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Object ID 2008.12.76
Title Hume, Helen -- CCHS OHP Transcript
Object Name Oral History Trascript
Date November 1981
Creator Chevy Chase Historical Society Oral History Project
Description Hume, Helen Minnigerode (Mimi) , November 1981 -- Transcript of Interview with the Chevy Chase Historical Society Oral History Project

Interviewed by Marjorie Zapruder and Mary Anne Tuohey


Transcriber: Techni-type Transcripts/BB


Q: Mimi has agreed that we should copy her pictures.

Helen Hume: This is a Capital Print of the daughter of Alexander Britton. The back of the print shows she is my aunt, Katherine A. Britton. She was my grandmother's niece. This is a picture of Gilbert LaGorce, of the National Geographic family of that name, looking very dapper, who became a part of the Grosvenor family, and, later, president of the National Geographic before he died. His wife is still alive, and might still have other pictures of those early days. The LaGorces lived in one of two small houses on Rittenhouse Street, which is the street across from the Catholic Church. In the house next to them lived a family called Souther. Mrs. Souther had been married to Mr. Souther (a marine artist) by whom she had three children: Polly, Stanley, and Gordon, in that order. The father died leaving them impoverished, so that Mrs. Souther had to sell his paintings one by one. I used to go there a lot to see the children. Their daughter, Polly, also became an excellent artist.

Q: Did you go to school together?

Hume: Yes. In those days the dividing line between the District and Maryland was not important. I had a lot of friends farther down in Chevy Chase, D.C., with whom I went to school.

Q: Was that a public school? And as a Marylander you could go there?

Hume: Yes, and I also went to Western High School in Georgetown, D.C.

Q: I remember your talking about your grandmother because you said she lived in the house with you.

Hume: She did, from the moment I was born, at No. 8 Oxford Street.

Q: The Buffons' house?

Hume: Yes, my father had it built. Waddie Wood was the architect. I wasn't born there, because we lived up here on the Circle while it was being built. I actually was born in Columbia Hospital for Women in the District, which is still operating in the same location. Before Oxford Street, my family lived in Washington (my mother was the daughter of Walter Galt of Galt Jewelers). My father came from Alexandria, Virginia, to Washington. Being a golfer, he wanted to live as close to the Chevy Chase Club as possible, and Oxford Street was just about as close as we could get! The Chevy Chase Club was my home away from home when I was a little girl. I had my dogs buried over there in the gullies with little markers on them. Later, when I was older, I kept my car in a garage over there. I was taught tennis, golf and bowling over there; there was no pool in those days.

Q: Did most of the people you knew here belong to the Club, and is that why they had come out here?

Hume: I would say that most of the ones I saw a great deal of, they all lived within blocks of the Club. I went to E. V. Brown School for eight grades where there was an assortment of people, a wonderful assortment of boys and girls -all kinds, and I liked that because they were neighborhood children from Chevy Chase and nearby Washington, too -an interesting mix. I don't think there were terribly many club members there probably. Although my sister never went to public schools, I opted for E. V. Brown School. I liked the basketball team, all the athletics, and I liked the school, especially the principal and assistant principal, two wonderful, very dedicated women! The school, All Saints Church on the Circle, and the Club were the basis of my whole early life, until I was twelve years old.

Q: What was the alternative if you hadn't gone to E. V. Brown?

Hume: Well, my mother went to Cathedral School. There was also Madeira, or Holton Arms, but I didn't care for the latter. I preferred to be with everybody in our Chevy Chase group. My sister was younger than I. She passed away leaving two children, Brit and Dougie Hume, fifteen years ago. She was married to my husband's first cousin, George Graham Hume, who survives her.

Q: If you could choose one thing that you remember as being a really happy memory about living in this beautiful house (No. 8 Oxford Street), what would it be?

Hume: Christmas! There were marvelous Christmases. Always the Christmas tree was in the dining room right against the porch door to keep it cool. Coming down and seeing that Christmas tree all lit up was pure enchantment! You came down the stairs and made the turn and saw it all! As a little girl that was something I always looked forward to.

Q: And you had the fireplaces going opposite each other?

