Saturday, January 30, 2010

How did NOVA become redneck? Pt. 2

The DC area was a sleepy backwater town untl the thirties. During the mid-1800s the city experienced an influx of immigrants, mostly Irish. The area didn't experience the turn of the century immigration like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. However, southerners did flock to the city starting in the thirties. This migration was a gush at first and then became a trickle until it stopped in the early seventies. The large numbers of "hillbillies" turned the area's nightclubs into honky tonks and the area came to have a much more southern feel.

DC and surrounding areas had significant (possibly majority) southern sentiments during the civil war, so the addition of southen migrants just added to the southerness of the city. The migrants settled in Southeast DC, Prince Georges County, and Northern Virginia, but grappled with huge housing shortages. This led to enormous, almost ramshackle, housing developments populated almot exclusively by southern whites. For example, Pimmit Hills in Tysons is a huge neighborhood of homes that look identical and are quite small. Way back the legend told that the Fairfax police were too afraid to go into the neighborhood so it was some kind of hillbilly free for all. I doubt that was really the case.

Nonetheless, these newcomers wanted nightclubs to themselves and they got their wish. Across the area, including NOVA, there were nightclubs hosting legendary country artists playing to their kin folk. This was how the DC area was until things began to shift in the nineties. The redneck nature of the area disappeared almost overnight and has been washed from the area as if it were never there.

How did NOVA become redneck?

Sitting in Arlington now, it's hard to believe how redneck the DC area used to be. DC has always been a magnet for people looking for better opportunities. Economic downturns are always blunted by government spending. Nowadays, folks come here to work for government contractors, but back in the middle of last century there were a ton of unskilled jobs available and they were primarily related to the federal government.

1950 marked the first census in which a majority of Americans lived in metropolitan areas. The DC area grew during this time from the expansion of the government during the depression and World War II. By 1960 DC joined the top ten metropolitan areas in population. Looking at the population numbers show the explosive growth: Arlington grew from 6430 in 1900 to 135,449 in 1950; Fairfax grew from 18,850 in 1900 to 40,929 in 1950; and Alexandria grew from 14,520 in 1900 to 61,787 in 1950. Meanwhile, Appalachia was experiencing difficult economic times and the people living in that region began migrating to find better jobs. In some cases they ended up as coal miners, but many came to cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and DC. In fact DC was the second largest recipient of Appalachian people. The folks that came were among the poorest in the nation and often came to cities directly competing with African Americans and immigrants for jobs.

These folks were called hillbillies back then and reports show they did not fit into their new communities. People wrote about them being disorderly, clannish, untamed, with an affinity for alcohol and violence. We all know when people arrive in large numbers to a new area, these reports are typical and probably overblown.

The wonderful thing they brought to DC was their music and made the DC area the major hub for Appalachian music which was evolving into Bluegrass and Country. Thank god for that.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Where did the Pagans start?

I've been doing a bit of research about the Pagans Motorcycle Club; trying to figure out their origens. All over the internet folks claim they were started by Lou Dobkin in 1959 in Prince Georges County, but I don't agree with this.

In Wikipedia comments, Lou Dobkin's wife (or someone who claims to be) says he was born in 1943 and the club was started in 1963. Another commenter claim the club originated in Vienna. There is some other evidence about their origins. The first mention of the Pagans is from a Washingon Post article in 1965 about Ray Cockerille getting in a dustup at a Centreville dance hall and Cockerille was from Vienna. Another Post article from 1966 claims they were based in White Oak, MD (in Montgomery County). In other articles I've read from the mid sixties, they seem to have a heavy Virginia membership. I believe they started in 1963 in Virginia and the belief that they started in PG is because the first run-ins with police was at the races in Upper Marlboro.

Update: John Hall's book about The Pagans asserts they started in Fruitland, MD, which is south of Salisbury. I think that is highly unlikely.

Country Gentelmen live in Falls Church

A recording from 1961.

