Visiting Springfield

Visiting Springfield

Welcome to Springfield Virginia, just another average city in America. So average in fact that Springfield Virginia is just one out of 35 Springfields across the United States. I created this page simply because this is my hometown and I thought it might be interesting to point out all the adventures I had here growing up. Plus this page gives my website the opportunity to show a local’s perspective on a random city in America. When I first decided to photograph my hometown I actually felt it would be difficult to get a significant amount of content since there wasn’t anything Springfield was famous for. As I began exploring, the things I remembered surprised me, and the things I had never known about impressed me. Initially I expected to end up showing a few photos of typical neighborhoods and chain stores. Instead though, by becoming a traveler in my own city I rediscovered an 18th century graveyard, I learned that a bridge I had passed under countless times in my life had actually been burned down by Confederate soldiers, and I even found out that two of the 9/11 hijackers received their identification cards here.
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As I understood it when I was young, the only thing Springfield really contributed to the local area was Springfield Mall. The mall wasn’t by any means spectacular or fancy, but it was fairly large and crowded back in its prime and was a reasonable place to go when you had to get some shopping done or wanted to see a new movie. As a young teenager I often crossed a foot bridge that went over I-95 and came here to roam the hallways, get lunch or dinner, see a movie, and at one point even short term employment at a watch store by an Iranian man who claimed capable of superhuman feats.

Springfield Mall’s highlight was probably in the mid 1980s when Princess Diane came to visit and the event was widely publicized. The only other significant event at this mall was when two of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their IDs here at the DMV, the same IDs they later used to board planes on the September 11 attacks in 2001. Springfield Mall was never a classy place but it was usually a very busy place. Hallways were packed, it was often difficult to find seating in the food court, they had a fair share of interesting stores and even had indoor laser tag at one point!

The mall’s decline began in 2006 when it was bought by another company which intended to do some serious remodeling. About a year or two later business owners were slowly being relocated in order to begin construction. In 2008 Springfield Mall nearly became fatally wounded by the great recession which dropped real estate prices around the country by double digits. The company who bought the mall ended up owning an enormous piece of property that was now only worth a fraction of what they had paid for. They strategically defaulted on the loan and then rebought the mall again for a much cheaper price in 2011. During the years from 2006 to 2011 though, Springfield mall continued to have business owners moving out with no one else moving in. Most of the commercial real estate was abandoned, hallways were often empty, and for whatever reason gangs of bored kids decided to hang out in the area and crime increased.

The mall went from an icon of Springfield to a major eyesore and an symbol of the Great Recession. Some people felt the entire place should be torn down and others questioned if the mall would remain in its current state for several more years to come. Finally out of the blue in 2012, all of the loyal tenants who were surviving off what little business was left in mall were suddenly given a 90 day notice to pack up and leave. Only the large anchor stores were to remain untouched, but it appears that the rest of the mall is going to get the long needed wrecking ball and then be rebuilt. If all goes as planned, within a few years the mall will be changed into an outdoor town center adding new businesses, real estate and hotels.

The two photos above showed the Italian Da Vinci restaurant on the left which might appear in business but actually had been abandoned for several years. On the right is a shot of the inside of the mall in early 2012; one of the few indoor malls in the world that is able to boast having more trees than people.

