is home to the last riverine lighthouse (pictured above) in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The joy coursing through my veins is palpable. I love walking through this park. It offers ample trails for biking and jogging. There is plenty of grass for a picnic. Its grounds hold countless years of history.
Take the lighthouse for example…not only is it the last riverine lighthouse in Virginia, but it is also the only one standing in the Chesapeake Bay area.(1) Indeed one could argue that Jones Point was a focal point for a younger United States in terms of defense and commerce from 1856-1926. It helped ships avoid the treacherous underwater shoals of the Potomac River and had a light beam that could be seen by ships up to 9 miles away. (2) Interestingly enough, the lighthouse keeper and attendant were appointed by the President of the United States. This duty was not limited to keeping the lights burning for incoming ships, they also “kept records of shipping traffic, weather, and tides. They worked long hours for low pay and rarely traveled far from their station.”(3) Their small saving grace: being able to live rent free at the lighthouse. For single men, this was a decent bachelor pad. For married men, like keeper Benjamin Greenwood, this tiny house provided cramp quarters him, as well as his second wife and 11 of 14 children! (4)
Even so, the lighthouse was not a lonely affair. Though technically just outside the City of Alexandria’s borders, many families would come to fish, picnic or swim by the picturesque shoreline.
Towards the end of World War One, a massive shipyard was constructed at Jones Point and original lighthouse was shuttered and replaced with an artificial tower. Though the lighthouse was deeded to the Mt. Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Army Signal Corps soon took over the area again in 1936. With a lack of upkeep, and eager solider frequent use for target practice, the former building soon feel into disrepair. Had it not been for the work of the same DAR chapter after the conclusion of World War Two. This piece of history might have been lost forever. In 1964, the National Park Service opened Jones Point Park, and it was has been a hidden Northern Virginia gem for years since. (4)
Today, I often see families playing on the jungle gyms, bikers zooming by on their bicycles and runners of varying levels huffing and puffing along on the paved trails. I have yet to try the fishing and am admittedly, a bit risk averse of anything that comes out of the Potomac, but have no doubt those who do partake, find it enjoyable. There are even basketball courts and bathroom facilities under the Wilson Bridge.
What surprises me the most is that how few people have even heard of this park, in the shadow of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Indeed, it offers a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle that makes up our region.
(1)”Jones Point Lighthouse.” National Parks Service. Accessed March 26, 2017. https://www.nps.gov/gwmp/learn/historyculture/jonespointlighthouse.htm.