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Regional History



Area of Study

Historical Communities



A completed Dulles Airport.
(Library of Congress) .

President John F. Kennedy gave Dulles Airport's dedication speech on November 17, 1962. An enthusiastic crowd of thousands cheered as the futuristic swoop of the main terminal signified America's leading edge on technology and progress. The Cold War would inevitably have a substantial role in the shaping of development in the region, as its vicinity to the nation's capital made it ideal for the future housing of private defense contracters and other national security-related enterprises and organizations over the next few decades.[1]

For several years, locals referred to Dulles as a "white elephant," as its isolated location and relatively few destinations resulted in very low traffic and use, particularly in comparison to National Airport (DCA). However, despite this low initial traffic, the airport's 10,000-acre footprint and accompanying connecting highway (known as the Dulles Access Road) presented a dramatic effect on the economy of the area over the next decade. Besides the large-scale acquisition of farmland displacing numerous residents, the presence of a the large international hub brought new commercial interests to the area.[2]

Cold War Suburbia

Notable social changes in the 1960s included the slow process of integration of schools in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, despite the passing of nearly a decade since Supreme Court's official Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The coming of a new era in Northern Virginia was apparent as the population of Fairfax County alone had increased by 5 times between 1950 (98,557) and 1970 (455,021). Large tracts of land that had been farmed for centuries prior were being sold off to developers at an unprecedented rate, resulting in the emergence of new tract-based housing which would soon dominate the area's landscape. This influx of new residents resulted in the notable expansion of the public school systems of Fairfax and Loudoun in the 1960s and 1970s.[3][4][5]

Interior of Tysons Corner Shopping Center, c. 1992.
(Library of Congress) .

As commercial activity in the region grew, employment in the area largely shifted from government workers (commuting to Washington D.C.) to private government contracters (located in Northern Virginia). Office parks and new commercial enterprises were overwhelmingly centered around newly-constructed local arteries of the Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System, most notably Interstate 66 and the Capital Beltway (I-495). Dense commercial developments around the intersections of Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) and Route 123 (Chain Bridge Rd) sparked the creation of a new business center known as Tysons Corner. 1968 marked the completion of the Tysons Corner Shopping Center, which at the time was among the largest enclosed shopping malls ever built. [6][7]

Closeup of a networking switch, similar to the thousands employed along the
MAE-East internet distribution points as well as intra-company networks
based in the region.
(Courtesy of Ben Stanfield)

Technological Boom

Tysons Corner's success was echoed along the Dulles Access Road, resulting in what would later be dubbed the "Dulles Corridor," a continuous complex of high-tech enterprises which had emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. This was spurred in particular by the presence of a major internet pathway running underneath the highway and surrounding areas. Maintaining this networking line was the internet exchange point known as MAE-East, located in Tysons Corner. Naturally, a large portion of the high-tech companies in the area were those specializing in digital telecommunications by the 1990s. Tech companies and contractors like Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, and CSC established great presence during this time.[8][9][10]

The boom of high-tech industry in the 1980s and 1990s attracted an unprecedented number of immigrants from other parts of the world, which brought sweeping changes to the area's demographics. Particularly prominent ethnic groups to experience growth in Northern Virginia are those of Hispanic or Asian/Pacific Islander ancestry. Fairfax County's composition revealed a 247% increase in Hispanic population proportion (6.3% to 15.6%) between 1990 and 2010. To a similar extent, Asian/Pacific Islander population proportion in Fairfax County's ethnic composition went from 8.5% in 1990 to 17.6% in 2010. With the influx of various immigrant groups came continued growth of corporate and residential developments in the area, and by the mid-1990s, the vast majority of land in Fairfax, northern Prince William and eastern Loudoun Counties had become inundated with single-family residential tract housing and low-to-mid-rise commercial business parks and retail centers. Fairfax County's population exceedded 1 million in 2005 and continues to grow. As of 2012, 12 of Virginia's 24 Fortune 500 corporations were based in the Northern Virginia area. Most prominent of these were Freddie Mac, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman, and Capital One Financial, all of which are located around Tysons Corner and the Capital Beltway's intersection with the Dulles Access Road at the start of the Dulles Technology Corridor.[11][12][13]

Continuing Development

Northern Virginia has become a booming megalopolis. Extending from Washington D.C. for approximately 40 miles westward today is continuous suburban development of medium-to-heavy density that shows little sign of ending. Dulles Airport, once considered isolated in a very rural area, is now well within range of heavy commercial and residential activity; a position appropriately filled for an international airport. With the populations of Fairfax, Loudoun, and Arlington surpassing 1.5 million, D.C. area traffic has reached a #1 position nationwide, and continues be an issue for commuters. Local governments have responded through widespread lane expansion, overpass construction, and have even initiated the construction of an extension of the Washington D.C. Metrorail system towards Dulles Airport. This mult-billion dollar project will add 11 new subway stations along the new Silver line, currently under construction along the Dulles Technology Corridor. With this, only more development is to come.[14]


  1. "Happy Birthday Dulles Airport" last modified November 17, 2012, http://herndon.patch.com/blog_posts/happy-birthday-dulles-airport.
  2. Peter Canellos, "Aerotropolis," Boston.com, October 21, 2010.
  3. Alice Bagwell, M.J. Cronin, Rita Koman, Chair, Carol Morrison, Ginger Shea, Margo Sterling and Leslie Vandivere, "A SURVEY OF FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS".
  4. Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. "History of Fairfax County, Virginia." Accessed December 16, 2012.
  5. Eugene Scheel, "History of Dulles Airport," last modified 02-22-2010,
  6. Valencia and Willingboro, "An age of transformation," The Economist, May 29, 2008.
  7. Fairfax County. "FAIRFAX COUNTY COMPREHENSIVE PLAN, 2011 Edition Tysons Corner Urban Center", Amended 06-22-2010.
  8. Susan H. Burnell, "Northern Virginia, Innovating Technology's Future," ForbesCustom.com, Accessed December 16, 2012.
  9. Paul Ceruzzi, " Not Quite Machu Picchu, but Close," IT History Society Blog, September 23, 2008, http://ithistory.org/blog/?p=204.
  10. Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. "Fortune 500 List." Accessed December 16, 2012.
  11. Fairfax County. "Economic and Demographic Information", Accessed December 16, 2012. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/demogrph/gendemo.htm#race.
  12. "1900-PRESENT: TIMELINE" last modified March 27, 2012, http://braddockheritage.org/timeline-part-ii.
  13. CNN Money. "Fortune 500: Virginia", Accessed December 16, 2012. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2012/states/VA.html
  14. Ashley Halsey III, " D.C. area is No. 1 nationwide in traffic congestion, study says," The Washington Post, September 27, 2011, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2011-09-27/local/35273941_1_traffic-congestion-texas-transportation-institute-average-commuter.