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Like most suburban cities in America, Springfield has gone through some serious changes and development over the past few decades. Some of them are negative such as the story with the mall, but most other projects have gone well. In the 1990s, Springfield was included into the Washington DC area metro system and became the final stop on the blue line. The metro stop is walking distance from the shopping mall, so it allowed people in other areas easy access and also gave commuters working in DC an alternative way to get to work in the morning. Also in the area, Springfield later had its own hospital built along with a large business district. On the left is the Inova healthplex and below are two photos of modern buildings from the business district, with still more to come. Assuming the Springfield town center is completed successfully, the area should once again attract people from surrounding neighborhoods and have a strong local economy.
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At first glance these abandoned houses might remind you of cities like Detroit or parts of the American south where dwindling populations and closing factories have left neighborhoods and streets deserted. In Springfield the reason is the exact opposite, new business centers and large buildings are running out of space. This neighborhood was in the vicinity of the shopping mall and business park and will be demolished to compensate for more business space. I’m curious what kind of compensation they received since I can’t imagine every single person here was willing to leave. I’m also curious what this place will become. Aside from the gated houses and boarded up windows there isn’t any sign or explanation of changes to come except for the bulldozer below. Most construction seems to go at a snails pace here, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a year or more to develop this land.
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On a personal level many things are also different from when I was a little kid in Springfield. Small ponds where I used to catch frogs where turned into a bank; a forest where we would explore and build or own treehouses became both a retirement complex and upscale community, and even a small patch of woods by my house were recently sold and single family homes will be built. While most things have been changed, some things have still held their ground. One of my earliest memories of exploring the outdoors was the ‘bamboo forest’ by my old neighborhood. I moved out of this neighborhood when I was seven years old so I was probably five or six when I was actually playing here. At such a young age my friends and I were always confused on how this bamboo forest came to exist here in Virginia, as we assumed that bamboo was found only in China. At the age of five or six, we concluded that if bamboo from China could exist in Springfield then there was no reason to believe that Panda bears also didn’t exist here. As an adult, it’s obvious that some decades ago someone once planted some bamboo shoots which got out of hand and created their own little grove. Returning here to take some photographs, I was surprised by how small the area was and sad that many people had actually dumped trash here along the borders. As a kid though, you can imagine the fun and adventures we had exploring this tiny area fearful of giant panda bears. I remember being able to climb the taller bamboo trees where I felt dangerously high and had a good view of the surrounding area.
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Nearby my house there used to be a small patch of woods with swing sets here. For some reason they were removed and recently I noticed the no trespassing sign. Despite the boring little patch of woods here I had a lot of memories in this place. As we got older and moved to a new house, another daring place to explore with my friends was a small sewer system that began in one of my friend’s backyards. By now we were probably 10 or 11 and our imagination was still high. The possibilities of things that could live in the sewer was endless. It always took a lot of nerve for us to enter. For a long time we would only go a few feet until turning around and sprinting out. I remember once I went a little bit deeper inside and saw a beam of light coming through a manhole cover. I didn’t know what this beam of light was and as soon as I saw it I gave the command to evac which sent us all scurrying out. Finally we got the courage to go through the entire sewer, and we found out that it wasn’t long at all, only a few hundred feet. After we were convinced nothing strange was down in the sewer and our fears were conquered, we began to mock the idea of criminals or supernatural enemies that might live here. After seeing the movie It by Stephen King, we one day took a can of spray paint and wrote one of Pennywise the clown’s famous quotes, “We all float down here”. I went back into the sewer as an adult simply to photograph it, and was surprised to find it mostly intact after about 20 years! Some of my friends have scattered about, and when I called them up to confirm who had written it no on seemed to remember.
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I usually don’t keep my camera around me when I’m at home, but I was lucky to happen to have it in my car one day when I was coming home and I saw a huge cloud of smoke. I quickly followed the smoke to find a huge fire engulfing a strip of townhouses in Springfield. The fire was pretty dramatic, and was brought under control by the fire department within an hour. Three townhouses were completely destroyed with others receiving significant damage. I never did find out the cause of the fire but it was definitely the largest I had ever seen
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Not to give the impression that Springfield is highly prone to house fires, I took these two photos several years later when a house in my neighborhood caught fire. Apparently some greasy rags were placed in the dryer and after getting overheated they combusted and set the laundry room on fire. That spread upstairs to the second floor bedroom through a laundry shoot where a family friend was staying. He immediately responded by getting someone to dial 911 and attacked the fire with a garden house until about six fire trucks came to the rescue. By that time the fire was already put out so the fire department did their inspection and declared the rest of the house safe, but the bed and laundry room condemned.
