The Story of My Life - George Nicholas Saegmuller

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Article in the Arlington Sun linking Saegmullers to Arlington's history


The Sun, Arlington, Va., August 30, 1946, Centennial Magazine Section, Page 4

NATIVE OF BAVARIA HELPED OLD ALEXANDRIA COUNTY GET ON ITS FEET FINANCIALLY

SAEGMULLERS CLOSELY LINKED WITH EARLY GROWTH

    When George Nicholas Saegmuller set out from Bavaria in the Spring of 1870, his destination the United States and greater economic opportunities, he little realized he would play the principal part in establishing what was to become Arlington County on a sound financial basis. But he accomplished just that while chairman of the board of supervisors of Alexandria County in the late 1890s.

    In those days Alexandria County's credit was bad. When the board contracted for municipal work of any kind it could not pay in cash immediately, so warrants were issued collectible in several months' time at the soonest. This caused contractors and others doing business with the county to raise prices, realizing they would have to wait to be paid. It was on Mr. Saegmuller's personal guarantee that an Alexandria bank loaned Alexandria County $10,000, thereby making it possible for the county to "get out of the red."

    This is but one of the anecdotes recounted by Mr. Saegmuller's three sons, Fred, George and Lee, as they reminisced in the spacious drawing room of the picturesque Saegmuller home, now occupied by Fred at 5115 Little Falls Road. George lives nearby at 5555 Little Falls Road and Lee, who spends his Winters in Miami, is now at 3015 North Edison Street. The original Saegmuller home was of frame construction and was built long before the Civil War. It burned and was replaced in 1904 by the present stone house with massive Colonial pillars.

Built Court House Here

    When Mr. Saegmuller was chairman of the board of supervisors. Alexandria County and Alexandria City jointly used the Court House in Alexandria and this meant long drives by horse and buggy to each meeting. In an effort to correct this inconvenience, Mr. Saegmuller launched a movement to build a court house in Alexandria County. Despite strong opposition from attorneys who had offices in Alexandria, the present building on Court House Road just south of Wilson Boulevard was erected and dedicated in 1898.

    A plaque just inside the entrance to the old building bears the inscription: "Erected by the Citizens of Alexandria County, Virginia, A. D. 1898, Pursuant to an Act of the Legislature Passed Febuary [sic], 1898." In addition to the chairman there are listed the other supervisors at that time, Fred S. Corbett, W. Duncan and Arch A. Coenner. Joseph H. Hobson was the builder and the site was donated by George P. Robinson and D. K. Trimmer.

    The elder Mr. Saegmuller had a world-wide reputation as a manufacturer of astronomical and surveying instruments, and had his offices in Washington. Educated in Germany, he served his time in the German Army and spent five years in England before sailing on "The City of York" [GNS’s own text says this is the City of Cork. Which is correct? - DFB] and arriving in New York in June, 1870. Coming to Alexandria County, he was dubbed "The Flying Dutchman" along the old Canal Road, because he drove such fast and beautiful horses daily from his farm via Chain Bridge to Georgetown. He used Chain Bridge, according to his sons, because the old Aqueduct Bridge was a toll bridge.

    The Saegmuller connection with what became Arlington really dates beyond George Saegmuller to Gilbert Vandenbergh and his wife, Sarah, whose daughter, Maria Jane, George Saegmuller married. He later bought the Vandenbergh home. Gilbert Vandenbergh, a decendent [sic] of the Holland Dutch who first came to New Amsterdam, (N. Y.) settled on a farm in Wisconsin and came to Alexandria County to visit his brother-in-law, Gilbert Vanderwerken. He was delighted with the beautiful countryside in Northern Virginia and traded his farm in Wisconsin for the orginal 70 acres of what is now the Saegmuller farm of about 240 acres.

    Fred, George and Lee Saegmuller vividly recalled how as boys they hunted for arrow heads in the fields and for Civil War bullets which they used as sinkers for their fishing lines. They recalled the legend that the Pamunkey Indian tribes inhabited the greater part of Northern Virginia, but it was equally fascinating to them as youngsters to find buttons and buckles from the uniforms of Confederate and Union soldiers who waged battle around the old house.

Advanced Money for School

    The boys spent their Summers here and their Winters at the family's town house in Washington. They were educated in the Washington public schools and later Lee went to Germany to study, Fred to the University of Virginia and Georgia Tech, and George to George Washington University and then to Jena, Germany, for his Ph.D.

    The elder Saegmuller was interested in providing educational opportunities for the children of that section of the county, so he advanced the money for the original Saegmuller School which has only recently been replaced by the James Madison School at 3829 North Stafford Street. Before that the only school in the locality was the old Carne School, now known as the John Marshall School, at Glebe Road and North 25th Street.

    As board chairman, George Saegmuller worked tirelessly for better roads, and he paid for much of this construction as well as being instrumental in re-routing roads to improve transportation. His policy was to develop thoroughfares first and then devote what funds remained to connecting roads. This man, who worked for the people much as Abraham Lincoln did, shared Lincoln's birthday and died at the exact age of 87 on February 12, 1934.

    Reserve Hill on which the Saegmuller farm stands and from which it takes its name was so-called because the Reserves of the Union Army were stationed there during the Civil War. The adjacent Vanderwerken farm was a hospital site.

    What is now Arlington was divided as to its Northern and Southern sentiment during the civil strife, and the Vandenberghs were Federalists. Their house was shelled by the Confederate Army and the family hid in the nearby woods when the hostile soldiers came. Though Union soldiers tore boards from the house to build shelters, nothing was ever disturbed by the Confederates, as valuables were hidden and it was presumed any food found would be poisoned. The gorgeous oak trees around the house were spared, while those on the opposite ridge were cut down as material for forts.

First Home With Running Water

    Another adjoining farm belonged to the Minors, Southern sympathizers, who, when war was declared left for their former home in Southern Virginia. It seems they had a number of bushes on their grounds that Sarah Vandenbergh had always admired, so off she went across the fields and brought back a snowball, firebush and spirea, all of which are growing today on the Saegmuller grounds.

    The huge stone barn on the Saegmuller farm was built in 1882 from stones gathered in the fields and the present 21-room house also was built from stones on the property. The original house, which Mr. Saegmuller remodeled following its purchase from his in-laws, was the first in Alexandria County to have running water, and this was arranged with a hydraulic ram. A big water tower provided a constant supply of spring water.

    And, about the water tower, there hangs a tale—the story of a young man lonely for his homeland. Born near Nuernberg [sic], Germany, and educated there, George Saegmuller could never quite forget its massive moat and walls, with towers at regular intervals. And so on his farm in Virginia he duplicated one of the towers, with walls more than three feet thick and used it for water storage with laundry rooms on the first floor.

    The Saegmuller farm also boasts the second mile-stone marking the original boundary of the District of Columbia and the present boundary of Arlington County. There is a carriage house, a stone smoke house, and the brothers can point out the site where the old ice house stood.


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