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Object ID 2002.19.03
Title History of Chevy Chase
Object Name Newspaper Clipping
Date 1945
Creator Thomas E. Robertson
Description History of Chevy Chase
Thomas E. Robertson
The Record
Friday, January 5, 1945
Early Residents
Chevy Chase Land Co

Chevy Chase as a suburb of the Nation's Capital has existed for about 5O years, but the name Chevy Chase, or Cheivy Chace as it was originally spelled, was given to his property by Colonel Joseph Belt, the original settler of this community. (It is said that Col. Belt called his property after the village recited in the Scotch ballad of Chevy Chase. According to the bronze tablet on the boulder in front of the Chevy Chase Episcopal Church, Colonel Belt was a prominent and public spirited citizen of old colonial Maryland. He was born in 1680 and died in 1761 and gave the name Cheivy Chace to his property many years before Montgomery County was organized during the Revolutionary War. He was a trustee of the first free schools of Maryland, a soldier in the French and Indian Wars, and a member of the House of Burgesses. But this was long, long ago, at a time when Chevy Chase as a suburb was not even a dream. Then there was no road on what is now known as Connecticut Avenue-in fact the District of Columbia and the City of Washington were not in existence for about 40 years after Col. Belt's death.

60-Year Old Dream

The dream of Chevy Chase as a suburb happened nearly 60 years ago when Congressman (afterwards Senator) Newlands, son in law of the wealthy former Sen. Sharon of California, accompanied by Senator Stewart of Nevada, was a visitor at the lonely home of Major George Arms far out in the country --about five miles beyond Dupont Circle. At that time practically all beyond the "Boundary" of the City, as Florida Avenue was called, consisted of farms, there being only two or three houses between the Arms home known as "Fairfield" and what is now 18th Street and Columbia Road. Senator Stewart had built his "Castle" at Dupont Circle which was so far from the residence section of Washington that it was dubbed "Stewart's Folly."

When the gentlemen referred to were taken to the upper floor of Fairfield to see the view of the city miles away, they could see the White House, the very recently completed Washington Monument and beyond those the Potomac River. One more thing these gentlemen observed was that if a highway were built in front of Fairfield it would be in a direct line with that part of Connecticut Avenue in downtown Washington. Having made these observations these gentlemen talked over what seemed a dream, to wit: the building of Washington's most beautiful suburb far out where the District of Columbia and the State of Maryland joined each other--about five miles beyond Dupont Circle.

Chevy Chase Land Co.

But this would necessitate the building of a highway six miles long-the present Connecticut Avenue--and such a highway suburb would be useless unless they they built two bridges--one of which would be as high above Rock Creek as the Brooklyn Bridge is above East river. Nevertheless these undaunted men from beyond the Rocky Mountains, not to be discouraged by such obstacles and with the wealthy Sharon Estate backing them, started their dream and purchased, quietly, all the parcels of land they could get hold of from Florida Avenue, way out to what is now Chevy Chase Lake-two miles beyond the Maryland line. When all these farms were purchased in the names of trustees, the entire holdings--for a distance of nearly seven miles--were transferred to the newly formed Chevy Chase Land Company incorporated in 1890, with the Hon. Francis G. Newlands as president, E. J. Stellwagen as vice president, Thoma M. Gale, treasurer, and Howard S.

But there were other obstacles to overcome since the entire risky adventure would be a dismal failure unless they built a trolley line running into downtown Washington. So they incorporated the Rock Creek Railway Company, the stock of which was owned by the Chevy Chase Land company and built the electric railway from Seventh and U Streets out to 18th Street, up that street to what now Calvert Street, thence over the bridge they had built over Rock Creek to the new Highway called Connecticut Avenue, and thence out to the new suburb starting at Chevy Chase Circle, and thence due northward in Maryland to what is now Chevy Chase Lake, but which was then only a small brook.

This trolley line also necessitated the building of a power house and car barn at Chevy Chase Lake. But in the building of this trolley line, they had to overcome still another obstacle. Congress had passed a law forbidding any more overhead wires in the City of Washington, which meant south of Florida Avenue, and as yet there was no electric substitute for the overhead trolley. But they finally contracted for the building along U Street of an underground instead of an overhead trolley and built what was one of the first and possibly the first underground surface trolley lines over built.