Hillbilly Heaven

I vaguely remember Hillbilly Heaven on Rte. 1 in the Lorton area as a place that seemed oddly out of place in the eighties. The rednecks were slowly losing their grip on the region, but here was their heaven. I guess the name was a hint about their fate. HH was a nightclub was owned by Earl Dixon in 70s and 80s that was one of the last bastions of the old times. Hillbilly Heaven hosted Bill Haley, Conway Twitty and other country singers, but the show I would have killed to see was Mike Johnson, the "No. 1 Black Yodeler". Anyways, the place had a reputation for hard drinking, violence, and other nefarious activities.

An interesting side note is Earl Dixon's daughter is the actress Donna Dixon.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Site of Hillbilly Heaven in Lorton

This is the site of the famous honky tonk in Lorton. All that's left is a sign with 'H H' on it.

Old photos of Pagans MC

This flickr site has some great old photos from the 60s. Most of them look like they are from the NJ/PA area.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Article on Speedy Tolliver

An Arlington resident and fiddle legend, Speedy Tolliver is featured in this Connection article.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Roots of Country Music

While country music was born in the hills of Southwest Virginia, Arlington played a critical role in the development of the country music industry.

The radio station WARL was located on Lee Hwy between Harrison and George Mason. WARL had a show called "Town and Country Time" that supposedly gave birth to the term country and Patsy Cline became famour from her live performances on the show. Most recently the building served as a Whitman-Walker clinic, but you can still see the huge (still in use) radio tower behind the building.

I came across some interesting bit of information from a Washington Post article from August 19, 1953 about WARL. On Saturdays during the summer of '53, the station held "lawn parties" in which the live show moved to the lawn of the station. I searched old Billboard magazines and found the performances contined into the summers of '54 and '55. During the summer of '54 Jimmy Dean, Roy Clark, and Patsy Cline performed at the Saturday evening show.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pagans MC members linked to double murder in 1970

I've expanded and updated this article

Growing up in NOVA, you knew about the Pagans. NOVA was their birthplace and the source of the bulk of their original members. They established themselves as the toughest biker gang in the area during the late 60s and early 70s. By 1970, they had fired a hundred shots at a rival gang in the Safeway parking lot at Lee Hwy and Harrison St. in Arlington; had participated in a huge brawl with police in Newark; and were known as a bunch of serious roughnecks.

One thing The Pagans didn't like was people forming independent biker gangs and would attempt to intimidate the rival gang into joining The Pagans or disappearing. This was taken to a whole new level in 1970. Some guys in Alexandria formed a biker gang called The Saints and immediately became a rival for The Pagans. Two of these guys were Lewis Hartless and Richard Newland. Newland lived at 330 N. Columbus St. in Alexandria and Hartless also lived in Alexandria. Both had roots in Roanoke. Some kind of dispute broke out near Newland's home that resulted in Hartless firing a gun and wounding a Pagan.

The Pagans got their revenge on March 26. They abducted Newland at gunpoint in downtown Alexandria and broke into Hartless' motel room on Rte. 1 in Alexandria. They drove them to their headquarters at the home of Richard Allen Scarborough of 2145Pimmit Drive in the Pimmit Hills neighborhood near Tysons Corner. Once inside the house the Pagans tortured Hartless and Newland for several hours. Then they drove them to the intersection of Rte. 7 and Lewinsville Rd. where they stabbed and shot Hartless and Newland.

Police managed to get one of the Pagans to talk and charged ten of them. Alexander "Head" Akers and Bradley "Lucifer" Hinckley were eventually convicted for murder and sent to prison.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I moved to Northern Virginia in the late 70s from Prince Georges County. My neighborhood felt like the end of the line. If you continued west through Burke, the roads became winding country roads with signs of the old south all around. I was part of the vanguard of inner suburbanites pushing sprawling suburbs outside the beltway and encroaching on a land long occupied by farmers. The result was rednecks and government workers coexisting to create a community that had shopping malls and pool halls next to each other.

I moved the Burke as a youngster and I remember a house down the road that supposedly housed the local Pagans MC chapter right next to the local library branch. Muscle cars pulling up next to Mercedes on Burke Lake Rd. It was a weird world between the redneck past and yuppy future.

The housing boom killed most of this in Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax. Any piece of land was snapped up by the well off and blue collar folks sold their inflated property or were priced out. They headed south and west to places like Stafford and West Virginia.

I've found myself reminiscing about that lost past so I hope to find those lost fragments of the past. I hope to find the real Northern Virginia.