History of the Land & People of Tinner Hill

History of the Land

In the late 1800’s Joseph and Mary Tinner bought land in Falls Church. The land has been know as Tinner Hill every since. Tinner Hill is a rise of land on the south-central border of the City of Falls Church with Fairfax County. The top of the hill is approximately 320 feet above sea level, while the western base of the hill is approximately 280 feet above sea level. The hill is bordered by Tripps Run to the west. Tripps Run is an open perennial stream, channelized with cement and large stone. To the east, it is bordered by Henderson Branch of Tripps Run, now buried in a stormdrain pipe. To the south, it is bordered by the Church Branch of Tripps Run, which is an open stream, surrounded by woods. To the west, is Prout Hill (460’ above sea level). To the north is Berryman Hill (320’ above sea level and topped by development). To the east is Baptist Hill.

For thousands of years, an Algonquin trail passed by Tinner Hill, connecting the western mountains to the Potomac River (near the Chain Bridge). A crossroads of the two major trading trails was located about 1.4 mile to the northeast (now site of Bowl America on North Maple Avenue and Annandale Road).

Traders from many tribes passed by the hill. Local tribes quarried the pink granite (trondhjemite) from the quarry at the western base of the hill along Tripps Run.


About E.B. Henderson


Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson is credited for being the principle organizer of the first rural branch of the N.A.A.C.P. He devoted his entire adult life to the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans.

Henderson's family line includes enslaved Africans from the Fitzhugh and Williamsburg plantations, Algonquians descending from Chief Mimetou and Chief Logan of Williamsburg, and a Portuguese soldier named Ridogruiz in the Confederate army.

Henderson spent most of his childhood living in an integrated neighborhood where some of his playmates were Al Jolson and Kate Smith. He spent his summers in Falls Church, where his grandmother owned a general store and a small farm. During the school year, he spent many days after school visiting and watching Congress in action and studying at the Library of Congress. It was there where he learned at an early age about the issues of the day, including civil rights. It was during his summers in Falls Church where he learned to work hard and where he learned some of the serious differences between life in a cosmopolitan City and a rural southern town.

In 1904, while teaching during the day at Bowen Elementary School, in Washington, D.C. he attended Howard University Medical School at night to become a physician. The University dropped its night school program and Henderson was no longer able to attend. That summer and for the following two summers, he attended summer school at Harvard University and became the first African-American male to become certified to teach Physical Education in public schools. Coming down from Harvard, Henderson introduced basketball (1907) to African-Americans in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps Henderson's first foray into fighting for equal civil rights was in the field of athletics, which was his profession. From 1904 until his death in 1977, Henderson was perhaps the nation's leading figure during the 20th century in establishing equal rights and opportunities for Black athletes.

In 1906, Henderson organized and, with five others, personally financed the Interscholastic Athletic Association for black schools. Henderson was also captain and star player of the Twelfth Street YMCA, known to this day as the legendary Washington 12th Streeters for further information on this team). They went undefeated in 1909 and 1910 and captured the national championship among black basketball teams. Henderson also initiated the Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States, the Public School Athletic League, and the Eastern Board of Officials for Black Athletics. Each of these organizations was the initial organizing bodies for African-American sports.

Henderson devoted his professional career to the promotion of athletics in the African-American community. He believed that through the disciple of athletics that African-Americans could break down the barriers of intolerance. Many people attribute the rise of organized African-American sports during the 20th century to the work of E.B. Henderson. Read Bob Kuska's Hot Potato by University of Virginia Press.

Henderson's first foray into the legal aspect of civil rights came right after he moved to Falls Church. His father was forcibly removed from a railroad car in Falls Church bound for D.C. by a white segregationist who wanted his seat. Henderson secured the legal services of Jacob DuPutron, a prominent white Falls Church lawyer, who had been present during the expulsionHenderson and DuPutron successfully won the court case. Later, DuPutron was hung in effigy from a light pole in East Falls Church.

Perhaps the defining moment in Henderson’s life-long civil rights career was the response and organization of the first rural branch of the N.A.A.C.P. branch in the United States. Ultimately winning that case, Henderson devoted his time off work to promoting the work of the N.A.A.C.P. both locally in Falls Church, in surrounding rural Northern Virginia, Washington, D.C. and ultimately as state President of the Association. His work in equal access for African-Americans in transportation, athletics, education, and all aspects of the social forum is well documented in many publications.