Opened in 1984

When the new highway, the bridges and the seven mile trolley line were completed, the Land Company in 1893 or 1894 opened its suburb known as "Chevy Chase," this suburb beginning at the "Circle" and extending only to Bradley Lane. (Chevy Chase, D.C. was not subdivided for about 15 years after the Maryland part was settled.) The new suburb was built on what were new ideas in the nation's Capital in that restrictions were placed in the deeds requiring the homes to cost not less than a certain figure, forbidding row-houses, requiring homes on the side streets to be 25 feet back of the building line and 35 feet on Connecticut Avenue, and forbidding the building of stores, business places, apartment houses, etc. Then the Land Company had to provide a water supply system, a sewage system, an electric light plant, lay out macadamized streets with proper side walks, and employ a landscape gardener to ornament the parkings and parkways so as to make the new venture so attractive that it was once recognized as the most beautiful suburb of the Nation's Capital.

Early Residents

In order to give a proper start to the new suburb, the Land company built a number of fine residences for its officers. Its president, Congressman Newlands lived in the large house at the Circle since re-built as the Corby home; vice president Stellwagen built what was afterwards called "The Lodge" and which was occupied by the Dessez family. Secretary Nyman and his sister's family occupied the large dwelling at the corner of the Avenue and Irving Street, and Engineer Hacker, a home on E. Lenox Street.

The first floor of what is now the Peele House was used as an office for the Land Company as a Post Office, the second floor being used as the residence of Dennis Claude and his family. Judge Claude being the Justice of the Peace. The firm of Earle & Meline cooperated with the Land Company and built a number of residences for sale, the Earles occupying one dwelling and the Melines another.

The writer moved into his home on W. Melrose Street in 1895. The year before saw a number of home owners move into their new residences: Mrs. Mackrille and her two daughters, the Wm. Richards family, Dr. Compton and his family, the Couzens family, and the Fisher family all on W. Kirke Street; the Birney and McCubbin families on E. Kirke Street; the Brown family on W. Irving Street, the Lemly family on Laurel Parkway and the Porter family on East Lenox Street. The same year I moved to Chevy Chase also saw the Lewis family occupy their new on W. Melrose Street and the Portman and various families on E. Melrose Street. Nearly all of these pioneers have gone to their reward, but the two daughters of Mrs. Mackrille still live on W. Kirke Stree, and the oldest daughter of the McCubbin family, then a little "tot," now Mrs. W.W. Taylor, lives at 203 E. Underwood Street. The daughter of the Richards family, "Janet," became the noted lecturer on current topics; one of the daughters of the Lewis family was the popular actress Annie Lewis; and Mrs. Birney the founder of the Mother's Congress (afterwards the National Parent and Teachers Association.)

As I remember these were the early residents of Chevy Chase. Later several persons purchased a strip of land about three quarters of a mile beyond the circle and back of the land owned by the Land Company and called it Otterburn. (Otterburn was named after a village in England near the Scotch border connected with the Ballad of Chevy Chase.) Still later Mr. Harry martin bought land east of Brookville Road and called it "Martins Additions to Chevy Chase." All this is now considered Chevy Chase. Still later, the Land company opened up its property north of Bradley lane on both sides of Connecticut Avenue and these sections are now filled with residences. All of this is in Maryland. About 5 years after Chevy Chase, Maryland was settled, the Land Company began to sell lots in Chevy Chase, D.C.

Daily Freight Service

The Land company cared well for the early home owners to whom it sold their lots as there were no stores nearer than Bethesda, the Land company had an electric freight car make two trips each day, one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon, and built a freight station at 18th and U Streets where the merchants of Washington delivered our purchases and family supplies, the land Company bringing them out to Chevy Chase in the Freight car, twice each day, and delivering them by wagon to our homes. This service was excellent and all kinds of merchandise from a package of pins, or a bottle of medicine, to the heaviest kind of household freight was thus brought to our individual homes, and at absolutely no cost to the purchasers. This splendid service as well as the care of the parkings, the side walks, the streets and the sewage plant, was maintained for at least a dozen years or until Chevy Chase was large enough to take care of its own needs.

In 1910 Chevy Chase obtained from the legislature of Maryland a town charter. Wm. T. S. Curtis was elected mayor and served as such until the Charter was declared invalid by the Courts. Then the Legislature passed a bill providing a taxing district for Chevy Chase, but since it provided that our citizens committee was to be appointed by the country Commissioners at Rockville, the Governor at our request vetoed the measure. The next legislature in 1914 passed legislation giving to the old section of Chevy Chase a taxing district in which the citizens were permitted to elect their own village committee. This has given such uniformly satisfactory service that subsequently the sections beyond Bradley Lane obtained similar legislation.

Chevy Chase Inn

Once of the early features of Chevy Chase was the Chevy Chase Inn. This Inn was built by the Land Company a little beyond Bradley Lane and used as an Inn in the summer months and during the rest of the year as "French" school for [?] It is now the Chevy Chase Junior College. Back of this Inn and a part of it were built splendid bowling alleys which except for the four months that the Inn was running were turned over free of all charge to the residents of Chevy Chase and became the village Bowling Club.