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Lake Accotink is only 10 miles from Washington DC, but its also far enough to have its own park that is home to deer, raccoons, a large lake, several species of birds and reptiles. On the left is a small corner of the lake that appears swampy, and is where I found the dozen turtles resting on the log on the upper right. The main part of the lake is large enough that they rent canoes and small boats, and many people come here to fish. Lake Accotink isn’t natural but was dammed in order to create a water source. Below are common mule deer, the largest animal you’ll find in Springfield. Notice that the deer on the right has white spots indicating it is less than a year old. White Tailed deer are usually born in the spring, and lose their white spots after the first summer.
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Even if you’re a local you won’t notice things about your own city if you don’t get out and explore new areas. A good example is the mountain biking trail that I never knew existed until I was in my late 20s. When I was in elementary school my family and I would walk around Lake Accotink trail. When I was between the age of 16 to 18 I came here to run the four mile loop in order to get in better shape for my upcoming enlistment in the US Marines. One day I was riding my bike around the same loop when I decided to ride towards Wakefield park. Here I found a large mountain biking trail with plenty of small hills, sharp turns and debris in the way to get a good challenge and a work out. Of course if I ever showed this trail to people who live in more remote or mountainous areas they would not be impressed. As a matter of fact this mountain biking trail is directly next to the highway so the entire time you’re riding you can hear traffic. In either case, it’s still a very fun ride and being so close and convenient makes it all the better. Lake Accotink became a good training ground for me as I prepared to get in shape for my major expeditions. I was able to run several miles along the lake, ride the mountain biking trail, and when there was snow I was able to take a heavy backpack and drag a tire behind me.
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Lake Accotink and the similar Burke lake both are surrounded by development and housing. The rest of Springfield is similar with no large havens for wildlife. I actually find it amazing that deer, raccoons, possums and foxes could live in such small isolated pieces of land. Lots of nasty chemicals from street run off that are collected into streams don’t make this the best place for wildlife and feral animals anyway. The photo on the left is a relatively common site of a small polluted creek in Springfield. The feral cat on the upper right must have to drink such filthy water in order to survive, but somehow they are able to handle it. When we were in elementary school my friends and I would go exploring by following creeks through small patches of woods and peoples backyards until we were bored or we approached some private property and had to turn around. We’d often walk waist deep in the water, unaware of all the pollution and chemicals in the water. I’m sure we all absorbed our share of nasty things and for all I know my desire to climb the Seven Summits and visit every country in the world is a side effect.
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The upper left photo is of Burke lake located in Fairfax county. It was actually rated one of the best city parks in the country due to the activities available and because of its proximity to densely populated areas. Northern Virginia has over two million people, so places like Burke lake give people a good opportunity to go jogging in the morning, or fishing and boating on the weekends. The upper right photo is of Great Falls Virginia which is a small park right on the border of Maryland and literally only minutes from the capital. Great Falls has some good trails and great scenery, as well as some rock climbing and kayaking.
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Spring and summer are always my favorite seasons. I love going outside on the first warm days of the year and thinking about all the things there are too look forward to. Winter in Springfield is horrible in my opinion. The temperatures aren’t too bad, the average is always above freezing and sometimes we don’t get any snow for the entire winter. This kind of makes it worse for me though, I feel its cold enough to be unpleasant and warm enough to not get any snow so we are in some horrible in between. In 2010 we had some big exceptions with some of the deepest snow the area has ever seen when we got hit by two blizzards. Above on the left is a photo in Springfield of some ice and snow covered trees. On the right is a photo of Springfield about 8 weeks later as Spring begins to return, working its way from the ground up.
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Both these guys above were found in my property. The orange slug I caught on my back porch one summer night, while the black squirrel I saw after Snowmageddon. I’ve seen a lot of interesting insects in my yard throughout the year, and that’s why I’m happy to finally have a macro lens to capture them.
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These two above shots were taken more recently and with my macro lens. On the left is the jumping Telamonia spider. I found this guy in my backyard as well one day, and I went inside to get my macro lens not expecting to be able to find him again. After searching for 10 minutes, I found the tiny spider on a left and ended up taking one of my most favorite macro shots ever. On the right is a preying mantis that I’ve often come across in Springfield. This is probably the largest insect in the area, and is a predatory animal that feeds on just about anything smaller than itself.
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The photo on the upper left is a wheel bug, a member of the assassin family. Apparently it is a pretty mean bug and can cause a painful bite to humans which can leave scaring. This is one of the largest bugs I’ve ever seen in Springfield with the exception of the praying mantis. I never found out what the insect on the upper right is, but below are two stink bugs in Springfield. I later found out these guys actually came from China and were found in the US in the 1990s, now there are millions of them in America. I’ll sometimes go into a restaurant and see them on the windows or inside my house, or dozens of them congregated outside. Since they have no natural predators in the United States it seems that they are here to stay.