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History of Reston

In the beginning it was a large parcel of land, well-watered and forested, in the Northern Virginia Piedmont. It was a place waiting to become the most remarkable community of its region. Only imagination, experienced judgment and funding were needed to realize this potential. The story of Reston’s growth becomes more fascinating as it unfolds.

Lake Thoreu

Over a period of approximately 70 years, several attempts were made to create the place that is today a large, self-sufficient community spread over more than 7,000 acres. First a doctor from Philadelphia tried to establish the Town of Wiehle here in the 1890s. It turned out that he was ahead of his time. Then two brothers from Kentucky, cattle raisers and distillers, drew up a town master plan in the 1950s. Too many problems arose and frustrated their efforts. Their successor, a Realtor and builder of large shopping centers from New York City, proved to be under capitalized and was followed by two major oil companies eager to try their hand at land development.

Meanwhile, the idea of community building was experiencing an evolution. The concept of “new towns” emerged in western England and Scandinavia in response to the demands of modern living. The idea was simple and sound: a self sufficient urban development, taking the form of a small-to-medium size city with a broad range of housing and planned commercial, industrial, educational and recreational facilities. It was a place where urban landscape in a rural setting could offer a quality of life, amenity and individual dignity.

It was Robert E. Simon, Jr., who saw this land in 1961, fell in love with it, and succeeded in gathering the essential elements needed to begin the process of bringing the new town concept to Northern Virginia. The new town which resulted was named “Reston”, using the founder’s initials and the English suffix for town. In its 11.5 square mile space, over 58,000 residents live, work, play and enjoy Reston as their home.

Bob Simon engaged noted planners and architects to prepare a grand design for the development of his land and a talented environmentalist to plan for the management of open space. He persuaded the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to pass an ordinance making possible the clustering of housing closely together so that open space with fields and trees could serve as large areas of commonly held land to improve the physical appearance and the environmental quality of the community. Natural streams were dammed to form lakes, and village centers were designed to provide shopping facilities and other services. Lake Anne Village Center with its tall apartment building, Heron House, and innovative townhouses surrounding the lake like a European coastal village, became an internationally recognized symbol of this growing American New Town.

Providing the services of roads, streets, sewer, water, shopping centers, parklands and recreational facilities, and working with county officials to provide schools, libraries, and other necessities became too great a burden for one man’s bank account. One of his principal investors, Gulf Oil, stepped in to save the project from bankruptcy in 1967. It is to their lasting credit that Gulf Reston officials continued development of the New Town and for more than ten years encouraged a diversity in housing sizes, styles, and prices. The company actively sought businesses and organizations that would establish themselves in Reston and thus provide opportunities for residents to work near the places where they lived.

Lake Anne

Civic, cultural, sports, and religious organizations were formed and flourished. A citizens’ effort of major significance was the building of the Reston Community Center at Hunters Woods Village. It required seven years of planning and design to provide space for programming which would appeal to a wide range of community interests. Close cooperation with Fairfax County officials was needed to establish an administrative board and a special taxing district to fund the ambitious plan.

When the Mobil Corporation bought the remaining undeveloped land from Gulf Reston in 1978, Reston Land Corporation was formed as a subsidiary. The new developer also followed Simon’s master plan for the development of the New Town. Long-planned projects came into being; additional schools and parks, a regional county branch library building, the Reston Hospital Center, a shelter for the homeless, a county magisterial district office building, and the Cameron Glen nursing center for the elderly. High technology firms found campus-like office or R&D park designs desirable and the location close to Washington a strong factor in the decision to build or lease facilities in Reston. The business community banded together in 1984 and established the Reston Board of Commerce, now consisting of some eight hundred members working to strengthen effectiveness and ties between business and the community.

By the end of 1988, over 1,400 companies had established themselves in Reston, employing 31,000 people, more than an average of one and one-half jobs per household. High technology firms like Sperry were followed by others, especially after the Dulles Toll Road opened in 1984, shortening the driving time to Tysons Corner and Washington. Time and again, company officials spoke of the community design, housing, amenities, and the talented work force as being major factors in their decisions to settle their businesses in Reston. The overwhelming commitment of numerous businesses to Reston, starting in the early years with USGS, has provided the broad employment base so vital to the new town concept.

Another key component in Bob Simon’s original master plan for Reston was the heart of this urban landscape in a rural setting. The 20 acre first phase of Reston Town Center was dedicated in October 1990, developed by a new corporation, Reston Town Center Phase I Associates, in cooperation with Boston based Himmel/MKDG. This first unit of a larger plan included 220,000 square feet of retail space, 290,000 square feet of office buildings and professional space, the 514 room Hyatt Regency Hotel and an 11 screen movie theater. A large fountain topped with a distinctive statue of Mercury became the Center’s focal point.


Across Market Street from the Mercury Fountain, a barrel-vaulted glass roofed Pavilion was built in 1993 over an ice skating rink used during winter months. For the rest of the year it is a large, open air building for concerts, festivals, seasonal celebrations, and children’s events.

The planning and development of Reston have surpassed all expectations as has the phenomenally successful Reston Town Center. In 1996, the total number of visits to the Town Center for all purposes during the year was more than 5 million. It has become the “downtown” for western Fairfax County and eastern Loudoun County.

Nineteen ninety-seven was a year of change for Reston. In addition to new leadership for Reston Community Center, Reston Interfaith and Reston Community Hospital, Mobil Land Development Corporation sold its real estate holdings in Reston. Westbrook Partners purchased all undeveloped land in Reston, including Reston Town Center. Equity Office purchased Reston Town Center, and Blackstone obtained the Hyatt Regency Reston. Speculative office buildings are again on the horizon and more than 1,000 townhomes and condos are being developed in Reston Town Center.

Reston will continue to attract national and worldwide recognition and awards as it has from the beginning. The outpouring of creative energy which has resulted in its singular success is combined with the rich legacy of its past, the vitality of its people and the success of its business community to make the promise of its future a bright one.

Courtesy of the Reston Association.

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