Winter walkers on the Mount Vernon trail near Morningside Drive often pause to study the big chunks of concrete jutting up between the George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.
These walls, slabs and pieces of pillars are what remain of a private home, known as the J. W. Kruettner mansion, according to local resident Harry Lyons and Matthew Virta, Cultural Resources Program Manager for the U.S. National Park Service. Kruettner was president of the American Portland Cement Association, and the house may have been the first concrete house in the U.S. It extended across what is now the parkway, said Virta.
Visible today are what may have been the wine cellar, some walls, a balustrade and broken columns. An unsourced document from Park Service files says that the house had four levels and “the appearance of a European villa.”
Lyons estimates that the Kruettner house was built around 1904 to 1906 of poured reinforced concrete and had stairs down the hill. Because it was in the path of parkway, completed in 1932, it was dynamited to make way for the road. The NPS document says that Kruettner resisted selling his home to build the parkway, but finally relented.
Mount Vernon Trolley Line Preceded the Parkway
Some locals have long believed the ruins to be parts of a former rail station. Before the parkway, the Washington, Alexandria and Mount Vernon electric railway, known as the Mount Vernon trolley, carried people to Mount Vernon Estate from 1892 to 1932 when many dirt roads were impassable. The Wellington Villa station was near the Kruettner house site, just east of today’s stone bridge overpass at Alexandria Avenue. The only parts of the station that have survived are the pillars, now on a house on Northdown Road near the bridge, and the station’s doors, now part of Lyons’s garage.
On the trolley line between Alexandria and Mount Vernon Estate, there were 25 stops with names like New Alexandria, Dyke, Arcturus and Riverside—names that survive today. The Warwick stop was where Morningside Lane meets the parkway today, across from the Kreuttner house. A station named Oaks was near the east end of today’s Tulane Drive. The trolley line turn-around was at Mount Vernon Estate, roughly where today’s traffic circle is located. A passenger station operated at Mount Vernon. Lyons’s
father-in-law, Edward Gibbs, ran the Mount Vernon station and restaurant.
A passenger brochure describing sites along the full route from 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., says:
“From New Alexandria the arm of the river which passes near the Dyke Station leads attraction to the surrounding landscape and its shady nooks on a sultry day in summer offer pleasant retreats to the dwellers of the neighboring cities. Reaching Wellington Villa, on the beautiful highlands, can be seen the Potomac River which flows close by.”
Rail Hauled More than People
In addition to taking visitors to and from Mount Vernon Estate, the trolley line also had freight trains that hauled mail, fish, milk, eggs and other farm and garden products from Mount Vernon area farms to Washington, D.C., markets, according to Frederick Tilip in his 1978 book This Was Potomac River. Lyons and several historians say that during Prohibition the train carried Mason jars, sugar, corn and rye for local bootleggers.
Among the many historical highlights associated with the trolley’s route were some rowdy goings-on in northern Mount Vernon, what was then and is still called New Alexandria. Tilip wrote, “Coincidently, a number of friendly and profitable bawdy houses also opened in New Alexandria catering to watermen and railroaders alike over a period of forty years. The author knew a number of satisfied patrons.”
Another famous local was a man known as Cigarette Smith who allegedly ran a robust bootlegging operation from a boat, known as an ark, in Dyke Marsh. Tilip describes how the Potomac shoreline was the scene of “whiskey-ferries” and other “runners in sailing craft” carrying hooch to Alexandria, Washington and other places. During Prohibition, “Alexandria Gazette newspapers noted weekly raids on the hundreds of wooden arks along the Virginia shore from Rosslyn to Quantico,” Tilip recalls in his book.
If you want to see the remains of the Kruettner mansion, go soon before summer’s vines envelope it. Maybe you’ll stumble across a still.