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The Pimmit Hills Story

By Jan Auerbach, 2007

Leesburg Pike (Route 7) started as a buffalo path and then, as an Indian trail, became one of the great "rolling roads" of the Colonial period. Over it, great hogsheads of tobacco were rolled down the wharves of Alexandria. Near Pimmt Run in what is now Pimmit Hills, there was a salt lick where farmers coming from the west would stop their cattle to fatten them up before taking them to the stockyards in Alexandria. 
 
Until ground was broken for the $25 million, 663-acre subdivision called Pimmit Hills in May 1950, the area was devoted to farming and grazing. The first section of homes was finished on Pimmit Drive in late 1950. The houses sold for $9,950. Owners did not have to make a down payment; mortgages cost $62.18 per month. Many early residents were military families attracted by the affordable prices.

At the time it was built, Pimmit Hills was Fairfax County's largest subdivision. It was divided into 15 districts with names like Orchard Crest, Pimmit View, Magarity Heights and Sportsman's Park. Photos from the 1950s show bare land, cleared of bushes and even grass. The new homes, light-colored with dark trim along rooflines and windows, stood starkly in the middle of treeless quarter-acre lots. Jack Barnes, who moved to Pimmit Hills in December 1950 with his wife, Shirley, recalled, “You could tell who was home by the boots out front.” Shirley added, “You never went outside without your boots on” because mud was the rule.

Of the 1,642 homes in the neighborhood, 1,280 were originally constructed on a slab or crawl space, with identical 833-square-foot floor plans that included three bedrooms and one bath. These boxy, efficient homes had pitched roofs, three front windows, and a front door set slightly off-center. Many of these homes were constructed by builder Tom Offutt.

1950s

Most homes in the first sections did not have telephone service. People waited in a line to use the pay phone at a workshop on Leesburg Pike, which at that time was a two-lane road. Across Leesburg Pike from Pimmit Hills stood the Ahalt farm. Trash disposal was at best uncertain. Residents needed to go to Falls Church to the post office to receive their mail at the General Delivery window because there was no door-to-door delivery on the unmarked and sometimes impassable streets. Road construction was the responsibility of the various builders and lagged behind home building in the first five sections. Cars sank into the mud and required repairs after each heavy rain. Jack Barnes recalled that four or five men would pool their resources to buy a car in order to get to work. With no bus service available in the early days, women needed the family car to shop. Students attending Marshall High School recall being labeled as living in “Primitive Hills.” After a survey of homeowners indicated that 82% wanted streetlights and 71% desired curbs and gutters, the Pimmit Hills Citizens Association (PHCA) formed a committee to raise funds to build the curbs and gutters. The PHCA also helped address problems such as installing street signs, identifying police and fire protection districts, and providing bus service.
 
The very first PHCA newsletter was published in June 1952 and consisted of two legal sized pieces of paper. Street signs began to be installed in September 1952. PHCA sponsored a community picnic and fireworks display in July. It also formed a bowling league and square dance group. In December 1952 PHCA sponsored a well-attended community dance and a Christmas decoration contest. In 1954, PHCA’s Civil Defense Committee held a series of civil defense classes titled “Radiological, Chemical and Bacteriological Warfare.” It also offered first aid classes. Bus service came to Pimmit Hills in late 1954. A small trailer on Patterson Road housed a convenience store. Nearby was a water tower which is still there. PHCA held polio drives to collect money for those with the illness. Phone numbers looked like JE (Jefferson) 6-3073 or TW 3-9411. Dues for the community’s garden club were 25 cents.
 
A Vienna man came by every Tuesday with a truck full of vegetables and let the young mothers buy on credit. Later, he also came on Thursdays to sell bread, eggs, bacon, and sausage. Soapsuds from a sewer plant next door would float through the neighborhood. There was a NIKE missile site near Magarity Road. An occasional cow would pass through on its way to a salt lick. Roy Clark lived in Pimmit Hills before hitting it big in country music. The Hemsley Orchard, a peach orchard next to Pimmit Hills on Leesburg Pike, hired teens to pick peaches in the summer.
 
There was a strong sense of community in the early days. When Jack Barnes began building his porch in 1954, “Six neighbors came by and helped me dig the foundation, pour the concrete and build the addition.” He and other neighbors helped each other build back porches, basements, garages, second stories, and family recreation rooms as each home began to take on a distinctive look. That sense of community revived a bit in the 1990’s as second-generation members of families moved back to Pimmit Hills.
 
In 1955 PHCA tried to get a traffic light installed at the intersection of Pimmit Drive and Leesburg Pike. They were told there needed to be 350 cars per hour for two consecutive hours passing through the intersection in order to qualify for a light. At the time, there were an estimated 1,500 cars in Pimmit Hills. Half of them would have to use that intersection over the two-hour period in order to qualify for the light. Men called their wives from work in the morning after seeing the traffic counters being set up. The women then got in their cars and went in and out of the neighborhood several times each. Shirley Barnes laughed, “They didn’t count which cars, just how many went by.” Pimmit Hills got its traffic light.
 