Hume: Yes, one in the dining room and one in the living room, we had the fireplaces lit, and people coming and going. I loved Christmas in Chevy Chase because it was such a friendly place. It was just all day, people coming and going. And my little girlfriends would come, and we would show each other our presents. If I got a doll or whatever, I couldn't wait to show my friends, the Demmings next door, and Carolyn Jackson, who lived down the block. Those are the happy memories! It was a very happy house. This was in our day, certainly, the happiest kind of a house, just full of fun and excitement going on all the time. I loved to help with my grandmother's garden. We had a lily pond and loads of flowers.

Q: Did the Morrells buy this house from your family?

Hume: Yes, they bought it from us in 1926, I think it was, and lived there, so I'm told, for thirty-six years.

Q: When did you move to town?

Hume: We moved first to an apartment in town, just after the house was sold in 1926 for a few months, and then to Georgetown in 1926-27 to the house at 1515 29th Street. That was a nice house, but not as happy. It was a sort of Victorian house then, since remodeled. The house that I have had now for twenty-six years has a nice big yard with lots of windows overlooking the rather large lawn and gardens. Victorian is not for me. When I was in E. V. Brown School, Chevy Chase was a lovely village. It was so easygoing. The drugstore and the movie house were the key social spots where we'd meet everybody, especially on Saturdays. They were located right across from the school (which is now the "Center") and are still there. All Saints Church on the Circle, where I was christened and confirmed, was another gathering place for friends. Canon Austin was the rector for many years; he had a wonderful understanding of young people. The church was smaller then, a gymnasium or basketball court served as a place where we had parties. We had certain programmed activities at the school. I remember there would be all kinds of things planned for us. For instance, in the Spring, there were trips to Glen Echo, which was then a huge amusement park with all the attractions, carousel (still in operation), roller coasters, Ferris wheel, and all glittery trimmings, now long gone, to which we went by streetcar (often open summer trolleys) on a track bed that paralleled Conduit Road, now MacArthur Boulevard. There were no buses in those days. The whole class would go, boys and girls, which was a high point of every year. Also, there was a Drama Club at school that gave several performances a year, and there were nature picnics in Rock Creek Park.For most of the sixteen years or so that I lived on our Oxford Street block, there were just five houses, three on the south side, and two on the north. The Demmings lived next door at No. 8 Oxford, toward Connecticut Avenue. There were two daughters, Catherine and Alice. The Jacksons lived in one of the two matching houses on the north side of the street nearer Connecticut Avenue. I never knew the other neighbors.At this time, Newland Street was very built up, and many children on the block corresponding to ours, between Connecticut Avenue and Brookville Road. My friends were the Walshes, Peggy and Edward, and a younger brother; the McNallys, one daughter Betty; and Dr. Lattimore's family, a son, and a daughter older than I, all of whom lived on the south side of Newland Street. On the north side were the Hohlings with one daughter, Louise; the Whitfords, daughter Harriett; and the Nicholsons, one son and daughter whom I didn't know. In later years, a man owned a corner lot -I think his name was Potter, I'm not sure -but we watched him build that house himself, the little brick house right on the northeast corner of Connecticut Avenue and Oxford Street facing the avenue. The Browns bought it later.

Q: It's interesting that he built it himself because the year of the Chevy Chase house tour it had to be put back together. Was he a builder?

Hume: No, I don't think he was a builder. I really don't know what that man did. He had two very pretty daughters whom we didn't know. I met them in later years.

Q: But they were your age, more or less?

Hume: No, I think the little girls were younger, so that I didn't know them then. But that was a funny thing, I only had the group I knew around me. A few years back, the Carpenters across the street gave a party for a young man, to which I was invited. Well, I went, and was introduced to a very charming young man, who was a colonel. "Don't you remember me?" he asked. "No, I don't," I said."Well", he said, "I lived right next to you." It turned out that he lived in the house right next to us to the east, but there was a great deal of space in between. We had a very large lawn at that time, but I think maybe there's a house that's since been built in between. I had no recollection, but I explained this by saying that I always went out and looked the other way toward Connecticut Avenue, and so would not have seen him. He countered by saying, "Oh, I used to see all the things that went on at your house!" (Not much went on, but anyway...) My family name is Minnigerode. My father was George Carter Minnigerode, and my mother was Helen Galt of the Galt Jewelers family. They were married and came out to Chevy Chase to live. It was around 1910, the year I was born, because I don't remember ever living any other place in those early days. My grandmother, Mrs. Belle Britton Galt (Nana), came right along with us! So my mother had a very easy time, because Nana loved children, and was just like a child herself in so many ways. She had so many interests, you know, nature, walks through Rock Creek Park, gathering mushrooms and wildflowers, all the simple pleasures that were done in those days. When I was twelve, she was the only one who would drive with me in our car, a Dodge coupe. There was no minimum age or licensing requirements in our little village in those days. There were few cars or traffic to speak of. The streetcar line on Connecticut Avenue was very convenient. It went from Chevy Chase Lake to downtown D.C. -an easy ride. I also took up horseback riding with her and spent many wonderful years riding together in Rock Creek Park. She rode side saddle.

