18 April 2015
THE PALISADES HISTORY
By Harold Gray
This history of The Palisades Citizens Association was prepared by Harold Gray for PCA's 40th anniversary celebration in 1956, and updated for the PCA's "golden anniversary celebration" in 1966 by Ruth Hall.
From time immemorial the Potomac River has tumbled over its last rapids at Little Falls, and the mountain-fed waters have joined the tides of the Atlantic below the bulwarks of its palisades. The surrounding forest and hills produced springs and their streams cascaded down these promontories to join the great river. Here, amid these natural wonders, people have always found it to be a delightful place in which to live, and families have remained here generation after generation.
The first people to enjoy the good life here at the head of navigation were the Algonquin Indians of the Powhattan Confederacy who could fish both the placid tidal waters and the turbulent upper river. They had villages down in the Potomac Gorge as well as atop the bluffs. No one knows when the first Indian settled in The Palisades, but history does record that captain John Smith in 1608 was the first white man to reach the Potomac's navigable headwaters.
The Colonial and Federal Periods
The Colonial period has left several traces in our community. Remnants of a lock of George Washington's original Powtawmack Company Canal still are visible near Fletcher's Boat House. This early canal merely bypassed Little Falls and was largely obliterated when the canal that we know today was built.
Nearby the old stone house on Canal Road at the foot of Reservoir Road was restored by the National Park Service. This was the home of the Cloud family, who operated a mill there on Maddux Branch and were related to the Pierce family--famous for their mill on Rock Creek.
A short distance up Reservoir Road, at No. 4928, stands the Colonial manor house, Whitehaven Plantation. Beautifully restored initially by Dr. and Mrs. E. Stuart Lyddane, it is believed that this house was built in 1754. The Carberry family once lived here and later built the original house of the former Nelson Rockefeller estate at 2500 Foxhall Road. Another early occupant of Whitehaven was Thomas Main, a noted horticulturist, who often had his friend, Thomas Jefferson, as a guest. When the name "Whitehaven" appears on the deed to houses in this area, it is because the lot is within the 759 acres of that old land grant which goes back to Lord Baltimore in 1689.
Like Georgetown, our neighborhood also had houses of the Federal period, except that ours were farmhouses.
One of the best examples was the Boyle house once at 4452 MacArthur Boulevard. This house originally faced Foxhall Road before Conduit Road--renamed MacArthur Boulevard in 1942-- was opened. It was built by the Crowns and purchased by the Boyles. One Boyle daughter and her husband, the Joseph Fowlers, still lived there in the 1960's. The Boyles previously lived at Casey's Hill, which is the present site of Key School and the Dana and MacArthur shopping area. Daniel Boyle, who was born there, lived on Galena Place.
Another Federal Period dwelling was the Amberger farmhouse at 5239 Sherier Place which was the home of Mrs. Frances Walsh in 1960. The Ambergers operated a truck farm there and developed a new kind of lettuce. Old timers referred to the vacant lot along lower Arizona Avenue as the "lettuce patch." Mrs. Joe Amberger's daughter, Mrs. Mary Braswell, represented the third generation of this pioneer family and lived on Chain Bridge Road in 1960.
The original Sherier farmhouse at 5066 MacArthur Boulevard was purchased by
Conrad Sherier in 1850, which placed it in the Federal Period, but a Victorian addition to the front hid the original lines.
Another farmhouse of this period was the Weaver or Hughes house once located at Cathedral and MacArthur. It was build around 1860 and replaced by a Georgetown-style apartment building. It is said that the old house was a hospital during the Civil War, used by Union soldiers who guarded the Chain Bridge approach to Washington. These soldiers were stationed at Battery martin Scott along the bluffs where Potomac Avenue now runs, at Battery Vermont on the Loughboro Road site where Sibley Hospital now stands, and at Battery Kemble, now the park.
The Weaver Brothers were prominent early farmers who bought land here in the 1850's. Joe Weaver's farm was below Conduit Road and Charles Weaver's place was up the hill on Loughboro Road at the present Lowell Street. The also called their farms White Haven since they were within the old land grant. Three were so many Weavers around here that three streets were named after them. Once was changed to Arizona Avenue years ago but we still have Weaver Terrace to remind us of the pioneer family. The Weaver descendants moved to the city and to the Georgetown area and founded the Georgetown Gas Company, the hardware store and the Weaver Brothers real estate firm.
