Why Is It Named Ballston?

Do you know why the county is named Arlington? How about Ballston?

I have a soft spot for Ballston because that’s where I first lived when I arrived in the area well over a decade ago. And, in tribute to my first residence, I wanted to dig up and share some etymological history.

Ballston pedestrian bridge (Wikipedia)
Ballston pedestrian bridge (Wikipedia)

John Ball and his brother Moses, cousins of George Washington, owned 257 acres of land in the area in the 1700s. In Colonial times, the intersection of what would become Glebe Road and Wilson Boulevard (FYI, named for President Woodrow Wilson) was a crossroads of commercial traffic, heading south to Alexandria or east to Washington.

In 1774, one of the Ball descendants built constructed a two-story log tavern at the crossroads to serve farmers traveling the roads to take their goods to market. Ball’s Tavern grew to become the the center of the community, at times, serving as the social hub, a general store, post office and local voting precinct.

Atlas of fifteen miles around Washington, including the counties of Fairfax and Alexandria, Virginia / compiled and published from actual surveys by G.M. Hopkins. (1878)
Atlas of fifteen miles around Washington, including the counties of Fairfax and Alexandria, Virginia / compiled and published from actual surveys by G.M. Hopkins. (1878)

Ball’s Crossroads was established as a village in Arlington County in 1874, and a little over two decades later, in 1895, the official name was changed to Ballston, maintaining a permanent link to the Ball family.

If you want to dig into a little more Arlington County history, check out the Arlington Historical Society.

Here is today's recommendation for you. We think you'll like it!

  • Surprised you didn’t mention Ballston’s time as Parkington.

    • Herschel

      Indeed. I lived in Arlington through most of the 1960s, and I never heard anyone use the name Ballston to refer to that area of the county during that time. The shopping center with the enclosed parking was called Parkington. I’m not sure which came first, Ballston Common or the Ballston Metro station, but I suspect it was the latter that started people calling the area Ballston. The same thing happened with Tenleytown; I never heard anyone call that part of Washington by that name until the Metro station opened, although, as with Ballston, the name has a long history.

      • The metro station opening preceded the mall redevelopment by a few years. (it’s likely the former caused the latter)

        My own round trip on names is how I never heard anyone call the area around Drew school ‘Nauk’ growing up, just Green Valley. (and maps from the 40s and 50s use Green Valley vice Nauk). Though, of course, Nauk is an older name.

    • but

      Ballston MALL was Parkington. Ballston, the area, is not just a mall.

  • Angry Parakeet

    Ballston was my first location, too, in 1985. I called it “the Ballston starter kit” because I felt I needed to get some grounding in the area before making the desired jump to DC.

  • And the Balls family is buried across from Ballston. Or was, the last time I was in that area.

    • Lynn Paolillo

      It’s still there ~ I checked it out this summer!! My mother (a geneologist) had me find that “Ball Buring Ground” back in ’62 when I first lived in the area. At that time it was a mess ~ full of broken markers and beer cans ~ she had a fit and contacted someone in the area and the Kiwanis Club cleaned it all up and put up an historical marker and a large marker with the names of all those buried there. Some of the old headstones are still there over in a corner.

  • Don W.

    One slight correction: during colonial times traffic heading east would have been going to Georgetown, then a commercial center. The city of Washington didn’t yet exist, and during the colonial period was farmland and some scattered houses.

  • gimme

    anyone in the family ever named Harry?

  • Randy

    The area has been referred to as Ballston since the late 1800’s. The Ballston Volunteer Fire Dept was formed in the early 1900’s and served the Ballston community. Geographically in Arlington the area of Ballston has been referred to as “Ballston” for as long as I remember. I have been in Arlington since 1963.

  • It’s been Ballston as long as I can remember. And it was a “rural” community for a long time. Just as Sterling and other communities were.

  • carol

    Nope, we never called it Ballston either. Not until the Metro came and we’ve been Arlingtonians since the 50’s.

  • Patricia Seymour Hewitt

    I was born in Ballston in 1942, on S. Stewart st. in a home across from the old firehouse. Moved in with my grandparents on Fairfax dr. when my father went into the service during WWll. That house was on the corner of Fairfax dr and Vermont st.. Part of Fairfax dr was still dirt.

  • RakSiam

    There’s a historic marker next to the church across Fairfax Dr from the metro station in the small plot of Ball graves.