He is best known for his letters-to-the-editor. In his lifetime he had over 3,000 letters to the editor published. The Washington Post claimed that he was the most published letter writer in their history. Most of his letters considered the civil rights issues as they related to African-Americans. His tone was always dignified, but forceful. Before civil rights became a popular movement, Dr. Henderson was the voice for change for African-Americans in the entire metropolitan region. His letters were also published in newspapers throughout the eastern United States. To honor his work and achievements in this area and to inspire youth to follow this same path, the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation, along with the Washington Post and Diener and Associates, CPAs, sponsor the annual E. B. Henderson, "Dear Editor" Contest for high school students in Northern Virginia.

Henderson is known as the "Grandfather of Black Sport History." In 1910, he published the first in a series of four books titled: "Official Handbook: Inter-Scholastic Athletic Association of Middle Atlantic States" which describe athletic organization within the segregated African-American community. His 1939 book "The Negro in Sports" was the first compendium ever written about African-American athletics and still stands as the basis for all research in the field. The book was commission by Carter G. Woodson. His second edition, published in 1949, appeared along with a growing national interest in the subject, due to the beginnings of integration of professional sports. In 1968, he wrote "The Black Athlete: Emergence and Arrival." In addition, he wrote many publications that are all documented by Henderson scholar David Wiggins. The value of these books to the African-American community at the time can not be underestimated. The books and publications provided a sense of pride and academic distinction that had previously been missing. In 1974, Henderson was inducted as a charter member into the Black Athletes Hall of Fame, along with Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, Henry Aaron and Satchel Paige.

Henderson fought for civil rights on many other fronts. He was instrumental in integrating the entertainment business in Washington, D.C., particularly the Uline Arena in 1944. He also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on the famous Marian Anderson performance that was banned at the D.A.R. Auditorium and ended at the Lincoln Memorial. In 1937, Henderson began a 10 year battle to integrate the Golden Glove Boxing Tournament. By 1947, Henderson pressured the Washington Post to stop sponsoring the event as a segregated event. When the Post agreed, integration occurred.

In Falls Church, local police brutality in the African-American community was a concern for Henderson. By fighting such injustices on a local level, he again put his own safety on the line.

His letter writing on civil rights continued up to his dying day of February 3, 1977 at the age of 93.

His work has been honored and written about by many. In 1982, Fairfax County commmorated the Providence Recreation Center in his name. In 1993, the City of Falls Church designated his home as a historic resource. In 1999, a plaque honoring his achievements was placed at the Tinner Hill arch. In 2000, the Falls Church Community Center gym was commemorated in his name.

E.B. Henderson Founded the Eastern Board of Officials Y. M. C. A. 12th Streeters (1910-1911 Colored World Basketball Champions) He petitioned Howard University to take the YMCA 12th Streeters, as Howard’s, first varsity Basketball Team. Howard accepted the team, that went on to win the Colored World Basketball Championship!

About Joseph Tinner

Joseph Tinner was the first president of the first rural branch of the NAACP in the United States. The first meeting of that branch was held in his home on Tinner Hill.

Tinner was a highly-skilled stone mason, who lived with a large extended family on the hill his parents purchased and subdivided for their family. Each child of Charles and Mary Tinner built their own house on the hill just below the parents home. Joseph and most of his brothers cut pink granite out of their quarry at the bottom of the hill and built many buildings, monuments, and stone foundations of wooden building in the Falls Church area. Their artistic specialty was the arch. Joseph B. Tinner was especially known throughout the area as the most respected and sought-after stonemason in the region. While many of his monuments and buildings were built to last hundreds of years, they were all destroyed, mostly in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s and replaced with inferior, poorly built structures, designed to last only a few decades. All that remains of his life as stonemason are the foundations of many elegant homes, a few fireplaces and chimneys and some pictures of his magnificent monuments.

Tinner was a deeply religious man (Methodist), strong, and bore a confidence that came from a supportive extended family. He was widely recognized as a leader of people and a powerful speaker. It was said that whenever he spoke, people stopped to listen.

His beliefs on civil rights and his conviction about fairness and equality were well-known. In 1915, when the Falls Church Town Council voted to segregate the area and restrict land-ownership rights of African-Americans, Mr. Tinner was immediately elected as the leader of the group to respond. Minutes of the first and ensuing meetings indicate that Tinner tirelessly spoke before Council, church groups, and other organizations throughout Northern Virginia. He was both the voice and the "presence" for the rights of African-Americans. His leadership in civil rights continued up to his early death in 1928.

