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  • Sat, November 10, 2018 11:45 PM | Anonymous member

    Crestwood in the 1850s: Historical Fiction

    By David Swerdloff

    Thomas & Emily Blagden

    As he stood on the porch of the farmhouse, Dr. Nichols was in bad spirits despite a vista that had inspired him for many months. November 1852 was blessed with sunshine, and from his perch on a plateau in Washington County, he could peer through the bare branches to see the dome of the Capitol, the partially-constructed monument to George Washington and the glint off the water from two rivers.

    “Yes,” he thought, “this is the only site worth considering for a government hospital for the insane.” But the owner of the property, Thomas Blagden, had refused to sell the parcel called St. Elizabeths.

    Dr. Nichols had been patient. His esteemed associate Dorothea Dix had written legislation to establish America’s first federal hospital for mental patients. Together they had shepherded it through Congress, which appropriated the money in August. But he had waited to speak with the property owner out of respect for the mourning period for Mr. Blagden’s twin daughters Anne and Miriam, who had died in June at the age of six months. Thomas and Emily Blagden had also endured a stillbirth the year before. Thomas Jr. had died at age three back in ’49. In all, the couple had had eight children and only three survived.

    The doctor’s patience had not been rewarded. Now how could he break the news to Dorothea? At least they would be meeting amid the bustle of Center Market—so they would have to keep inside the emotional turmoil caused by falling just short of their goal. “There is nothing more to be done,” he would tell her. “We shall have to give the matter up.”

    Hearing the front door close, Emily called down the stairs, “Thomas, how did Dr. Nichols take the news?”

    “I was kind enough not to dismiss him completely,” he replied. “I told him that, despite how much you and the children treasure the farm, I’d sell it for 40 thousand—knowing that Congress only approved 25.”

    “Mary, Harriet and George would never have forgiven you if you had taken away their enchanted forest,” Emily reminded him. “Though perhaps they would have appreciated fewer opportunities for you to point out the Capitol and repeat the same stories about their grandfather and how he made sure the stonework would be perfect.”

    When Miss Dix made an appointment to see Thomas the next day, he worried she had somehow acquired the extra 15 thousand. He knew he could find another excuse to hold onto the estate.  What he didn’t count on was her power of persuasion. By the end of the day, he was shocked to find himself writing these words:

    “DEAR MADAM, since seeing you to-day, I have had no other opinion (and Mrs. B. also) than that I must not stand between you and the beloved farm, regarding you, as I do, as the instrument in the hands of God to secure this very spot for the unfortunates whose best earthly friend you are, and believing sincerely that the Almighty’s blessing will not rest on, nor abide with, those who may place obstacles in your way.”

    Against their better judgment, the Blagdens had agreed to sell—at Congress’ price.

    When Dr. Nichols brought over the papers, he found Thomas in distress. “I don’t want to part with the farm,” he exclaimed as he paced the room. “It is dear to me and my family! But I won’t break my word. I told her she should have it, and she shall.”

    It would take nearly a year for the Blagdens to find a similar farmstead to purchase with their $25,000. That parcel, too, overlooked Washington City from a plateau, and included several handsome buildings constructed by the most popular diplomat in the District, Russian Ambassador Alexander de Bodisco.

    By then, Emily was again big with child. Joking as she lay in bed, she asked her husband, “Why purchase the Argyle estate from the old man, when you could attend one of his gambling parties and win it from him?”

    “The Czar has him on a short financial leash now, and the whist sessions have come to an end,” he explained. “Meanwhile, Count Bodisco’s enemies have been assailing him for speculating in Washington real estate. So this is the perfect time to get him to sell off the property.”

    With tearful eyes, Emily turned serious. “Dearest, I believe this can be a fresh start for us. You have just turned 50. We are moving to a glorious new estate. And the baby is kicking like a mule—so I am sure it will be born healthy and strong. If it is a boy, let us again name him Thomas to symbolize our new beginnings.”

    And that is what nearly took place. Thomas Blagden was born October 18, 1853. His father signed a deed to the Argyle property four days later. However, Emily never moved to their new enchanted forest. Having a ninth child proved too much for her constitution, and she died in early November—165 years ago this month.

