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Object ID 2009.2086.37
Title A "History of Chevy Chase"
Object Name Manuscript
Date 1968?
Creator Fred Perkins
Description TOWN COUNCIL
BO 9807


A "History" of Chevy Chase

My assignment in observance of this 50th year of Chevy Chase Section 4 is to tell something of how Chevy Chase as a whole got started and how it got its name. Others are to carry on the story particularly as it concerns Section 4.

What follows is a digest, which I believe to be true, of versions which are sometimes authenticated and sometines not, and which often conflict.

One thing is sure. The founder of Chevy Chase was Col. Joseph Belt, a distinguished citizen of Maryland in Colonial days, who was born in Anne Arundel County in 1680. He was a grandson of Humphrey Belt, who landed from England at Jamestown, Virginia in 1635. Joseph Belt died in 1761, which was well before the American Revolution and, of course, before the City of Washington and the District of Columbia were even faint gleams in the eyes of the Nation's founding fathers.

Joseph Belt's accomplishments in the 81 years of his life are summarized I a brass tablet on a large boulder near All Saints Episcopal Church at Chevy Chase Circle. It is recorded there that he was a:

"Patentee of 'Cheivy Chace'
Trustee of First Free Schools in Maryland
Member of the House of Burgesses
Colonel of Prince Georges County Militia during French and Indian War"

The tablet also notes that it was "erected by the Society of Colonial Wars of the District of Columbia on November 12, 1911."

The tablet does not go into detail on the facts that are of most importance to present citizens of Chevy Chase.

Col. Belt's land grant was from Lord Baltimore. It was first noted in a warrant dated 1721, and became an official patent four years later. The original grant was for 500 acres and was later enlarged to 1000 acres. On this land Col. Belt established a farm, which is variously called an estate or plantation, covering roughly the present Chevy Chase Village and the grounds of the Chevy Chase Club. Col. Belt build a two-and-one-half story manor house in 1725, using brick imported from England and handmade nails, about 500 yards southeast of Chevy Chase Circle on what is now Oliver Street. Not long thereafter was built the old Belt Road, connecting the Belt farm with the port of Georgetown, Fragments of the Belt Road (not to be confused with the Beltway) are still embodied in the District of Columbia street system. The manor house was occupied by some member of the Belt family until 1907, when it was razed to make room for the development of Chevy Chase.

Now for the name of Chevy Chase. The Belts were a Yorkshire family with an estate based in the "border country", which means the Cheviot Hills that were the ancient dividing line between England and Scotland. This area became a famous hunting ground despite an old law which forbade both Scots and English from hunting there without consent of the proprietors. The word "chevy" was evolved from the French "cheveaux", meaning a restricted hunt or chase. The "chase" in Chevy Chase is self-explanatory. Another version of this story is that the first part of the name came from Cheviot, of the Hills.

Apparently Col. Belt had heard this history from older members of his family. At any rate, he named his American estate Chevy Chase, and the real estate developers who followed in the succeeding years adopted the name for an area that has grown greatly and is probably the best known suburb of a large city in the United States.

In this way a traditionally peaceful community bears the name of a hunting ground that, centuries ago was far from peaceful.

The warlike atmosphere of the Cheviot Hills in the old "border country" is celebrated in a famous poem, written more than 400 years ago, and known as the "Ballad of Chevy Chase". It tells about a quarrel that started over hunting rights when Earl Percy of England announced to the public, including the Scots, he intended to spend several days bagging big game in the Scottishwoods.This enraged Earl Douglas, of the Scots, ---

"who sent Earl Percy present word
He would prevent his sport.
The English earl, not fearing that
Did to the woods resort."

According to the ballad Percy arrived at the hunting grounds before dawn one morning with "fifteen hundred bowmen bold" and long before noon had slain 100 fat bucks. The English party finally tired of the sport, because the Scots had not appeared to make it interesting, and were about to go home in disgust when finally Douglas appeared with "full twenty hundred Scottish speerers". The first volley from the English archers -- "fourscore Scots they slew" -- was a sample of what went on the rest of the day. Earls Percy and Douglas engaged in a personal duel, which ended with the Scottish earl intercepting a stray arrow, which killed him, whereupon one of his followers thrust his spear through Earl Percy until it ran through his Lordship "a large cloth-yard and more". He followed his antagonist into Valhalla.

The ballad's opening verse (of 64 the same size) states:

"God prosper long our noble King,
Our lives and safeties all!
A woeful hunting once there did
In Chevy Chase befall."
The final verse:
"God save the King and bless the land
In plenty, joy and peace!
And grant henceforth the foul debate
Twixt noblemen may cease."

With that conclusion the citizens of the American Chase would be expected to agree.

Many street names in Chevy Chase are connected with the history of the area. For instance, Bradley Lane marks the northern boundary of the old Bradley farm, which successively became a hunt club -- a reminder of Chevy Chase in England -- and with the addition of a fine golf course developed into the present Chevy Chase Club. The late Senator Newlands, one of the original developers of Chevy Chase, and a founder of the Chevy Chase Land Co., is remembered in Newlands Street, and his brother-in-law, an English lord, in Hesketh Street. Chevy Chase Circle was originally planned as a memorial to Senator Newlands but was deeded to the District of Columbia and is now part of the District's park system.

The name of the Belt family is still well known in this section of Maryland, particularly in Prince Georges County, where many of the name reside. In Section 4 lives Osborn Belt, a lawyer in Washington, and a seventh-generation direct descendant of Col. Joseph Belt, and until recently a member of the Section's governing body, the Citizens' Committee or Town Council. Beltsville received that name from the Baltimore Ohio Railroad when it reciprocated for the gift of land for a station house from a member of the Belt family.

Probably many in the audience know more about this subject in general than I do. If any of them wish to correct or add to my statements they are invited, so far as I am concerned, to do so.

Fred Perkins