Monday, May 16, 2016

Our Mistaken Identity?

            How do we pronounce the name of our neighborhood: MAN-Chew-ahh or Man- TOO-ahh?
            Residents new and old debate it. Are we named after Mantova in northern Italy?  The UNESCO World Heritage site has its Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace)--a residence inside the city similar to the Vatican inside Rome--where dukes ruled for 400 years. But about 25 years ago, a visit to Mantova to search for similarities with our suburb yielded zilch. (I remember a sleepless night under sixth-floor attic rafters, scratchy towels, and brown faucet water. You get what you pay for..) (This photo shows us in Mantova/Mantua, sketching with local artists.)

             Perhaps our Mantua is connected somehow to the Georgian brick mansion of that name in the Northern Neck of the state. Some of our houses have front porch columns and impressive foyers.

            There are five other places called Mantua in the United States -- in Utah, Alabama, Ohio, New Jersey and Maryland. And besides the one in Italy, there's one in Cuba. But there's only one Mantua Hills, and that's here. Here's a little history on what makes ours unique.
            Mantua was within a land grant parcel. Grants were often given to speculators, or wealthy men (yes, almost always men). Tenants lived on the land. The earliest grants were along the Accotink Creek, which flows through Mantua on its way to the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay. Before that, Native Americans lived near the water.
            We were not always wooded hills. Mills were on current parkland (and there was an Eakin who developed much of Mantua).  See
            Once, some of Mantua was open fields. Fairfax was farm country, and in the 1830 and 1840s Northerners were lured by cheap land. In 1860, west of Mantua, what is now Historic Blenheim on Old Lee Highway in Fairfax City was part of a 368-acre farm. Later, after Civil War troops left their graffiti on the walls there, the family farmed and had a dairy operation until the1940s. Suburbia moved in as the federal government expanded. In the 1950s, houses sprouted in Mantua for federal workers. Some houses preceded the suburb as we now know it. The oldest houses are on Route 236 and on Chichester Lane.
            Our Mantua is its own 2.4-square-mile census-designated place. In 2012, our population was about 7,135. In 2002, 7,485. By comparison, in 2015 Fairfax City population was 24,013 on 6.3 square miles. We're (on average) 371 feet above sea level, which most of us never notice until we go to places like the Sierra Nevadas and camp at 7,000 feet.  
            Many houses in Mantua were built from the 1960s until the1980s (split level styles like this one on Santayana Drive were popular).  In the 1960s, Route 50 from Barkley Drive extended as far as Hamilton Drive. It did not go through to Route 236.

          In 2014, the Mantua Citizens' Association invited some original homeowners to talk about the old 'hood. Chuck Sanders of Southwick Street shared this: "We moved into our home during the 1963 Thanksgiving Weekend.  The price at that time was $36,000.
            "At that time a large segment of Prince William was unpaved between Lido and Route 236.   There were no homes on the west end of the  south side of Southwick Street.  Clearly a lot has changed over the years. Our own home has had two additions, front and rear."
            In 1990, Mantua residents were both unified and divided when an underground oil spill from the Pickett Road tank facility was detected.  Housing values plummeted, exacerbated by a recession. Still, many Mantua residents planned for the future, emphasizing Woodson pyramid schools and our choice location for commuting to jobs. After decades of remediation and monitoring, the Environmental Protection Agency  determined  that further oversight was not warranted.
            Today, Mantua is desirable. Location is paramount. Homes sell quickly. Older homes are torn down and replaced. Additions and remodeling are common. Schools are good. The neighborhood is stable. Many residents are still federal workers, military, and business owners.
            Now, Mantua has its own weather station  There are even  two curbside little libraries (on Chichester and Hamilton). There is community. (P.S. It's pronounced Man TOO aah.)

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