|Author||Margery L. Elfin, Paul K. Williams, and the Forest Hills Neighborhood Alliance|
Forest Hills, from the Images in America Series
Maj. George A. Armes, a retired army officer and Civil War veteran, was one of Senator Newlands's agents in acquiring land in 1890. He later claimed that he had the original idea to extend Connecticut Avenue and that he convinced Newlands and his partners to join him, but Chevy Chase Land Company documents show only that he was hired for several months in 1890 to buy parcels of land along the route. Major Armes lived near Grant Road, next to the route of the new avenue, and was notorious in the Tennallytown area for galloping on horseback across open land and along the roads, sometimes shooting pistols in the air. (Edith Claude Jarvis.)
BY ANNE ROLLINS
Connecticut Avenue north of Calvert Street was built by a private company, which then gave title to the road toto Washington, D.C. In order to create a suburban housing development just over the Maryland line, Sen. Francis Newlands (Democrat) of Nevada and his Chevy Chase Land Company literally paved the way and also laid tracks for an electric streetcar line along the new road. Between 1890 and 1892, the company built two substantial bridges, excavated, leveled, and paved miles of road, and laid streetcar tracks for the entire length.
In the decades after the Civil War, Washington had been gradually expanding northward beyond the old Boundary Street (now Florida Avenue), aided by the convenience of new streetcar service to downtown. Projecting a northwestward extension of Connecticut Avenue from its end at Boundary Street, Senator Newlands by 1887 had selected the site for Chevy Chase just over the Maryland line, close to the city but set at a higher elevation to benefit from cooler breezesin summer. Keeping his plans secret, Newlands, with a few partners and agents, began buying up land along the proposed route. At the same time, he was encouraged by a debate in Congress to set aside a large amount of land for an urban park in the valley of Rock Creek, roughly parallel to the road he envisioned. Local support for the parkland was strong, and a bill establishing the
National Zoological Park passed in 1889, followed the next year by legislation creating Rock Creek Park Park.
By 1890, Newlands and his partners had purchased a patchwork of 1,713 acres stretching from the site of today's Taft Bridge to Jones Bridge Road. When the press learned in the spring of 1890 that a "syndicate" was buying the land for development, Newlands went public and formed the Chase Land Company. Needing a Congressional charter to build a streetcar line, the partners also bought the Rock Creek Railway Company, which had a charter to construct streetcar service as far as Woodley Park. The charter's terms were changed to allow for extending
the streetcar line to the Maryland suburbs, and construction began.
The hilly, stream-cut terrain proved to be more of a challenge than Newlands and his partners had realized when buying the land, and an enormous amount of earth had to be moved during
construction. An August 1, 1891, Washington Star article noted that "owing to the broken and
rugged character of the country, immense fills and cuts were made, some of them as much as
fifty feet in depth." In his memoirs, former Chevy Chase Land Company president Edward Hillyer wrote about the area around Soapstone Creek: "The hills had to be cut down by pick and shovel and the valleys filled by horse drawn carts. A good illustration of this operation was the cutting down of what was known as Soapstone Hill on the west side of Connecticut Avenue at Albermarle Street and the earth had to be taken across the Avenue and filled in where the Ice Palace Shopping Center is today [now Van Ness Square], a fill or depth of some forty or fifty feet. In some places a train of small dumping cars with a donkey engine carried the dirt on very narrow gauged rails."
The new road and streetcar service opened up a huge area of Northwest Washington to development, and individuals and organizations, as well as developers, began to build along Connecticut Avenue. In 1901, the National Bureau of Standards bought the first of the many acres it would acquire west of the avenue, along Pierce Mill Road (approximately Van Ness Street today), for its headquarters. Two years later, the presence of the National Bureau of Standards influenced the decision of the Carnegie Institution of Washington to build its geophysical laboratory on land nearby, east of Connecticut Avenue. In 1902, Fernwood Heights, the first residential subdivision along upper Connecticut Avenue, was registered with the District Surveyor's Office.
From the back cover:
The Forest Hills neighborhood is set within a heavily treed, rolling landscape adjoining Rock Creek Park and was first home to the Piscataway Indian tribe and later to Civil War encampments. Threshing mills and large rural estates gradually gave vav in the early 1900s to a residential community in close proximity to the National Bureau of Standards where many of the residents worked. Diplomats, politicians, and many prominent Washingtonians now inhabit many, of the splendidly designed houses found in Forest Hills today.
Images of America: Forest Hills includes nearly 200 vintage images that document the long and fascinating history of the community. Etchings, maps, and photographs combine to illustrate Native American settlers; architect designed residences; and the homes of Presidents Truman and Johnson, infamous FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, and Post cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. The book also highlights Connecticut Avenue, the neighborhood's main street; apartment buildings; and well known artists and authors who have called Forest Hills home. Margery L. Elfin is an author and longtime resident of Forest Hills, and this is the 14th Arcadia title for author Paul K. Williams.
The Images of America series celebrates the history of neighborhoods, towns, and cities across the country. Using archival photographs, each title presents the distinctive stories from the past that shape the character of the community today. Arcadia is proud to play a part in the preservation of local heritage, making history available to all.