At this time, all children in Pimmit Hills went to Pimmit Hills Elementary School. As Lemon Road Elementary School, Westgate Elementary School, and Lewinsville Elementary School opened, children in various parts of Pimmit Hills went to different elementary schools. Friden Road was the school boundary line within Pimmit Hills between Lemon Road Elementary to the east and Pimmit Hills Elementary to the west. Most children went to one of these two schools. All children were united in high school at Marshall.
 
The St. Luke’s Methodist Church opened its new building on Leesburg Pike in November 1958. In 1959 the Lemon Road PTA held a “Card Party” (bridge, canasta, pinochle) and the Jubitones Barber Shop Quartet sang at it. Dances continued to be popular. There was a Pimmit Hills Community Valentine dance, a Spring dance in early May and an Inauguration dance in June “in honor of its newly elected officers.” Some adult male drivers were caught drag racing on Pimmit Drive with their children in the cars. 1959 prices at the Pimmit Drug Center were 79 cents for a half-gallon of ice cream, 84 cents for shampoo, $5.49 for a gallon of paint, 9 cents for a toothbrush, and 87 cents for an umbrella. In the summer of 1959, 1000 children were inoculated for polio.

1960s

About 70 homes along Olney Road, the northern border of Pimmit Hills, were built in the early to mid-1960s. These homes were built with a Model A design, and were 1,750 square-foot, two-story structures on one-quarter to one-third acre lots.
 
The 1962 PHCA membership drive was so successful that PHCA became the largest active citizens association in Fairfax County. That year, trash pickup cost $2 a month. Miss Brenda Raines of Howard Court was named the Snowball Queen at the Pimmit Hills Teen Club’s annual dance. The Pimmit Hills PTA, representing Fairfax County, had a float in the 1962 National Cherry Blossom Parade that was awarded First Place for best overall float, winning over floats by Coca-Cola and C&P Telephone. The PHCA Dispatch announced recent county approval of road widening and use of two Tysons Corner 80-acre sites “for possible shopping centers.”
 
In 1965, Lois Schaben began her 25-year presidency of the Pimmit Hills Extension Homemakers Club, a group of 25 women who met every month to make crafts, such as placemats and tree ornaments, and to trade family news.

1970s

During the decade of the 1970’s, there were still signs of vitality and community spirit in Pimmit Hills. Association membership stood at 1,425. The Dispatch had a managing editor, editor, advertising manager, artist and three typists. A community talent show held at Marshall High School drew 800 people. There was a new Pimmit Hills Teen Club where teens could play ping pong, pool, board games, hobbies and crafts. The County continued to install sidewalks, curbs and gutters in Pimmit Hills. The Fairfax County Library Bookmobile made regular runs through the community. By this time, most residents had made at least one addition to their homes. A popular addition at this time was a shed attached to the house.
 
Dave Robertson recalled growing up in Pimmit Hills in the 1960’s and 1970’s. He remembered “hordes of children” on the street, a circus that came to Magarity Road each summer, and the Teen Club dances. What he felt was unique about Pimmit Hills was that “It was safe. Everybody knew who you were. You could walk home after dark as a kid and not be afraid. It was like a Neighborhood Watch without knowing it.” His friend Don Palmer added, “You could walk through an open door, uninvited, sit down and watch cartoons. It was that kind of place.” Children caught crayfish in Pimmit Run and went sledding at Lemon Road School.
 
The old Pimmit Hills Shopping Center, now called Tysons Station, had a soda fountain in the drug store, a High’s convenience store where you could return milk bottles and get the deposit back, and a Kroger grocery store. Current resident Roy Davis owned Mr. Roy’s Hairstylists in the shopping center from 1970-1979. Roy Davis also played drums occasionally in a band at the Pimmit Grill. The post office at that time faced Leesburg Pike (it is now on the side of the row of stores).
 
Despite the community activity, this decade also included signs of problems. Greg Gil, an elevator mechanic who lived on Griffith Road, acknowledged that “the neighborhood had a pretty bad reputation [with] roaming dogs and …gunshots on the fourth of July.” Many of the homes were then occupied by renters who didn’t keep up the houses or the yards. Another contributor to the poor reputation was the presence of members of the Pagans motorcycle gang in a house on Pimmit Drive. Neighbors said that the bikers never caused any trouble and attended PHCA meetings regularly. Resident Shirley Barnes noted, “Those kids weren’t so bad. All they did was work on their motorcycles….Whatever trouble they caused, they did it somewhere else.” Marie Davis remembers that they were a bit loud at times but they also were the first on the scene to help when her friend was involved in a car accident near their house. Yet, their presence gave Pimmit Hills a bad name.
 
In the early 1970’s the Hemsley Orchard gave way to the four-story Peach Tree Apartments. In 1972 the Pimmit/Westgate schools were scheduled to be the test case for the county for the concept of a year-round school. Pimmit Hills citizens voiced their opposition and the project was canceled. The State Highway Department refused PHCA’s request for a stoplight at the corner of Magarity and Anderson Roads; it was finally approved in 1982. After conducting a series of studies, the Fairfax County Park Authority determined that it wasn’t feasible to build a public swimming pool in Pimmit Hills, even though residents had been raising funds since the 1960’s to pay for it.