    Emily’s four surviving children grew up on the estate, raised by Thomas Blagden and the wife he married four years later: Emily’s younger sister. Laura Blagden lived until 1908 and witnessed the start of new housing projects that would turn the Argyle estate into the Crestwood community we know today.

  • Sat, August 25, 2018 9:17 AM | Anonymous member


    by David Swerdloff

    August 4, 1720 - The first map of Crestwood is completed by surveyor James Stoddert for the 300-acre parcel originally called Argile Cowall and Lorn. The estate had been established in March 1719—meaning that the neighborhood’s 300th birthday is just six months away!

    August 18,1889 -The Washington Post describes the mighty force of “Rock Creek Falls” in the area of Crystal Spring. The waterway “raves and storms in its headlong fury” with a roar so “deafening” that “your own voice is thundered into silence.” The article predicts that electricity generated by the creek’s “unused power will transport a population large as Washington now has back and forth on the Seventh and Fourteenth street roads [by streetcar], and light the entire city.”

    August 4,1950 - President Truman is in attendance just north of Crestwood at the premiere of Faith of Our Fathers, a musical about the life of George Washington. What was soon to be called Carter Barron Amphitheatre was built specifically to stage the historic pageant. However, the musical ran for just two summer seasons. Eventually, the amphitheatre was used for concerts, ballets, plays and even circuses.

    August 6, 1861 - Congress passes and Abraham Lincoln signs the Confiscation Act of 1861 authorizing the seizure of any Confederate property that had been used to support the rebel cause. US forces could also confiscate slaves, since the South considered them to be “property” – leading to the term “contraband” to refer to escaped slaves declared free under this Act. Many contrabands were employed just northeast of Crestwood at Camp Brightwood to help construct and maintain Fort Stevens and other Civil War fortifications.

    August, 1962 - The main developer of Crestwood, Paul Stone, is pictured outside his home at 2029 Trumbull Terrace (along with neighbor Mary Anglemyer of 2035). This was the last in a series of homes Stone would build and live in, before putting the house on the market.

    August 14,1901 - DC Commissioners release a plan for naming streets in more than 100 subdivisions, mostly east of Rock Creek Park. These include the streets that would eventually be extended into Crestwood. The system formalized the pattern of numbered streets running north and south—and east-west streets arranged in alphabetical order in a series of one-syllable, two-syllable and threesyllable names. Especially significant was the requirement that each east-west street be named after a famous American. So names familiar west of the park— like Albemarle and Brandywine—could not be used to the east. Instead, we got Allison and Buchanan and dozens of other names, mainly of late 19th century Americans.

    August 19, 1867 - The National Republican newspaper reports on a gathering of African American worshippers at Crystal Spring (about where the tennis stadium is today). Some 8,000 people were said to have assembled at the “camp meeting.” During the last half of the 19th century, this spot was a popular destination for a variety of Washingtonians. It was for a time the site of a hotel resort—but was also known as a meeting place where “well-known gentlemen…camped under the spreading limbs…in lazy fun, telling stories, smoking cigars, drinking lemonade and spring water and getting up an appetite for Brunswick stew” (National Republican, July 1875).

    August 29,1891 - Although Rock Creek Park has been established, people continue to live in some of the properties acquired to create the park. The Evening Star describes “Mr. Willis’ green house” at the junction of Broad Branch and Rock Creek, with “his residence being on the summit of the hill to the northward…Fish Rock, a good fishing and bathing point, is at the base of this hill.”

  • Wed, May 30, 2018 11:24 AM | Anonymous member

    Old Time DC Enjoyed the Merry Month of May Near Crestwood

    by David Swerdloff

    Here are some May memories beginning in the years before CrestwoodMay 28, 1885 – Evening Star, May 30, 1902 – Washington Post The chart shows the location of the old roads and attractions superimposed on a present-day map. At one time, these would have been the major features of the area. was developed. Several nearby attractions brought people up from the city and through the old estate. Most notable was a race track in operation for 50+ years until 1909. Fans would set out for the Brightwood Driving Park (or Piney Branch Trotting Course) from the end of 14th Street…head northwest on what was called 14th Street Road…cross a small wooden bridge over Piney Branch creek…then climb the hilly and shaded Piney Branch Road north to the track and one or two inns. Sometimes the entire route from 14th Street was called 14th Street Road.

