As part of the initial planning phase of my Hometown Project, I’ve started doing a bit of Internet research into Centreville. Aside from current statistical information, there isn’t much information available. This leads me to believe that Centreville has never been a particularly important or historic place. I did, however, discover that Centreville made it onto Money Magazine’s list of the best places to live over the last few years (Money Magazine Ranking).
Like any scientific, serious researcher, I consulted Wikipedia to learn more about my town. Wikipedia informed me that Centreville’s population was about 71,000 as of 2010 with a population density of about 6,000 per square mile. Pretty high for a suburb, actually. In 1980, when my parents initially moved to Centreville, the town had a population of 7,473. There were very few subdivisions and as my mom tells it, she loved it because it was all rolling hills and farms, very different from her native Bogotá. Thirty-three years later, the population is almost 10 times bigger and the vast majority of those farms and country roads are long gone, buried underneath half million dollar homes, highways and strip malls.
I have always been fascinated by change – not only personal change, but seeing places change, especially when those changes are so abrupt. When I was a student at Cub Run Elementary School, the minority population consisted of a couple black kids, a couple Asian kids and my sister and I. This usually worked out to one minority per class. Yes, we were trailblazers back in the day. Trailblazers with weird names who came long before the waves of Koreans, Vietnamese, Indians, Salvadorans, Peruvians, Hondurans, Guatemalans, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Nigerians, and East Africans found their way to Northern Virginia. Back then, it was considered a novelty to speak a language other than English and I think not even the teachers knew where Colombia was. I remember feeling so different and recognizing even at six or seven that “we” (my family) and “them” Americans were very different. Being a Perilla in the masses of Williams, Smiths, McCormicks and Browns made me feel special. There wasn’t even such a thing as ESL. If you didn’t speak English, you just kind of dealt with it. I bet that in 1990, when I was in Kindergarten, Centreville was at least 95% white and Cub Run probably at least 90% white. I did a little research on Fairfax County Schools and as of the 2012-2013 school year, 42% of students were white, 23% Hispanic, 19% Asian, 10% Black, 5% Multiracial and 1% other. I wonder if I would have been as shy and self-conscience if I’d gone to school with that kind of diversity.
Centreville itself has changed a lot too. According to Wikipedia, Centreville is now a mere 57% white. Almost 26% of the population is Asian, 7.5% is African-American, 13.4% is Hispanic and about 5% is “other.” There are nearly 20,000 Asians in a town of 70,000. That probably explains why there are two large Korean stores, two Korean bakeries and at least a dozen of Korean restaurants and bars. I checked Tripadvisor to find out what the top restaurants in Centreville are. Number 1 is “Bonn Chon Chicken,” a Korean joint, number 3 is Indian Ocean and number 5 is Matsu, which, in my personal opinion, is the best sushi place in the world. I hope to do an in-depth profile of Matsu in the near future. There is also a Korean strip mall, a Korean spa and several Korean churches. I’ve always been interested in demographic trends and often find myself wondering why Koreans, Indians, Salvadorans and Persians come here specifically? What great promise did Centreville hold in their eyes?
As I mentioned above, there’s really not that much information available about Centreville, at least online. However, one interesting tidbit I stumbled across was that there is an organization entitled “Save Centreville” as well as a Centreville Historic Society. At this point, I’m unsure what they are trying to save, exactly, or if these are two separate organizations or they are one but go by two names. At any rate, I’m trying to join and e-mailed the listed contact, but I haven’t heard back. My ideological problem with places like Centreville is that they could be anywhere. If someone just dropped you off in the middle of “town” (it’s technically a census designated “place” or an unincorporated community – not even a town) you’d have no way of knowing where you are because you could be anywhere, at least if you’re just driving through town. In the Northeast, most towns have a clear downtown area with nice buildings, shops, and restaurants — what you might call soul and charm.. Here, things are just kind of spread out with most commercial activities in the eastern part of the town spread across half a dozen strip malls.
But the Centreville website did lead me to a bit of Centreville history. Apparently, Centreville is the oldest town in Fairfax County and was established in 1792. It was most famous for being home to the Newgate Tavern (established 1769) which doubled as a bar and hotel. In addition, it served as a supply depot during the Civil War and was famous for building the first railroad exclusively for military use (The Centreville Military Railroad). As recently as 1943, the town was so small that every single building was identified on a state map. Land plots were originally divided into 128 half-acre lots and the first schoolhouse was constructed in 1823. Nowadays, “Downtown” Centreville consists of a few buildings off of Route 29 and although there are still a number of country-ish roads and rural-type areas, the overall feel of the town is suburban. However, according to my Internet research, as recently as the 1970s, people from the eastern part of the county used to come down to Centreville for weekend “country drives.” So I guess we were kind of like western Loudoun County back in the day. There is a bit more information on specific Centreville families and historic sites, which I hope to write about in the future, but I have to admit I didn’t discover anything particularly riveting.
As much as I harp on Centreville’s “suburban sprawl” character, I do think it’s a relatively successful suburban development. Most of the town is connected by sidewalks and technically speaking, you could get pretty much anywhere on bike or foot. For a suburb, it’s very diverse and you can find whatever food you’re looking for. If I feel like eating Chocolate Colombiano with Queso Fresco, I need only to take a one mile drive down to Grand Mart (more about this place in a future post). On certain clear, sunny days you get a great view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when driving south on 29, a nice reminder that nature’s not too far away. We have a Trader Joe’s, my favorite grocery store in the world. There are several nice places to go biking and walking, plenty of creeks and wooded paths and we even have a farm that hasn’t been developed. Yes, the farm seems to be more of a tourist attraction nowadays than an actual place where crops are grown, but it’s a farm nonetheless.
For those of you who are into numbers, here are a few other random stats I found: According to City-Data.com, there are 182 grocery stores in Centreville. This seems very dubious to me. Even if they are counting gas station convenience stores as grocery stores, how can there possibly be one grocery store per 400 people? Where are these grocery stores hidden? So I think it’s more like 30 or 40. City-Data also informed me that Centreville has nine schools. I would have thought there were more. Ninety-four percent of residents have high school degrees, 48.9% have college degrees and 15.3% have graduate degrees. One percent of the population is under the poverty level and the unemployment rate is 2.4%. The average household income is about $88,000, which is high compared to the national average, but low compared to the rest of Fairfax County. In addition, 60% of Centrevillians voted for Obama in 2008.
So there you have it…a brief introduction to the wondrous unincorporated community of Centreville.