Q: What were the vacant lots across the street from No. 8 Oxford Street? You said there were only two houses. What was in between?

Hume: A big field. Well, the Ourisman corner lot went from the Demmings to Connecticut Avenue on my side of the street, the south side. There was a huge lot there from Connecticut Avenue into Mrs. Demmings' property. The architect of our house was Waddie Wood, who won a prize for the design. The other Waddie Wood house was the Demmings, and totally different it was, too! She had a fabulous garden, rock garden all along the Oxford Street side where there was a wall with a raised rock garden -a huge, expansive thing -and then a greensward punctuated with varieties of flowers, plants and shrubs. She also had an experimental garden down towards where the Ourismans live now in which she put all kinds of plants, from whence they would be transplanted when developed. My grandmother, Nana, who was a great lover of flowers, too, had a much more formal garden, complete with lily ponds, which are still there, I guess. The lily pond was near a little grove of trees adjacent to the house on our right, a bungalow-type house in which a doctor lived. The property on which the Ourismans were later to build had great, huge oak trees where we used to have swings. Then came the Demmings house and the bungalow, and finally our house which were all the houses that I remember on our side of the street. On the other side of the street there was nothing in front of us all the way up to Brookville Road except a high bank that leveled off into a plateau that was our big playground where we had our Kewpie doll fair (we all had Kewpie dolls) on frequent occasions. We would make hats and dresses and other things, and trade them back and forth. This went on for several years until we were about seven years old.

Q: I thought it was a hayfield.

Hume: Well, it was of sorts, but I think people kept it cut off. And as I've already mentioned, a house was built right across from us in late 1924. It was later occupied by the Carpenters (the Beauregards have it now). This was the first house I remember being built on our block. I was away at the time attending the Warrenton Country Day School as a boarder. I must have been fourteen years old.

Q: Who built the house, do you know?

Hume: I haven't the vaguest idea who built it, but I know that nobody had lived there. Our house at No. 8 Oxford Street had a fire while I was away at school. I remember being brought home from school by a friend, and driving up to a deserted house where I had expected to spend the Christmas holidays. The fire had just happened one or two nights before I arrived, and the family had moved all the furniture across the street into the new house, which they had rented until we could get our house redone.

Q: What caused the fire?

Hume: I haven't any idea. But apparently it started in the living room and went upstairs to some of the bedrooms. We rebuilt it exactly as it was, as far as I know.

Q: To whom did you sell the house?

Hume: The Morrells bought it from us in 1916 or 1917; I am not sure. I have recently talked to Mrs. Morrell, whom I just met for the first time. She said she loved that house and was heartbroken when they had to sell it.

Q: Tell us the wonderful stories you told us about your slumber parties.

Hume: Well, we had slumber parties. The girls would come and spend the night. My sister and I had a very large bedroom in the back of the house, and the Demming children were also in the back of their house with a window facing ours. We rigged a line between the windows across which we could send a can or a basket back and forth with messages and trinkets from one side to the other. It was such fun! The girls loved to come to spend the night at our house because my father, who managed the old Shoreham Hotel at 15th and H Streets (NW) would come home from work long past our bedtime and announce his presence by calling upstairs, "Party!" Everybody would come downstairs to share and enjoy the French vanilla ice cream and petit fours that he would bring home!

Q: What was the Chevy Chase Club at that time? Was it just the center stone building?

Hume: Probably. I think they added the other wing in later years. I really can't remember because it seems to be pretty much the same to me today.

Q: Many of my friends have talked about going to Chevy Chase Lake.