    May 2, 1879 – Washington Post:

    On the summit of the range of high hills which lie north of situated Brightwood park. The road by which it is reached…runs through a beautiful piece of rolling country. Yesterday, as on all racing days, this road was lined with almost every class of vehicle, from the elegant coupe to the country wagon, whose occupant is perfectly satisfied to have an occasional peep over the fence. Along this road lined with giant trees and tiny blue and yellow wild flowers, The Post’s sporting man was driven yesterday to the races…Everybody was there—at least everybody that was interested in horses.

    At times, the track was reserved for baseball:

    May 31, 1909 – Washington Post:

    Brightwood trimmed Petworth [9 to 6] in the Suburban League yesterday in one of the most exciting contests of the season at the Brightwood driving park…First one team would take the lead, only to lose it in a few minutes. The winners were presented with a handsome silver loving cup by A. Davis after the game.

    In 1894, the race course was the final camp site for “Coxey’s Army.” Unemployed Americans began this first March on Washington in Ohio, demanding federal action during a severe depression. Although the protest fizzled when it reached the Capitol, the marchers began the day parading through our neighborhood—again on Piney Branch Road. Downhill from the track, they passed the fenced area where Thomas Blagden was raising deer:

    May 1, 1894 – Evening Star:

    The march to the Capitol was begun…with flags flying, the white banners of peace fluttering from the oaken sticks of the marchers and the band playing something that seemed to be intended for a tune… By actual count at the gate there were 329 human beings in the parade…it wended down the dusty surface of the 14th street road…On down the hill, the procession passed with here and there a little group on the roadside… At the Argyle Deer Park a number of the animals stood by the fence and gazed curiously at the strange procession. Mr. Coxey remarked that they recognized an army of peace and were not afraid. From the time the procession struck the asphalt at 14th street, however, the crowds were continuous.

    Among the observers that day was L. Frank Baum. Some scholars say Coxey’s Army helped inspire The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—making the path through Crestwood the yellow brick road, I suppose.

    On May 1, 1899 – and just 300 yards south of the track – construction commenced on the Brightwood Reservoir. Its two basins remained in use from the end of 1900 until the Dalecarlia Reservoir went on line in 1927. The reservoir was dynamited in December 1937. A 1991 article for the Historical Society called the facility “the first major incursion into the park,” setting a precedent to give that section of the park its “most intrusive development.” The reservoir area became the site of community gatherings—especially after 16th Street was extended beyond in 1910—including a celebration of Shakespeare on the same site where the Shakespeare Free For All would be held decades later:

    May 11, 1916 – Washington Post:

    The tercentenary of Shakespeare was celebrated with pageant on the natural stage south of the Sixteenth street reservoir in Rock Creek park yesterday by students in English literature of McKinley, Business, Central and Western High Schools, with the assistance of the art, music and physical training department and the dramatic associations of several schools.

    In 1950, that “natural stage” would become the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Washington as the Nation’s Capital. The next year the venue was dedicated to Carter. T. Barron:

    May 26, 1951 – Washington Post:

    President Truman last night dedicated the Carter Barron Amphitheater…highlighting a program saluting the late Carter T. Barron, civic leader and vice chairman of the National Capital Sesquicentennial Commission…The audience saw the first scene of “Faith of Our Fathers,” Paul Green’s revised pageant depicting the career of George Washington…The scene opened with the entrance of George and Martha Washington after their marriage…in a carriage drawn by two high-stepping bays. Indian peace dances, country dances, and general festivities greeted the young couple. The United States Marine Band played…Walter Pidgeon, screen actor, read a eulogy of Barron, and Kathryn Grayson sang.

