Imagine a community ringed by an impenetrable perimeter, a compact neighborhood patrolled vigorously around the clock by highly-trained armed guards, motivated by mission and granted the full authority to challenge intruders with lethal force if necessary. The privacy afforded by this level of security could only be the exclusive domain of the ultra-rich and privileged, correct? Actually, no. The 295 households that receive this service are decidedly middle class and they don’t pay a cent. Uncle Sam foots the bill.
This is Quantico, Virginia. It’s not the Quantico that probably comes to mind – one of the largest United States Marine Corps bases on the planet – but rather Quantico the little town along the Potomac River that’s surrounded on every other side by the Marines. The only way to get to Q-Town (as it’s affectionately known) by road is to go through the gates of the Marine Corps base. Q-Town is but a 0.1 square mile speck within a 100 square mile military facility. Nonetheless, all land within town is all privately owned and controlled.
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Quantico, the Town
It wasn’t always this way. Quantico was once just another little spot along the river at the turn of the last century, catering to a weekend crowd of Washingtonians seeking amusement and relaxation like so many similar spots. A shipyard rose nearby in the years preceding the First World War and it grew quickly in importance and profitability as the conflict unfurled. Quantico’s military importance soon eclipsed its tourism appeal. It became an attractive location when the Marine Corps needed a new base in the Washington, DC area to support the war effort.
It did not make sense to exercise eminent domain powers to seize Q-Town and pull it into the base. In fact it would have been counterproductive. Q-Town was already well established and could provide a convenient supply of nearby civilian labor for the many non-military services the Marines needed. Where else would it be easier to find civilians in what was then a remote, rural outpost? It didn’t really matter that the town had been surrounded by the base. Security was much less of an issue than it is today.
Q-Town developed in splendid isolation for many decades, never able to grow beyond its original borders as other towns around Washington exploded in size and stature. It resulted in curious adaptations, perhaps good, or bad or both depending how one chooses to reflect upon it. It remains a small town by definition with all that this entails; a generational throwback to an earlier rural Northern Virginia with barely five hundred souls, separated by chance from the other five million inhabitants of the metropolitan area.
Real estate transactions present a unique challenge. Buyers need to appreciate small town virtues. They also must be willing to deal with checkpoints that can take up to an hour to traverse before driving to their homes. Available lots filled out years ago so homes in Q-Town tend to be smaller, older and of lower value than comparable homes in neighborhoods ringing the base. Perhaps because of this, most of the homes are rentals rather than owner-occupied, leading to inevitable issues of maintenance and upkeep. Some feel the town could use a fresh coat of paint and a little TLC, while others see this as part of the charm and a way to keep Yuppies from moving in and ruining everything.
Nonetheless change might be on the way. The Department of Defense will move three thousand new jobs to Quantico as part of the base closure and realignment effort. This will provide plenty of new opportunities for Q-Town to tap into what is essentially a captive audience. The Unofficial Town of Quantico page already lists a surprising number of restaurants, retail establishments and barber shops (Marines have to get their hair cut all the time, right?). Imagine the impact of another three thousand potential customers who won’t have enough time to leave the base for a quick lunch or an errand.
Change may also be on the horizon due to of transportation. Amtrak maintains a train station within the Town of Quantico’s tiny borders, and both the Carolinian and the Northeast Regional lines rumble through. Perhaps more importantly, Amtrak operates Virginia Rail Express commuter trains under contract, and those trains stop right in Q-Town too. The station had 12,422 boardings/alightings in 2004 and 21,113 in 2008. Geographic isolation could begin to dissipate as commuters hop onto trains bound straight for Washington, DC each morning. Perhaps Quantico could turn into just another bedroom community. Ridership trends show that this is not beyond imagination. Inhabitants don’t have to be tied at the hip to the Marine Corps to make a decent living when they can a train to distant job centers.
Now, before you think the train might be a gaping hole in the security of the base perimeter, consider this statement from the VRE website:
… for the next few weeks a Military Police Officer will be stationed at the station and will conduct ID checks on 100% of passengers detraining at the station. Following that, random ID checks will be instituted on detraining passengers.
Nonetheless, this would certainly be less time consuming than sitting in backups, trying to get onto the base by car from Route 1.
Q-Town gets a fair amount of local press coverage because of its unique situation. Here are a couple of fairly recent articles in case I’ve piqued your curiosity and you would like to know a little more:
- A New Guy On an Old Block
- Development Issues Dominate Campaign – Quantico’s Future at Stake, Some Say
- Real Estate Agent Stresses Quantico’s ‘Gated’ Features
- Quantico Looking to a Busier Future
 This website has one of the best disclaimers I’ve ever read: "This webpage is maintained as an unpaid hobby: I take no responsibility for it’s [sic.] accuracy and frankly assume some things may be wrong. The majority of the input is done over Saturday morning coffee while preventing my cat from climbing on the keyboard." If you struck the word cat and replaced it with kid, you’d have a perfect disclaimer for my website too!