After the Civil War, the Weavers provided plots of land for their former slaves on Chain Bridge road and what is now University Terrace. One of the freed families, the Cephuses, served as sextons of the black cemetery on Chain Bridge Road and continued to work for the Weaver descendants for many years.
Mrs. Augusta M. Weaver, widow of Charles, was a gifted writer and has left in the family chronicles some beautiful descriptions of the 18 years she lived at White Haven during and after the Civil War. She tells how the soldiers from Battery Kemble overran the place and helped themselves to firewood and anything eatable. She also recorded many legends of Little Falls and folktales of the Potomac Valley, and wrote stirring word-pictures of the scenery around these hills.
The various Sherier families in the community were descended from
Mike and John Sherier, sons of Conrad, the original settler, whose farms lay on lower Chain Bridge Road. Their lands were bisected by
Sherier Place--somehow or other an extra letter "r" was added to the street name. The
Mike Sherier farmhouse was moved to 2428 Chain Bridge Road, but
Mark Sherier, who was born in the house, lived at the original location at 5016 MacArthur. Mr. and Mrs.
Mark Sherier's daughter and her husband, Roy Studd, built there house right next door.
Paul Sherier, who lived "up the road a piece" at 5361 MacArthur, was also born in the old farm house.
John Sherier built his place on the upper corner of Chain Bridge and Conduit Roads. His son Charles returned to it after some yeas in the city, and his home was sometimes used as a meeting place for two area churches, St. Davids and the Community Church, before their own buildings were constructed. This site at 5005 MacArthur Boulevard is not occupied by the St. John's Child Development Center. The original St. David's was build on Sherier land just across the road.
The Malone family's ancestors, the Shugrues, operated the Palisades Dairy Farm at what is now the corner of MacArthur Boulevard and Arizona Avenue. In the days before commercial dairies, their contented cows grazed all over the nearby hills and supplied milk to several embassies. John and Jeanette Malone were born on this farm and though the meadows and barns are long gone, they lived on the original acres until the late 1950's. After five generations, the site is now occupied by the First National Bank of Washington.
Another pioneer family of the rural area was the Crumbaughs. Their home, though not the original house, still in the 1960's at 3027 Arizona and was restored by Bill and Kay Everett. Mrs. Roy Connick, a great-great-granddaughter of that "first family" remained in our area until the 1950's.
The Knott families farmed or lived in this section before the real estate promoters came. George T. Knott ran a dairy farm where the Fulton Street Circle is now located. A relative, William Knott, who was born in this area, moved to 5216 Sherier in 1912 and his widow lived there after his death for many years.
Charles Davis ran a florist business and hot house farm at 2710 Chain Bridge Road. His widow, who was born on the hill now called Palisades Lane, and his daughter lived on the original farm site for many years.
The Readys ran a farm at what is now MacArthur and Q Street that extended clear up to "Indian Rocks" at Salem Lane. Grandson George Ready built a house there, and granddaughter Agnes Ready Holliday moved only as far away as Hawthorne Place.
In 1866, the Lightfoots bought a 14-acre farm on Foxhall Road called Terrace Heights. Mrs. Mary Lightfoot Bradford was born there in the house once called Uplands. In 1916, she moved to a "new" house on the property and in 1960 still owned one of the original acres. The big house was owned or occupied by the Averell Harrimans, Thomas Fortune Ryan, Mrs. Perle Mesta, and former Secretary of the Treasury Humphrey among others.
Industrial or Commercial Phase
The industrial or commercial phase overlapped the farming period. The first industry was Henry Foxall's 1812 cannon foundry on the Potomac at the mouth of Foundry Branch. The creek is now in a pipe but other traces remain. The Foundry Methodist Church took its name from Foxall's foundry because his profits helped finance the church. Foxhall Road was named after this early industrialist, but added and "h" to his name in the process. Mr. Foxall's house stood between that road and the present 44th Street at P Street. The house as 4435 P Street contains foundation stones and floor joists from the ruins of the Foxall home.
During the heyday of the C&O Canal there was a lot of mule-drawn shipping and commerce on both the canal and Canal Road. And there was a family in the neighborhood descended from lock-keepers on the canal. Mrs. Ada Atkinson was the daughter of the King family who operated the locks just above the District Line for three generations.
