Glen Allen in northwestern Henrico County is a good example of how quickly a rural area can find itself transformed into teeming suburbia. Chance are, people who lived in Glen Allen 50 years ago could never have guessed what would happen to the area, much less recognize it today.
Short Pump Town Center, which opened in 2003 in an area that was formerly farmland, is the largest shopping mall in the county. And new schools pop up in Glen Allen every couple years to accommodate the families who have moved into the area’s recently built master-planned communities and smaller subdivisions.
Glen Allen still has some rural homes, but the area is booming.
Among the largest master-planned communities in the area are Wyndham (with more than 1,600 houses) and Twin Hickory (with more than 1,000 houses), both of which were developed by HHHunt Communities.
Glen Allen has changed in more than just looks, though. In recent years, it has expanded, at least in the general public’s mind.
Today, many of us identify Glen Allen as an amorphous area that sprawls across the northwestern portion of Henrico.
Most longtime Glen Allen residents adhere to a smaller footprint that centers on the intersection of Mountain Road and the railroad tracks that were originally part of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad. Roughly, the area runs east from Staples Mill Road to Woodman Road and north from Laurel to Hunton.
But when it acquired its name sometime before the Civil War, Glen Allen was even smaller and was limited to the Mountain Road corridor, with streets like Old Washington Highway and Courtney and Mill roads.
Mail sent to the area before the Civil War was addressed to the Chickahominy post office in Hanover County.
The area got its present name from Benjamin Allen, a farmer and merchant who lived in Glen Allen in the mid-19th century.
Some of the area’s oldest houses are still standing. Meadow Farm traces its history back to 1713. The farm’s main house, which is now open to the public as part of the county’s Meadow Farm Museum, was built around 1810 with additions in 1820 and 1855.
There are at least three other 19th century homes on Mountain Road, including Walkerton, ca. 1825, which is also owned by the county.
Forest Lodge, a Victorian resort built in Glen Allen in the 1880s, didn’t fare as well. In its heyday, the dream child of Susan Sheppard’s second husband, John Cussons, "boasted a theater, a hunting preserve, lakes and a 150-room hotel—all on 1,000 acres of land.
But the resort never found the success its creator envisioned, and it closed after Cussons’s death in 1912. The hotel was torn down in 1992, but some of its architectural elements, including its tower, survive on land maintained by the county at the intersection of Mountain Road and Old Washington Highway.
With the momentum of Greater Richmond in many ways shifting to northwestern Henrico over the last 10 years, Glen Allen seems to have reached a tipping point, where new elements outnumber the old.
It’s not a sleepy little town anymore. It’s a bustling community with good schools, shopping, parks and entertainment.