Little is know of this great man who stepped forward and made himself the target for white supremacists from both the Ku Klux Klan and the ruling Town Council. It is a goal of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation to seek further information.

Joseph Tinner has been honored by the Fairfax Branch of the NAACP and a plaque honoring him and his work sits at the base of the Tinner Hill Monument.

About Mary Ellen Henderson

Mary Ellen Meriwether was born on September 18, 1885 in Washington, DC. Her mother, Mary Louise Robinson Meriwether, taught High School and her father James Henry Meriwether, practiced law and had a business building houses. Mary Ellen’s mother’s family came from Wellington, Ohio which was noted for its abolitionist.

The family owned several business enterprises in the heart of town including a bakery and barbershop. Her mother Mary Louise Robinson graduated from Oberlin College in 1870. Her mother was one of the first African American women to graduate from a University in America. Mary Ellen’s father was born in Kentucky. His father sent him to Canada for his early education. He later graduated from the Howard University School of Law. He practiced law, was a builder and worked for the internal revenue. Mary Ellen had three sisters and one brother, they lived in a large home in Washington that their father built. The family was attended the 15th Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Her brother, Robert, became a lawyer like their father. Her sisters, Agnes, Sarah and Edith became teachers. Her sister Edith, married, David Washington, the son of Booker T. Washington. One of her sisters, Sarah, was one of the founders of a national public service sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Mary Ellen, was called Nellie by her family and friends and later “Miss Nellie” by her students. She attended the M Street High School, in Washington, DC, the first high school for African Americans. In her youth, Mary Ellen spent summers at Highland Beach, MD. She enjoyed swimming in the bay, rowing in the creek, socializing, camping and having parties with her friends and family. She played the piano and sang in the church choir. Her favorite color was purple and she enjoyed going to the theater and loved opera and classical music. She also liked to travel and in her youth visited Atlantic City with her family often, as well as other nearby places. As an adult she traveled all over the world. After graduating from high school she attended Minor Teachers College. This was the school that trained African American teachers.

She graduated college in 1905, the third top student in a class of 40. She met Edwin B. Henderson while attending college. They would study together and go to plays and listen to music and spend time with friends together. After her graduation, she began teaching in the public schools of Washington. She married Edwin B. Henderson on December 24, 1910. They were married for 66 years. Mary Ellen had to resign from teaching when she married because the school system did not allow married women to teach school. The couple moved to Falls Church and lived with Edwin’s parents. In 1911 they bought an acre of land and built a home. They raised chickens, cows horses and grew vegetables. She and her husband had two sons, Edwin Meriwether born in 1912 and James Henry Meriwether born in 1917. Edwin, the oldest, became a dentist. Their second son, James became a scientist, and taught at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Mary Ellen, agreed to reopen the Falls Church “colored school” which had been closed because there was no teacher. At the James Lee School Mary Ellen taught grades four through seven in one room.

For thirty two years she taught and served as principal at the “Colored School.” The two room frame school, was overcrowded, had no indoor plumbing, running water, central heat, or janitorial services. They used cast off books and had few supplies. In spite of those conditions Miss Nellie, as she was called by her students, gave her students an excellent education. After more than twenty years of lobbying the school board for a new building, she completed a groundbreaking study in 1936, which high lighted the disparity between black and white schools. She mobilized an inter-racial group of supporters and finally was able to convince the school administration to build a new school for African American students. Her study became the basis for legal redress against inequality in the public schools throughout the state. A political activist, she was the first African American to join the Falls Church, VA. League of Women Voters, a founding member of the Women’s Democratic Club, volunteered for thirty years with the Girl Scouts, and was a dedicated community volunteer. She devoted her life to gaining access to quality education and facilities for African American children and civil rights for all.

In 1912, the Virginia Legislature authorized cities and towns to adopt ordinances that would provide for the segregation of the races and in January 1915, the town of Falls Church proposed to implement that law. This would have confined African Americans to a small section of town, even though they lived beside white neighbors at the time. Mary Ellen joined her husband in forming a group called the Colored Citizens’ Protective League (CCPL) to protest this action. The town council eventually retracted the ordinance. The work of the CCPL continued.

The organization became a chapter of the NAACP, the first rural chapter in the nation. She worked tirelessly with the NAACP. She was the leader each year in the NAACP membership enrollment program of the Falls Church Branch. She played a role in not only the local chapter of the NAACP but was active in the regional and national activities of the NAACP as well.

