Georgetwon And The Suburbs
( Originally Published 1922 )
The name of Georgetown arouses pleasurably vague impressions. The place, a well established little town with an extremely good opinion of itself, was taken in as part of the District of Columbia when the District was established. And its name had not come from any association with either George Washington or George the Third but from George the Second—which somehow adds to the picturesque feeling of it.
Long ago, in 1789, Georgetown College was established and it is still interestingly existent and active, the oldest and largest Jesuit college in the country.
There was a direct road into Georgetown from Washington and the White House from early days; it was Pennsylvania Avenue, and high-dormered houses were built, shoulder to shoulder, along the thoroughfare in expectation of the coming city popu=lation. Most noticeable of those now standing are seven in a tight row in the block of the twenty-one hundreds; very close building for early days and a woodsy location such as this neighborhood then was.
From the first you notice that there are piquant places in old Georgetown. Down there on that lower level, alongside of the ancient canal, are some small ruins which you find are those of a foundry, once operated by a man named Foxhall. These little foundry ruins at which you are looking and which intangibly appeal as something of quite unusual quality, are said to have had a vital connection with one of the most interesting naval battles of the world's history.
While Oliver Hazard Perry was triumphantly doing the impossible in building a fleet on the then wilderness-enclosed shores of Lake Erie, under the eyes of the British squadron which sailed unsuspectingly up and down the lake, the cannon and cannon balls were made at this Foxhall foundry in Georgetown and from here were packed over the hundreds of miles of forest trails.
The Capital and the entire nation thrilled with pride in an intense degree which cities or nations have seldom known, when a native of the District of Columbia, Lieutenant Dulaney Forrest, in September of 1813, appeared before Congress, and laid at their feet the captured battle flags of an entire British squadron, sunk or captured by Oliver Hazard Perry with Georgetown cannon and balls. Never before had an entire English fleet or squadron been captured. Ask for these flags where they ought to be nobly preserved and you will be told, as I was, that they have been allowed to fall to decay through neglect.
When, not long afterward, the British seized Washington and began their burning the news was carried to Foxhall that they had promised them-selves the special joy of destroying his establishment on account of his activity in cannon-making; but the great rain storm in which the British began their hurried retreat, saved the property of Foxhall who, in thankfulness, built over in Washington the original church of the curious name of "Foundry" —a church society prominent to this day.
The spot is still proudly pointed out where Francis Scott Key lived, the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner," near where the great new bridge, named as a memorial in his honor, spans the Potomac. Key is comparable only to Roget de Lisle in that he expressed like de Lisle a sudden ardent national fervor, permanently accepted by his country as a song from the nation's heart.
A relative of Key, Doctor William Beanes, lived in Upper Marlborough and was so angered by the misconduct of the British when they marched through on their way to burn Washington that he headed a few citizens in locking up the rear-guard of the invaders: which pointed out his bravery rather more than it did his judgment. When the British came hurrying back they unlocked their imprisoned comrades and carried the enterprising old doctor with them as a prisoner, to the fleet near Baltimore.
Key, man of prominence as he was, hurried to the British Admiral to ask for the parole of his kinsman. Reaching the fleet just as the bombardment of Fort McHenry was to take place, Key was held until the fight should be over. In this emotional condition he watched the bombardment and watched darkness settle over the fort; and at the very earliest touch of dawn next morning he eagerly scanned the water, catching sight with indescribable happiness of the flag still floating over the fort. He was so thrilled by it, so overpowered by poetic joy, that he seized some paper and in a fine frenzy of poetic emotion wrote what has become the national anthem of America.
It is a most remarkable fact that little George-town was the home of the authors of two immortal American songs: "The Star-Spangled Banner," and "Home, Sweet Home!" This alone ought to make Georgetown a place of pilgrimage, and the most natural road of pilgrimage is over the new bridge with the great bison on it, and on to the old Oak Hill Cemetery on the height. It is a romantic old graveyard, now close-filled, markedly a place of deep ravines and tall trees and steep banks. It is a great sanctuary for birds, and I remember watching the pretty sight, one warm spring day, of two flickers, high-holes, building their nest in an old oak, immediately over John Howard Payne's grave, and almost seeming to talk as in their excitement they made a succession of cries.
Payne died in Northern Africa while located there as an American consul. It is pathetic to associate such feeling lines as " 'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam," with the death of the author in such a remote spot—for Payne was buried near the ruined palaces of ancient Carthage.
But a Georgetown-born man, William H. Corcoran, who seems to have been unsurpassed in thinking of fine things to do to pleasure his fellow-men, had the body of his townsman, John Howard Payne, brought back to his home-town and to this quiet graveyard, where in time Corcoran himself was to sleep. A simple monument marks the grave, bearing a bust of Payne, showing him as a gentle and pleasant-faced man, with slender moustache and a tuft on his lower lip. Edwin M. Stanton, the restless-spirited Secretary of War, is buried near by, beneath an obelisk that is neither too high for modesty nor too low for fame. And the over-ambitious Salmon P. Chase, a disappointed man, is also buried here.
On M Street, the business thoroughfare, at 3049, is a quaint old yellow-washed tavern, very small, with an outside stair up to a gallery. It must have overlooked the river in early days, on the bank-side above the ferry. This was a meeting place for the planning of the City of Washington by Washington and Jefferson and L'Enfant.
There is a section both poor and picturesque, for country barter and trade, and you see shops with mule whips, fully a score on one stem, and you see truck farmers who with their creaky, worn-out little wagons bring produce into the city. There are also banks and larger stores in Georgetown and it is by no means altogether jocularity which set up at a trolley transfer point: "Transfer for Georgetown's most important suburb, Washington. But first do your shopping in Georgetown." Georgetown is really and officially part of Washington but the two places are often referred to as if they were still separate.