The dean of the descendants of that period was the late Enoch Barnes who was born in 1879 in a house at Canal and Chain Bridge Roads. He lived on MacArthur Boulevard less than a mile away from his birthplace until his death in 1960. For many years he ran the meat department at Fox's market. He attended the one-room school, which housed the Palisades Branch Library until November, 1964, and is now Discovery Creek Children's Museum of Washington, and worshiped at the Little Falls M . E. Church which stood at Canal Road and Arizona. His brother Joseph, who lived way up on Dana Road, worked in the stone quarries across the river, and Joseph's son Charles lived on the old site on University Terrace.
those days there were four or five slaughterhouses on Foxhall Road and at least two on Canal Road. There was a huge drovers yard at Reservoir and MacArthur overlooking the Georgetown Reservoir where the cattle and sheep were rested and fattened for slaughter after being driven on the hoof from the distant Maryland and Virginia farms. The Drovers Rest Tavern stood about where Our Lady of Victory Church is now located. Mrs. Katherine Woody of 5100 Sherier reported that her grandfather-in-law ran a slaughterhouse at the food of Reservoir Road.
Reed's slaughterhouse was just below the present Field House and was operated by Mrs. H. D. Johnson's father.
Old maps show that in the early days the only roads existing were Foxhall Road (then called Ridge), Reservoir Road (then called New Cut), Loughboro Road (often called Little Falls Road), Chain Bridge Road and Canal Road. There was a short lane coming up the valley were Arizona Avenue is now located, and another lane in the Clark Place Valley. Conduit Road, later renamed MacArthur Boulevard, was opened in 1863 after the Aqueduct was built and provided a level terrace for the roadway. The "Dana Place Road" soon followed. One block of this old wagon road still remains between Eskridge Terrace and Garfield Street.
Summer Resort Stage
The canaling period overlapped with the summer resort stage of our community's development. Many of the cliff dwellers in the hot cities of Washington and Georgetown built summer or weekend cottages out here on the palisades and enjoyed the cool country air and the recreational advantages of the city. Col. Robert Curtiss, an early officer of our community association, first came out here as a summer resident during his childhood.
Two fine examples of the summer resort houses remain in a charming sylvan setting a the end of private lanes in the 5300 block of MacArthur. These were the homes of former secretary of the association: Miss Dora Shepard and Mrs. Anna Maren Stringfield. The resort period is best typified by Fletcher's's Boat House, once operated by Julius Fletcher, grandson of the founder. He, too, was a resident of the community.
During the summer resort days, a bicycle racing track was located about Newark and Sherier and at the District Line on the present Dalecarlia Reservoir grounds stood a hotel, which among other things, had a gambling casino. This period was also noted for the road houses, taverns and saloons that existed along both Conduit and Canal Roads.
The first subdivision shown on old maps was at MacArthur and Foxhall in 1880. It was named Harlem after the town in Holland at the time that the community of the same name in New York City was a German neighborhood.
Hurst and Clark's Addition soon appeared in the area of Clark Place, Elliott Place and Greene Place. The lands of Mrs. Minnie Greene Hospital's father were broken up for that development. Next came old Senate Heights on the 47th Street hill.
Around 1890, The Hutchinses, Hursts and Clarks came from Canada and opened the first of our large subdivisions called "Palisades of the Potomac" around V. W. Ashby, 48th and 49th Streets. They planned it as an expensive suburb with homes of the type then being build on the Hudson above New York and built several large Victorian houses. The Clarks lived in the house at 4759 Reservoir Road, that became the Florence Crittenton Home in 1923, and later The Lab School. The Hursts lived in the huge stone house at 4933 MacArthur which was restored later by Col. John Duke. The Hutchins' home was at the present site of the Army Map Service. Another of these houses at 4925 MacArthur Boulevard was the home of Charles A. Baker, the first president of PCA. It was later occupied by the Washington Psychoanalytic Society.
Another house of that period, "Sunnyside," at 4825 V Street, was originally restored to its Victorian elegance by Elmer and Minnie Klavans.
This development was started about the same time as Chevy Chase. Old-timers tell us that the Chevy Chase promoters spread the rumor that it was unhealthy to live near the river because of malaria. This and other factors caused the home seekers to flock northward and the boom passed us by at the turn of the century. Meanwhile, the Palisades of the Potomac Land Improvement Company had opened three more developments -- one at Hutchins Place, another around the present Field House, and a large one on the former Charles Weaver farm along Cathedral, Klingle, Macomb, Manning and Watson above MacArthur. This inland trend caused the Canadians to suffer financial difficulties and they did not develop their fifth tract on the Joe Weaver lands. To encourage growth, 25-foot lots were sold and houses began to appear on them.