    Just south of Crestwood, the road into Mt. Pleasant once boasted an attraction constructed by a US pension examiner. Though he had lost an arm in the Civil War, Allen Hayward built a large tree house to live in. By 1885, he opened it to the public as Airy Castle park—a “Castle in the Trees” with a parlor, sitting room and space for music and dancing. For several years it was a popular spot, especially for those visiting Washington for Benjamin Harrison’s inauguration. Here are ads for May festivities at both Airy Castle and the race track:

  • Wed, February 21, 2018 3:09 PM | Anonymous member

    In 1720, one year after the Argyle estate was established, surveyor James Stoddert created the first map of what was to become Crestwood. He described 300 acres owned by Randall Blake starting at a “white oake” along “the piney branch of Rock Creek.” The map is drawn with north on the right.

    By David Swerdloff

    Our neighborhood is about to begin its 300th year!

    Perhaps we should celebrate with bagpipes, because—on March 10, 1719—Crestwood got its start as a 300-acre estate named after three places in western Scotland. Those 300 acres still define the map of Crestwood today (minus some land taken for Rock Creek Park and a small pie-slice east of 16th Street and north of Webster).

    The original parcel began—in Prince George’s County in the Maryland colony—with Major John Bradford. Related by marriage to the influential Carroll family, Bradford was a member of the Maryland General Assembly. From 500 acres he had received a month earlier from Lord Baltimore, he assigned 300 to a man named Randall Blake. So little is known about Blake that his name sometimes appears as Randolph or Black.

    Just as Georgetown began as “Rock of Dumbarton” (part of a wider area called New Scotland Hundred), Blake drew on centuries-old Scottish landmarks to name his property. He settled on three spots north and west of Dumbarton, calling his parcel “Argile Cowall and Lorn.” There would be various spellings of the name—but that’s how it was written on the first survey of the land in 1720. Over the years, the property would simply be described as the Argyle estate.

    We don’t know if Blake ever took up residence in Crestwood. In any case, he sold the land back to Bradford before the Major died in 1726. Bradford’s will did provide the name of a tenant on the estate—so we can identify Peter Hyatt as an early resident.

    Bradford’s son ran into financial trouble and sold the 300 acres to the county sheriff, Richard “Squire” Lee, who lived at the historic Blenheim estate along the Potomac near where the Harry Nice Bridge is today. Various members of the Lee family would own the property for the next 100 years. Yes, they were a distant branch of the same family that produced Robert E. Lee.

    One question that has always troubled me is why, around the turn of the 19th century, the Peirces didn’t buy the Argyle estate as they were accumulating land along Rock Creek. They were not only living on a neighboring property, but—before constructing Peirce Mill in the 1820s—Isaac Peirce built the nearly identical Argyle Mill.

    I believe the answer is that Peirce could not purchase the property because of a legal dispute within the Lee family over its ownership. The case—dealing only with the Argyle estate but setting a national precedent—had to be settled by the US Supreme Court (Dawson’s Lessee v. Godfrey, 1808).  It’s a fascinating case about citizenship and land ownership after the establishment of the USA, with the background of some family intrigue about a rich grandmother and her four granddaughters.

    So, thanks perhaps to the Supreme Court, the 300 acres remained intact. The estate then attracted a series of owners. There were land speculators like William Redin and Thomas Lilly. In the 1840s Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, Alexander de Bodisco, had constructed on his “country” estate a handsome manor house and other buildings. Finally, Thomas Blagden and his heirs owned and lived here from 1854 until the property began to be developed in the early 20th century.

    One of the later developments would be called Crestwood. This year that name marks its 80th birthday. But the neighborhood we now call Crestwood is about to start year number 300. Get the pipers ready!

  • Wed, November 29, 2017 9:52 AM | Anonymous member

    by David Swerdloff

    Emily Green Silliman Blgden - Blagden family portrait

    November 1853: The Blagden family suffers a tragedy shortly after giving up their farm on a parcel called St. Elizabeth (which they sold at a discount to allow the construction of a federal mental hospital). Before moving into their new property – the Argyle estate that became the Crestwood neighborhood – matriarch Emily Blagden dies. Thomas Blagden goes on to marry her sister Laura. While he passed away in 1870, Laura continued to live in the manor house that stood near the present-day corner of 18th and Varnum Streets until her death in 1908.

