Bowman’s Motor Court


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On the loss of the Church

With all foreseeable options exhausted for saving the historic 1870s Church on Church Road, it is almost a foregone conclusion that it will soon be removed from the site, one of the last vestiges of an old Sterling/Guilford that exists mainly in a handful of photographs and snips of history. “Why didn’t you buy it?” and “If you wanted to save it, you should have paid for it,” the knuckleheads will scream, as if every Manhattanite should have coughed up the money for Pennsylvania Station or every Minneapolitan for the Metropolitan Building.

The Davis One/Young Group will hide behind their LLC, “it’s not our decision, we’re a corporation,” they’ll say, “we just need to make money. Don’t you get it?” Builders have always tried to trick people into believing that preservation and development is a zero-sum game, that the new can only be built at the expense of the old. The idea that anybody involved with the company wouldn’t feel a twinge of embarrassment for thinking of replacing an 1870s church fronting a major road in a historic section of Sterling with a 4-story, 88,000sf self-storage facility is absurd, especially in light of the fact that several storage facilities already exist within 2 miles of the location. That a confluence of new development and historical reverence couldn’t be reached or that a vaguely aesthetically-pleasing proposal couldn’t be put forth is a shame.

“There is nothing economically or socially inevitable about either the decay of old cities or the fresh-minted decadence of the new unurban urbanization,” Jane Jacobs wrote in her classic on public spaces The Death and Life of Great American Cities, lamenting the “degree of monotony, sterility and vulgarity” of the built world that is given to us by those who feel they know better. The proposal for the church site even extols the provision of a small park for events and picnicking.  Jacobs goes on to write that “decades of preaching, writing and exhorting by experts have gone into convincing us and our legislators that mush like this must be good for us, as long as it comes bedded with grass.”

Will anybody from the developer’s group ever even pass through Sterling to see their blemish on the horizon? Will the return on investment offset the debasement of a small corner of history? Will the investors be satisfied with an architectural race to the bottom?

On Grand Central Station, a preservation win that only came after so many losses, Jackie O wrote:

Is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud monuments, until there will be nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters. Maybe… this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.

In a few years, the church will be gone, ravaged by outsiders and replaced by a demoralizing steel and glass box, just another forgotten piece of Sterling’s history.

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Sterling Plaza revamping on the way?

From Loudoun Times:

Atlantic Realty hoping to revamp Sterling Plaza

Great news!

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Sterling’s role in early 20th-century surveying


Before the widespread use of global navigation systems, accurate surveying was carried out through the systems of traverse, triangulation, and trilateration. The United States Geological Survey regularly published its methodology in the form of the Results of Triangulation and Primary Traverse.  Printed in 1910, this edition of the survey uses points in Loudoun County, and Sterling in particular, to fix the southern half of the Seneca Quadrangle in the Maryland-Virginia Primary Traverse (click image for larger view):


Most interesting is the mention of the traverse station plaque located on a Baptist Church:


I’m guessing this is the old church at the corner of Church and Davis due to the mentions of schoolhouses, crossings, and its location near the railroad. I spent a recent afternoon searching the site for a  slab with the associated tablet, but turned up empty. The Guilford church is owned by a construction company currently and the back portion of the lot is fenced off.

The marker most likely looked something like this:


Is the plaque still there? If not, what happened to it? Wherever the aluminum tablet now resides, it constitutes an important piece of early Sterling history.

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917 Church Road Sale pending

The circa 1900 farmhouse on West Church Road was put up for sale this summer and was recently withdrawn pending an offer. Let’s hope whoever bought it keeps the original structure standing, one of the oldest extant buildings in Sterling. County records show the property having belonged to Billy Shetter, a postal worker in Sterling, who died in the summer of 2012.

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Jack Delano’s photographs of Sterling, May 1940

As a photographer for the Farm Security Administration in the 1940s, Jack Delano produced a wealth of images capturing pre-WWII American life. Included in his thousands of Depression-era images held by the Library of Congress are five photographs that depict life in the Sterling area in May of 1940:

Houses at crossroads, two miles west of Sterling

Houses at crossroads, two miles west of Sterling

Farmhouse and cane near Sterling. Loudoun County, Virginia (larger version)

Farmhouse and cane near Sterling. Loudoun County, Virginia-Reduced

Retired railroad engineer who owns twenty-five acre farm. Raises corn and wheat near Sterling, Virginia

Retired railroad engineer who owns twenty-five acre farm. Raises corn and wheat near Sterling, VirginiaBoys on way home from school. Near Sterling, Virginia

Boys on way home from school. Near Sterling, Virgina

Boy on way home from school. Can contains his lunch. Near Sterling, Virginia

Boy on way home from school. Can contains his lunch. Near Sterling, Virginia

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Early Sterling Inventor: John A. Svedberg

JohnASvedberg - Patent 459528

Patent 459,528 for a ‘Coil Steam-Boiler,’ filed February 2nd, 1889, issued September 15, 1891, by John A. Svedberg of Sterling, Virginia. See full patent here.

Svedberg gives no indication of his profession, but a search in the Official Register of the United States, containing a list of the Officers and Employees in the Civil, Military, and Naval Service on the First of July, 1893 places him in the Bureau of Steam Engineering as a Draftsman, earning roughly $150 a day in 2012 rates:

JohnASvedberg - Official Register - 1893 - 619

Digging deeper into the patent archives shows multiple patents by Svedberg: Improvement in Blowers [123,304]; Improvement in Curtain-Cord Tighteners [184,557]; Improvements in Water-Motors for Light Machinery [184558]; Steam-Boiler [324,430]; Boiler [368,739]; and the aforementioned Coil Steam-Boiler [459,528].

Here he is in the running for a boiler test for the Navy:

Engineer News - Volume XX - 1888 - p283

Examples of his patent work:

JohnASvedberg - 123304Blowers

JohnASvedberg - 368739Boiler

JohnASvedberg - 324430SteamBoiler

With these patents, his movements throughout the region along with naming conventions can be traced. Up through 1885, he lives in Washington, D.C., but by 1887, his residence has become Loudoun County. The final, 1891 coil steam-boiler patent places him definitively in Sterling. Yet in 1893, he’s still working in Washington. Quite a commute before the turn of the century.

An obituary for his infant son appears in the July 4, 1894 edition of The Washington Times, indicating that the family still lived in Sterling:

Svedberg - The Washington Times - July 4 1894 - p3John himself would die in Sterling as well, roughly two and a half years later. From, his tombstone stands in the Old Sterling Cemetery.

“Blessed are the merciful for they shall attain mercy”


Carl Olof’s tombstone stands beside his:


Hedwig Svedberg disappears from the history books following her brief mention in the newspaper. John would have been 56 when Carl Olof died. How much younger was Hedwig? Were there other children? Did she remarry? Without other details of her life, it’s almost impossible to tell.

And what of the other men on John’s patents, the witnesses for each filing? Many of them lived interesting lives, as well, with several working in the same naval engineering field as John. Starting with the earliest filing:

An early resident of Sterling once the town claimed its present name, John A. Svedberg was a Finnish immigrant that worked tirelessly to improve the efficiency of machines in his field. Starting at the age of 34, he produced six patents over 19 years at the Bureau of Steam Engineering, before dying at 58. Despite his near-anonymity now, Svedberg remains one of the most interesting and important characters in the early history of Sterling.

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