The Glen Echo electric railroad, promoted by the Clarks, was opened around 1900 and helped the section to grow. Dorsett Jackson and Maupin from North Carolina organized the Potomac Heights Land Company and opened a subdivision of the same name on the site of Clark's old bicycle track, formerly the Joe Weaver farm. This development was more successful and it gradually filled up with houses. Mr. Jackson lived in his development until his death.
The Serrin ancestors operated an inn on Canal Road and moved to the first block of MacArthur Boulevard in 1875. Two descendants remained there in the 1960's: Mrs. Florence Serrin Thompson and Lawrence F. Serrin. The late Mrs. George C. Smith was a daughter of that family but her husband did not move to this section until 1910.
The Harringtons lived in the vicinity of Our Lady of Victory Church in Civil War times and were the first and second superintendents of Georgetown Reservoir. Several descendants moved to the vicinity of MacArthur and Foxhall including Ray and Catherine Harrington still there in the 1960's.
Another early family in the suburban development era was the Drysdales. James Drysdale continued to promote the "Highlands of the Potomac" on upper Cathedral Avenue after the Clarks moved away.
The Binsted clan came from Canada as carpenters with the Clark enterprises, and the family later operated a neighborhood gas station, today the Exxon station.
The Episcopos acquired a half block of Sherier Place in 1898 and they and their children lived their for years. Ralph Hile built the first "new" house on upper MacArthur in 1911 and was there in the 1960's.
Miss Mary Lazenby built on Nebraska Avenue in 1912 and, until her death in the mid-1960's, served the community with her civic activities and her scholarly writings about the area.
Mrs. Eva Steimer came in 1915 as Mrs. Repasz, becoming quite a civic leader and boosting our community all over town. She served in many offices in our Association, declined the presidency several times and was our delegate to the Federation. She also helped to create many of the other neighborhood organizations.
Mrs. Mary Cochran moved to Carolina and Cathedral in 1917 and was an active community and church worker for many years.
Some of the other early home builders who contributed to the community were the Hamiltons, the Kellermans, the Kidwells, the Carters, the Drakes, the Lynches, the Statts, the Rectors and the Saylors.
The various stages of our growth would not be completely chronicled without mentioning the high type homes built by most of the post-war builders as typified by the Frank S. Phillips Company. Mr. Phillips went into hilly, long-dormant lands and created show places of suburban beauty. His "Briarcliff" and "Berkeley" subdivisions were built in such good taste that the entire Palisades area has benefited greatly. Until his death in the 1960's, he followed the tradition of earlier promoters of our community by residing in it.
In a similar manner, the Phillips, Canby & Fuller Company, builder of "Kent," and Waverly Taylor, developer of the "Dunbarton" subdivision, have added greatly to the prestige of the overall Palisades area as a most desirable residential section.
Other builders and developers who followed them including William Morrison, Raymond Regan and A. L. Wheeler, continued to upgrade the community with their homes.
The dreams and predictions of the Canadians and the Carolinians who first promoted the palisades of the Potomac did indeed come true.
With each stage of development, our area has become a better, more comfortable, more convenient, more desirable place in which to live and to raise a family. None of us need to move to the booming suburbs. Our environment here is greener, more rural, more scenic, more wholesome, more friendly, and has less traffic than many of the sprawling new developments far removed from the center of our nation's capital.
When families outgrow their homes in our community they can move from apartments to cottages, to large houses, and even to mansions and estates with swimming pools without ever leaving the Palisades. Many of our families have made just such moves in order to stay in the area. Here we have houses for all sizes of families, and pocketbooks. The young married children of some of our families are starting that cycle all over again--and staying in the Palisades.
This makes for a stable community.
What caused the high standards and the ever-increasing popularity of our community as a residential section? The answer is its people, and its citizens association, which, through several changes of name, has worked continuously to improve our area.
The following comments were offered by Richard Cook, the author of several books on Glen Echo history:
The line that ran by (through) Palisades was the "Washington and Great Falls". It began operation in about 1896-1897 and closed in 1961.
There was a "Glen Echo Electric Railroad" (which) ran from Tennleytown, through Friendship Heights, where it crossed into Maryland, and on to Glen Echo Heights through the woods entirely in Maryland. The line operated from 1890 to 1901.
Past PCA Presidents
(This section has not been reproduced here.)
William G. Smith, 1966-.....