Throwback Thursday: The Penn-Daw Motor Hotel

Black and white picture of the Penn-Daw Motor Hotel, with sign out in front that says name of motel and "Air Conditioning"
From Mount Vernon High School’s 1965 yearbook

While looking through Mount Vernon High School’s 1965 yearbook researching a story we found this great picture of the old Penn-Daw Motor Hotel.

The Penn-Daw was located at the intersection of Richmond Highway and South Kings Highway. It was built in 1927, expanded through the 30s and 40s before eventually being (mostly) torn down in the early 1970s. Applebees and the old Jerry’s currently occupy the land it stood on. So does a Wells Fargo bank, which is actually in one of the Penn-Daw’s former buildings.

Covering The Corridor has always been fascinated by the old motels of Route 1, built between the late 20s and early 1950s. Few remain today, including the Penn-Daw, which may have been the first “motor hotel” built on the highway. The oldest currently operating motel on the highway is the Alexandria Motel, which dates back to 1933.

The Penn-Daw was named after the two men who helped build it: Samuel Cooper Dawson Sr. and Edward Monroe Pennell. The original two-building motel expanded through the years, adding a restaurant and cabins. Old postcards are among the few images of the Penn-Daw online.

Penn Daw Motel postcard showing color drawing of the complex from above
An undated postcard showing the Penn-Daw. The building at right still stands, home to a Wells Fargo bank.
Postcard with a painting of the Penn Daw Motor Hotel. It reads "A convenient place to stay while vising Washington and Northern Virginia"
Another undated postcard.

The Penn-Daw was torn down in 1973. The era of the “motor hotel” had peaked by then, and many of the Penn-Daws contemporaries went into decline starting in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, the Penn-Daw played a big role in the history of the Richmond Highway corridor. The original Penn Daw fire station (currently A&A rentals) was named after the motel, and eventually the entire surrounding area — including a popular shopping center built in the 1950s — was called Penn Daw. The motel advertised in Mount Vernon High School’s and Groveton High School’s yearbooks, and its swimming pool was — at least for a time — open to the public.

A history of the Penn Daw area, including a look at the role the Penn-Daw played in the area’s development, can be read on Jaybird’s Jottings, a history blog published by a Groveton resident. More information on Penn Daw and Richmond Highway’s northern end can be read in the book Groveton, written by current Groveton resident Charlotte Brown.

In 1986, Samuel Cooper Dawson Jr., the son of the original owner, donated materials related to the Penn-Daw the Fairfax County Library. The collection includes menus from the restaurant and a magazine article about the Penn-Daw written in the 1950s. The collection can be viewed in the City of Fairfax Library’s Virginia Room.

You can also test your knowledge of Route 1’s motels with this quiz, published earlier this year.

Richmond Highway History Quiz III

How well do you know the motels and hotels of Richmond Highway?


  1. Kathleen G.
    • Harold stephens
      • coveringthecorridor
  2. Anonymous
  3. Harold stephens