Ms. Henderson’s contributions and accomplishments have not been widely recognized. Ms. Henderson has only recently begun to be recognized for her many outstanding accomplishments. To honor this great woman, the school board for the City of Falls Church decided to name its new middle school for Mary Ellen Henderson. The school opened this Fall and is a fitting tribute to her impact on the students of yesterday as well as today. Her poignant story demonstrates how one person can make a difference in the lives of young people.

About Viola Hudson

They were one of the many families that moved to Falls Church in search for better economic and education opportunities. Viola Hudson later became a member of the civic organization that was working to improve the services to the James Lee community.

Before the middle of the 20th century, the U.S. Postal Service did not deliver mail to the Southgate neighborhood. Viola, a committed resident, approached the Post Office and followed the necessary procedures that brought this service to her community.

About The Lee Family

The Lee brothers were born free in Facquier County. Their grandmother, Lucy, and mother, Betsy. were also born free in Facquier County. James was born in 1840 and Charles was born in 1838. They owned land in the same area. James and Charles Lee bought their property sometime between 1867 and 1868 from John S. Crocker; a former general who purchased depreciated property with the intention of re-selling it to freedman. James Lee was also a member and trustee of the Second Baptist Church. The contributions of this family to the community go beyond the work performed for the church. Russell Lee, one of James descendants, donated the land inherited from his family for the construction of the James Lee Elementary. The James Lee community, named after this early landowner and committed citizen, was formed by three historical black neighborhoods: Tinner Hill, Baptist Hill, and Southgate Subdivision. The first two were neighborhoods that grew around the land purchased by the Tinner and Lee families. The Southgate Subdivision was part of the land purchased by M. E. Church, a prominent white real estate developer of the time. The neighborhood had nine acres which were divided in 123 lots by its previous owner, Crocker. One of the first families to own land in this neighborhood was the Brice family (Steadman 1995).

About The Foote Family

The Foote family has also made several contributions to the development of the community. Mr. Frederick Forrest Foote was a committed resident, a longtime shoemaker and a business man. He owned a large grocery store in Falls Church. His son, Frederick Foote Jr., served as a member of the Town Council until his death in 1889. Fred Foote Jr. (the third of that name) attended the Falls Church Colored School where he excelled in his studies and became very keen for scientific inventions. In his adulthood, he became a supporter of civil rights and a member of the NAACP. His sister, Constance Foote, was an artist whose “paintings of Falls Church of other days show remarkable accuracy” (Steadman 1995, 209-210). No information has been found on Constance or her work. Certainly, this resource would have been beneficial to this study.

About Harriet Brice

Harriet Brice was a free women of color, who lived and owned land in Falls Church at the start of the civil war. Her husband, George was enslaved and worked in Falls Church. George Brice escaped slavery and served in the United Stated Colored Troops. The couple reunited after the war and raised their family in Falls Church. Their descendents still live in Falls Church and the area and are contributing members of the community.

In 1867, Harriet Brice, Jacob Ross and three trustees (Robert Gunnel, George Rumbles and Sandy Parker) secured a deed for the land where the first Galloway Methodist Church and cemetery would be built. In exchange for her commitment and work on behalf of the church, Harriet Brice received a parcel on the church’s graveyard to be used by her family. (Korzeniewski 1991, 6). The timber for the construction of the church was donated by the Dulany family and hewn by Reverend Wastkins and members of the community. Later, a descendant of the Brice family, Mrs. Bertie Honesty, donated land for a Parish House.

About John Jackson (1924-2002)

Winner of a National Heritage Fellowship, John Jackson was one of Virginia's pre- eminent singer-guitarists. With his Piedmont blues style of guitar and banjo playing and husky, high baritone voice, John brought blues, ballads, and old country songs from his native Blue Ridge Mountains to over 60 nations. From the rich and famous, to the poor and invisible, he was known for being a simple man whose artistic genius was only surpassed by the depth and richness of his kind heart. Jackson was a long time member of the NAACP and a dear friend and supporter of Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation. Jackson performed the last concert of his life for Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation on New Years Eve at their Watchnight program, Dec. 31, 2001. He passed away twenty days later on January 20, 2002. Tinner Hill has a collection of John’s personal papers, memorabilia donated by his long time manager Trish Byerly.

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