Hume: Oh, Chevy Chase Lake. That's something else again. I don't think my family ever went there, but I did because they had the big bands there. I would sneak out with a friend of mine, Margaret Berry, who lived up here on Lenox Street off or near the Circle. Her father was head of the telephone company, and she was a darling girl, still a great friend of mine. She had a strict Catholic family, but her aunt was the assistant principal of the E. V. Brown School, and she was a wonderful person. I was crazy about her. And for some reason, her father, Mr. Berry, thought I was a good influence on Margaret, who was redheaded and hot-tempered on occasions, and he would let her come and stay with us a lot. Then we'd sneak out and go to Chevy Chase Lake with the boys to take in the big bands. Our parents wouldn't have approved, but it worked out all right because the boys were all very nice and gentlemanly. We didn't drink; we liked ice cream. We'd have cones, but it was the music and dancing we were crazy about in this rickety old place. We had our own cars, but many of my friends came out from the District by streetcar, which terminated there. In those days my friends, the Devereux family, lived at Bradley Lane in the big red castle just west of Connecticut Avenue across from the club. There were ten children, so there was somebody there for everybody, boy or girl. I spent a great deal of time over there. I was very fond of them as they were of me, and I would travel all over with them. Their home was the gathering place for all of us for parties. They had a big ballroom. Always sixteen or eighteen people for meals. It was simply marvelous! Joe Devereux, who was the eldest son, moved over to the little yellow house next door on Bradley Lane when he married, and I think he had ten children, too.

Q: Is he still there?

Hume: I believe some of his children and grandchildren are there. I don't know who kept it until it was finally sold to an embassy. I think between the time they sold it to the embassy and the time the embassy moved in is when the Decorators' Showcase was there. Anyway, the Devereuxs had a pony, Dynamite, and a pony cart in the early days, and we'd drive as far as Rockville to the County Fair in that pony cart! Imagine such a long trip! But we were allowed to do anything because there were only country roads and little traffic. Whenever it snowed very hard, we'd get old Dynamite and a sled and go sailing down the little hills along the golf course at the Club, no television, no radio, nothing. And I remember when I really started going out to big parties in Washington, while waiting for my date who might be late, I would listen to a crystal set (the incipient radio), which was enthralling and very exciting! So then, of course, we moved into Washington, and that was a totally different picture. Most of the parties in town the year I made my debut were all in private homes or at the Mayflower Hotel and some were at the Chevy Chase Club.

Q: Today traffic makes crossing Connecticut Avenue hazardous. How were you able to go back and forth to the Club so easily?

Hume: Connecticut Avenue was not a busy thoroughfare in those days; rather, it was just another lovely tree-lined street across which one could go back and forth between home and club safely. We didn't have any traffic. The streetcar came along at intervals, but could be seen a mile away. So it was wonderful! As a matter of fact, Connecticut Avenue was lovely a street to walk on from Oxford Street down to the Circle, which I used to do with my dog, Rex, a lovely Irish setter. There was always something interesting to see, particularly certain plantings that I was interested in. But all of these have been taken away now.

Q: Did you have a walkway, or was it just the street?

Hume: We had a regular pavement sidewalk with nice green grass beside it, attractive and interesting. Connecticut Avenue was always of great interest to me. In the other direction, going north on Connecticut Avenue away from the Circle, I'd walk to Bradley Lane from Oxford Street. Bradley Lane was generally regarded as the northern boundary of Chevy Chase as I knew it. The Devereux family was there, and the Glassie family had a big house across from the club's golf course farther along toward Wisconsin Avenue. Donald Glassie was in my class at E. V. Brown School. Bradley Lane to the east side of Connecticut Avenue was where lots more of my friends lived. I believe my great uncle, Alexander Britton, built that big house on the corner where the television man, Paul Anthony, now lives. Alexander Britton had been a widower for quite a time when he married Marjorie Pilson, along with her family of three daughters, and built that house where they all lived for a while. He was a prominent lawyer in town, was my grandmother's brother, and had a handsome daughter by his first wife who married an Austrian prince named Hohenloe. Alexander Britton was also president of the Chevy Chase Club for quite a while. Other families I knew along the eastern reaches of Bradley Lane were: the Grahams, who had two daughters; the elder, Virginia, married Landy Platt. The Alexanders, two daughters and a son, Betty, Caroline, and brother. The Pilson girls, Elaine, Marjorie, and their youngest sister. The Northrops, whose son, Ebby, became a Maryland judge. The Merediths' two daughters, one of whom was maned Sylvia. My sister, Virginia, had good friends on Brookville Road named the Laucks, daughter, Eleanor, and son Billy. Sonneman, the grocer's house, was at the corner of Oxford and Brookville Road. (I believe Ebby Northrop did it over in later years).*

Q: Were the Corbys in Chevy Chase when you were here?