Alexander Graham Bell has lived and .experimented much in Georgetown. That he began life as a teacher of the deaf and dumb helps to show how the telephone idea came to him. He has made his home on Thirty-Fifth Street, a quiet house in a quiet hill neighborhood, across the street from the famous Convent of the Visitation. His home, on a terrace, is an unpretentious three-story house of chocolate-colored stucco, with a black iron, fussy, old-time porch. Across narrow Volta Place which runs beside the house, is a little yellow brick library-like building, new perched and of classic design, made for the dissemination of knowledge in regard to the deaf and for actively aiding them.
There is a considerable amount of old-fashioned conservative living in Georgetown. A positively beautiful eighteenth-century house is Tudor Place, standing in the midst of a lawn of enormous extent on Q Street. The mansion rises in tawny beauty, a great, long-fronted house, squarish and hip-roofed, with a center and long balancing wings. It was one of the great houses of its time and is now one of the notable survivals of the architecture of the early days of our country. At the front door is a striking semi-circular portico, with four tall pillars and two pilasters, with a wonderful roof, a half-dome. Tall French windows, curve-topped, are at either side of the pillars of the portico. The first mistress of this house was the little Martha, who was given by Lafayette as a namesake of her grand-mother, Mrs. Washington, the little inlaid dressing table of king and tulip wood, which still delights us at the National Museum.
This was one of the remarkable homes of that building family, the Custises. General Robert E. Lee became by marriage a connection, and it is re-membered that he visited here, not far from his lost Arlington, after the close of the Civil War.
The three sisters and a brother of the Custis family built four notable houses, still standing within an afternoon's ride of each other in the neighborhood of Washington, Martha Parke Custis, Mrs. Peters, here at Tudor Place; Eleanor, "Nellie," Mrs. Lewis at Woodlawn between Alexandria and Pohick; Eliza, Mrs. Law, by the riverside near the War College; and George Washington Parke Custis, at Arlington on the Virginia heights looking over at Washington. Surely a great building family!—and a remarkable thing that these four houses have survived wars and fires and demolitions.
Facing Tudor Place, far off on the other side of Q Street, is another fine old town-house. It is of dull red brick ; it is large and dormered and winged; and the two survivals of long ago are so beautiful that each is a foil to the other.
Northward from Georgetown, and still to be reached by trolley through that town, but by motor driving directly out either Connecticut Avenue or Massachusetts, the great new Gothic cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul is rising. It has already made a notable start in building but will still re-quire many millions of dollars and years of time to complete.
The portions already standing in white and crocketed beauty above the wooded height of Mount St. Alban, are admirably and impressively to be seen from the arched and lion-guarded Connecticut Avenue Bridge, over Rock Creek Valley; and when the nave of the cathedral is completed and the structure shall stand in its full glory of great square central tower, with two Westminster-like towers at the front, and a general exterior beauty of gray color almost white, with pinnacles, flying buttresses and traceried windows, all in pure pointed Gothic, it will be one of the notable Gothic cathedrals of the world. It ranks in length with the cathedrals of Canterbury and York and suggests mighty Durham in its beauty of tree-clad hill location.
The apse, the only part thus far rising prominently, has a very successful churchly air. Beneath the altar is a crypt with heavy pillars and groined arches ; and already the tomb is here of the first bishop of Washington—Bishop Satterlee. On the tomb lies at full length, carved in fine alabaster, the churchly figure of the bishop, looking like a carved recumbent figure of feudal times, and with little angels at his feet. The distinctly modern moustache is the only detraction from the Crusader-time effect.
The Cathedral has already had some unusual gifts. For the construction of the pulpit, the Arch-bishop of Canterbury sent stones from Canterbury Cathedral. From the ruins of remote and ancient Glastonbury, stones were sent for the making of the bishop's cathedra, his formal seat; the Glastonbury stones having been chosen because that ruined abbey bore the name, as does this cathedral at Washing-ton, of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. The high altar is made from the ledge of rock in which Christ's sepulcher was hewn.
Upon this cedar-dotted height, are the beginnings of a cathedral close of ecclesiastical buildings, with, richly endowed schools for boys and girls. On a height of equal prominence some distance south-ward, stand the buildings of the Naval Observatory, which mark the site of the camp of the army of Braddock and Washington with their fated expeditionary force.
Confronted with the idea of writing of the suburbs of Washington one is likely to feel like the man who was offered Punch's advice to those about to get married—"Don't!" For Washington is a city without suburbs, with the exception of a single fine one. Of course there is delightful Alexandria but it has never seemed suburban, but the recent war has given it an impetus in that direction. Fort Myer has a military life of its own. There are several little towns near Washington but not precisely of a kind to call suburbs. In fact there are hundreds of square miles near at hand of poor desolate country or of uncultivated pine woods, unused, that ought to be suburbs to meet the high rent problems of the city, and it is astonishing that this feaure has not been developed.
The one real suburb is near but just over the Maryland line, a charming place, charmingly named. It is Chevy Chase and it is an accessible suburb of the finer class of living, with many estates, with delightful homes, with country clubs and golf links, with the natural landscape advantages of trees, and rolling country, through which wind cedar-bordered roads. And its great advantages for growth are that it has been unspoiled by any-thing but residential use and that it connects immediately with the finest living section of the city of Washington.
Chevy Chase has so many army officers living there and offers so many combats on the golf links, GEORGETOWN AND THE SUBURBS even if of no other kind, that the old war-like ballad name fits the place:
"The fray began at Otterbourne betwixt the night and day,
There the Douglas lost his life and the Percy was led away."