One thing was clear at Sunday’s unveiling of a new historical marker in downtown McLean: McLean residents love local history.
The presentation and celebration of a new marker drew a sizeable crowd Sunday afternoon, even with the kickoff of the Redskins season-opener looming.
The historic marker tells the history of the Laughlin House, a McLean landmark for years standing on the northwest corner of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road.
William “Kip” Laughlin and his wife Dara, proudly spoke of the Laughlin family’s role in McLean history. For generations, Laughlin’s family owned the Laughlin House, or what is fondly referred to as the “Blue House” at the corner of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road. The house was built on the Laughlin property, just across from what was the McLean Trolley stop; now a grassy island in the intersection that also bears an historical marker about McLean.
Eventually painted blue, the Blue House was used as a starting point for people giving directions. For generations, it housed Laughlin Realtors, one of the oldest family-run real estate companies in the Washington-area. Most importantly, the Laughlin house was the central point of downtown McLean. PNC Bank now occupies the building that sits on the historic site.
Jim Lewis, a long-time friend of Kip Laughlin’s, and a historian who helped out on the historical marker project, said that at the time he had no appreciation for the history of the house. “It was a very old house at the center of the intersection in the center of McLean.” But, continued Lewis, “it was McLean’s most visible location, and it had a big porch on the left side where folks stopped by to talk and wave to neighbors.”
Noted McLean historian Carole Herrick, who spoke at Sunday’s ceremony, remarked that in the early 1900s a small development was started when folks heard that the railroad was coming through. Developers began selling small lots. It was “prime real estate,” said Herrick. “It was a hot spot because everything happened here.” It was the beginning of what would become McLean.
In the 1980s, a decision was made to tear the Blue House down. “We had to decide what would be the best use because it was a historic intersection,” Laughlin said. Following a significant amount of study, they decided that in most communities, the central intersection is usually occupied by the leading local bank. So a decision was made to build a financial office center.
After three years of permitting and one year of construction, the building was completed. Riggs Bank was the first tenant to occupy the building, and it was eventually bought by PNC Bank, which occupies the building today. Those have been the only two tenants in the brick building’s history.
Laughlin and his friend Jim Lewis eventually got together with local trolley historian Bob Eldridge and came up with the idea to recognize the history of the location. The plan to pursue a historical marker on the property was born. Lewis and Eldridge had been involved in the procurement of six prior historical markers, so they were familiar with the process.
“One thing Jim and I had learned is that local people do love history. ... people just enjoy it, and we love sharing it with people,” said Eldridge. “If you don’t have things like historical markers, it will be lost.”
The trolley operated from 1906 to 1934, and eventually closed down due to poor service, too many accidents, the depression, and the popularity of the automobile. “The trolley is long gone,” Eldridge said. “But we have the lasting effects.”
The newly erected historical marker is outside of the PNC Bank building at the corner of Old Dominion Drive and Chain Bridge Road. The marker is angled toward Old Dominion Drive by design so that drivers can read it while stopped at a stop light.