1980s

The Pimmit Hills Neighborhood Watch Program became operational in April 1982 and signs were put in place. Also that year, I-66 opened to traffic. The Pimmit Hills School closed as an elementary school but continued to be used as a “people place” with a variety of programs. In September 1983, the Pimmit Hills Adult and Community Education Center had its “grand opening celebration.” The following month, the County held groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library. Carl Zimmer, a Pimmit Hills resident since 1961 and called “Mr. Pimmit Hills” by some, was instrumental in getting the library located there. While there were improvements around the area, Pimmit Hills itself was still going through some hard times. Residents noted that “People would sit outside on the top of their cars. Houses weren't kept very nice."

The low point in Pimmit Hills history came in 1980 when house painter and Lisle Avenue resident Richard Lee Whitley murdered his next-door neighbor by slitting her throat and strangling her as she prayed for her life. Whitley, who sexually assaulted the 63-year-old widow after her death, was executed in 1987.

1990s

Though by 1990 there wasn’t much crime in the area, Pimmit Drive resident Irvin Poole was heartbroken when thieves ran off with part of his elaborate and locally famous Christmas display, including handmade plywood characters of Yogi Bear, Boo Boo and Santa Claus.

The turn-around in Pimmit Hills fortunes started in the 1990’s as the growth of the Tysons Corner area lured many young professionals to buy in Pimmit Hills. By this time, families were smaller and both parents worked. It was estimated that about 20% of the homes were rented. When Dave Robertson grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, “During the summer, there was so much activity. Kids in the streets and in the neighbors’ yard. Mothers talking across the fence and exchanging vegetables from their gardens.” By the 1990’s, “It is a ghost town during the summer. The kids are in day care and parents work….Now there are not as many [children] for my children to play with. People more often buy a house, fix it up and move. People are just more transient.” Marc Adkins, who restarted the Neighborhood Watch program after it died out in the 1980’s, admitted the difficulty in getting people involved. He noted, “The association is not as important as it once was. But people just don’t have the time anymore.” Yet, Robertson noted, “I still feel like I can walk down the street and, if something happened, I’d be able to knock on somebody’s door and, most likely, people would still know I was one of the Robertson kids and help.”

2000s

The Pimmit Hills School was renovated in 2000. It houses an Alternative High School, Adult and Community Education classes and a Senior Center.

In 2005, 78 homes sold for prices ranging from $300,000 to $841,000, with an average sales price of $476,000. Increasingly common were tear-downs with multi-story homes replacing the original home.

A 2005 improvement was the erection of welcome signs at the Lisle Avenue and Pimmit Drive intersections with Leesburg Pike. The carved and painted wooden signs cost about $9,000 and were paid for from the fund created in the 1960’s for the neighborhood swimming pool that was never built. The sign on Lisle Avenue is in the yard of one of the original Pimmit Hills model homes. PHCA owned the house for awhile and sold it before 1963 to BellSouth for use as a substation. BellSouth later sold it for use as a private residence. PHCA still has use of another model home. This one, on Pimmit Drive, was sold to the Fairfax County Park Authority for $1. The Park Authority uses the grounds of the home as a maintenance yard but allows PHCA use of the house. Association files are stored there and the home’s address serves as the official PHCA mailing address.

In 2007, PHCA membership dues are $12 a year, $20 per family. The association now focuses primarily on community issues rather than social activities, although it still sponsors some community events each year, such as the annual community picnic at Olney Park, community yard sales, and semi-annual trash pick-up days. It still sometimes sponsors bake sales on Election Day. Community issues include cut-through traffic, the completion of sidewalks throughout the neighborhood, teardowns, the HOT lanes on the Beltway, the Metro substation planned for the corner of Magarity and Olney Roads, and the rundown condition of some properties. By now, there are perhaps more renters than owners living in Pimmit Hills. The association has no authority to dictate what residents can do to their houses or yards, so relies mostly on peer pressure and positive reinforcement for maintaining and improving property.

Pimmit Hills House Prices

 1950

 $9,950

 1954

 $13,000

 1963

 $13,500

 1970s

 $50,000

 1990

 $125,000

 2000

 $183,888

 2005

 $476,000 


 
References

  • Davis, Marie and Roy. Personal interview. March 24, 2007
  • Dowling, Russ and Evy. Recollections. www.pimmithills.org
  • Kenny, Cheryl. “Heading for the Hills in Fairfax County,” The Washington Post, July 29, 2000; Page H01
  • Pimmit Hills Citizens Association Dispatch, www.pimmithills.org
  • Pimmit Hills Phone Directory, 1983
  • Steinberg, Mark. “The Hills are Alive,” The McLean/Great Falls Connection, February 15, 1990
  • Straight, Susan. “1950s Suburb Evolves With Time,” Washington Post, November 12, 2005; G01
  • Vial, Debra Lynn. “Pimmit Hills Grows from Past as Tiny Boxes,” Fairfax Journal, 1991

 

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1927 Pimmit Drive, Pimmit Hills, VA 22043
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