History

Considering the thriving, diverse nature of McLean’s neighborhoods and business communities, it’s only natural that the city would have a rich history. With a past reaching back to the explorations of the earliest European settlers and developments tied to some of the United States’ most prominent figures and events, McLean’s background doesn’t disappoint.

Captain John Smith and his crew (including Nathaniel Powell) were the first non-natives to explore the area. The team sought a Northwest passage in 1608, and — though the passage was not found — the team produced the first maps of Virginia and the Potomac River, documents that would be invaluable to the development of much of the Eastern Seaboard.

In the following years, small communities of European pilgrims sprang up throughout the land now known as Virginia, and the oldest legislative body in North America (the Virginia General Assembly) convened for the first time on July 30, 1619. Its first tasks were to establish courts, build the colony-wide system of roads and form counties, which were subdivided into parishes.

In 1736, Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax, visited the property he inherited from his mother upon her death. Thomas was so impressed that he disposed of his English and Scottish holdings, and made his home in Virginia from 1747 until his death.

Fairfax County itself was formed in 1742 as a result of the election of William Fairfax, a cousin of Thomas Fairfax, to the General Assembly as a Burgess. The land of Fairfax was an agricultural heaven, leading to the construction of a number of mills.

The Reverend William Maffitt, one of the most prominent landowners in the area and one of four ministers named to officiate President George Washington’s funeral, also hosted President James Madison and his party after the British invaded Washington and burned the White House. One of Maffitt’s buildings became the emergency offices for the Executive branch.

First Lady Dolley Madison, who joined her husband on nearby Mackall’s Hill to view the smoke rising from the flames in Washington, also brought with her the original copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Stuart portrait of George Washington and other national treasures.

The communities of Langley and Lewinsville merged to become McLean in 1910. It was so named for John R. McLean, publisher of the Washington Post and a principal stockholder in the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad.

McLean grew rapidly from 1914 to the present day. The first McLean Day, held in 1915 at the Civic League Lot, was a result of the encouragement of community activities. The land was donated in 1921 to the Franklin Sherman School and the Civic League.

Between 1946 and 1972, McLean’s population grew to 60,000. The first shopping center was built in 1949. There are more than a dozen shopping centers today, including Tysons Corner Center and the Galleria. New high schools and intermediate schools were built, and more than two dozen churches were established.

Proud of their community’s heritage and careful to document important community developments, the people of McLean have always had a unique place in American history. With an appreciation for the role of the past in shaping the future, McLean and its residents are ready to play their part in the future of both Virginia and the United States.

 


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