Hume: They were, in the big house down by the Circle, but we didn't know them. At least I didn't. I don't know where they went to school, but they were always so nice. They had a beautiful organ in that house. My grandmother knew them, of course, because of the garden clubs, etc. I vaguely remember the Corby girls, but never really knew them. But I did work for a Mr. Corby in my first job. Actually, his name was not Corby, but that was his mother's maiden name. It was my first job as a decorator. It was a charming establishment down on Connecticut Avenue called the Charles Gallery. I was off to such a good start, that it led to my going to New York. He just hired me at an early age to do decorating. I'd been through Philips Mahoney Design School for a year or so when I was sixteen to eighteen. Those were busy years. I had a job, made my debut, and went to New York at the end of my eighteenth year! Thus ended my Chevy Chase epoch. My grandmother, Nana, was one of the instigators of the Chevy Chase Garden Club. That was her great love in life, and she and Mrs. Demming really got going on it. Nana was so retiring that she never wanted to hold office, but she had some good ideas and could rally people to her cause. I had a lot of that Garden Club material that she left and a book that I have been unable to find. I am still trying to find it because it named manes. There was a Mrs. Crosby, who had a beautiful rose garden, and other people, too. They had their meetings at different peoples' houses, and that's how it started. One of Nana's projects comes to mind. She was instrumental in keeping that round piece of earth situated in the middle of Oxford Street, planted along with Mrs. Demming. As a matter of fact, they had a big tree growing in there at one time, and so was always busy planting flowers to keep it pretty.

Q: Who did the grocery shopping?

Hume: Mainly, the groceries were ordered by telephone. My father, being in the hotel and restaurant business, would bring home large quantities of things. Always the meat. He would go to the downtown markets to buy for the hotel, and buy for the family needs at the same time at the same wholesale discounts.

Q: Do you think other people from Chevy Chase did that?

Hume: Well, there were no large markets conveniently near as there are today. There was a little greengrocer, Sonneman's, on Brookville Road (later High's) for quick purchases where we'd either go or telephone orders for delivery. But in addition to the goodies Daddy would bring home, he had barrels of food stuffs, e.g. apples, sugar, etc., in the basement, all sent from markets in town. Other things that Mother needed she would order from the local grocery. Without speaking for anyone else, that's the way our household lived.

Q: Did you have an iceman?

Hume: Yes, we had an iceman, and a coalman, too. I remember the old coal bin. And once a week the chicken man came with live chickens, and our selections were killed right there on the spot. Being a hunter and a fisherman, Daddy kept us supplied with fresh game and fish. Also there was an in-house seamstress who'd come and stay with us for a couple of weeks each season to get our clothes organized. Then my sister and I would swap dresses with various friends when we were young. Mother was very interested in clothes. She was so dainty, and everything had inserts of lace and fagoting.

Q: Did most of your friends have someone helping in the house?

Hume: Oh, all did. I don't think I know any of them who didn't have somebody, but I don't think they all had live-in maids all the time. Of course, the Devereux family had all kinds of servants out there at their big place. My mother just happened to have these live-in women servants that I've already told about.

Q: If you were writing a one-paragraph description, what would you say is your fondest memory of living here?

Hume: Well, I think my fondest memory was just the peacefulness and the pleasantness and the opportunity to be your own person, to do what you wanted. To me it was the taking over a field to have our little markets there and Kewpie dolls. Of course I remember it! The picture is framed for me by the members of my family, and all of our lovely neighbors. Working for the church is a very fond memory for me because I loved Canon Austin. He was absolutely a divine person who molded a lot of my thinking. At the E. V. Brown School with Miss Given as the principal and Miss Berry as the assistant principal, I was among fine women I looked up to and respected. All of these things made up the totality that was Chevy Chase in my day. We also had access to theater, ballet and good music in Washington. My love was dancing of all kinds, and through my younger years, eight to fourteen, gave a number of performances for charity, at Walter Reed for patients home from the war, and in the huge pageant written by my Aunt Marietta Minnigerode Andrews given for three days and nights to benefit the National Cathedral. It was called "The Cross Triumphant" and had hundreds of people in it.