    November 1864: An ad appears in the Washington Post from the Blagden farm, which is known for its livestock. The classified notice offers a reward of five dollars for “the recovery of a three-year-old white and yellow bull that strayed from Thos. Blagden’s farm on the Piney Branch road.”

    November 1883: Captain Richard Hoxie, the superintendent of DC’s water and sewer system, proposes the construction of a dam above Georgetown to create a four-mile-long reservoir. The artificial lake would inundate about 1,300 acres of Rock Creek valley mainly south of Crestwood. Hoxie declares that the flooded land was otherwise “nearly all of it worthless for any other purpose, being precipitous, rocky hillside, covered with thickets of laurel and small timber.”

    November 1888: To provide momentum to the effort to create Rock Creek Park, banker Charles Glover leads a group of influential Washingtonians on a celebrated ride through Rock Creek valley on Thanksgiving Day. He then hosts a strategy session a few days later. Thanks in large part to their efforts, the Park would be established less than two years later.

    November 1903: The Washington Times reports on one of the city’s earliest automobile races, which took place at the Brightwood Driving Park (located near where the tennis stadium is today). According to the story, “thirty miles an hour was made and easily exceeded at times…and had the track been large enough to let out the swift St. Louis car, the big Winston, or the flying Cadillac, to say nothing of the Stevens-Duryea, forty miles an hour would have been the record of the day.”

    November 1906: The Capital Traction Company opens the extension of its streetcar line up 14th Street into Brightwood. The new line helps to spur development in Crestwood – especially near Decatur Street, the only road in the neighborhood that goes east to 14th.

    November 1909: The Brightwood Driving Park, a horseracing venue since the 1840s or 50s, is forced to close when construction crews begin to build the extension of 16th Street through the center of the oval.

    November 1928: A 300-million-candlepower searchlight sweeps the sky every two minutes from a site beside the Brightwood Reservoir (then located along 16th Street north of Colorado Avenue). Both that beacon and another by the District Building show area residents who leads in the day’s Presidential election.  A flashing light signals that Herbert Hoover is ahead; a continuous beam indicates more votes for Al Smith.

    November 1943: 71 Crestwood homeowners attend a House subcommittee hearing to support the rezoning of land at 16th and Shepherd Streets in order to prevent construction of the Crestwood Apartments. The Crestwood Citizens Association had been established in 1941 to oppose the apartment plan. The Association’s brief to Congress argues that the building “would result in the consequent defacement of Rock Creek Park and establish a precedent for the opening up of Sixteenth Street from Tiger Bridge north to the District Line to apartment houses… [and would] adversely affect the investment of the home owners living in the vicinity.” Resistance to the project generated several House and Senate bills and two Supreme Court decisions—and delayed construction until late 1949.

    November 1948: Taking the advice of a neighbor who taught at the University of Maryland’s agriculture school in Beltsville, Crestwood residents vote to adopt the azalea as the community flower (with minority support for the cherry blossom and the dogwood). The Association goes on to persuade garden shops to offer discounts, and for years the Crestwood Directory identifies the neighborhood as “The Azalea Community.”

    November 1950: The death of DC cinema mogul Carter T. Barron sparks a campaign to rename the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre in his honor.  Mr. Barron had led the effort to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the District of Columbia as the Nation’s Capital. His commission organized the construction of an outdoor stage for the presentation of a historic pageant each summer. The show, Faith of Our Fathers, lasted just two seasons–1950 and 1951. Thereafter, despite some neighborhood opposition, Carter Barron Amphitheatre was used for numerous concerts, plays and other performances.

    November 1957: The Crestwood Citizens Association votes not to take a position on “the possibility of Upshur Street becoming a throughway… [and] the possible construction of the Upshur Street Bridge.” The proposed span would take Upshur Street west high above Rock Creek to connect with Tilden Street and Linnean Avenue. The Olmsted Brothers historic plan for Rock Creek Park had called for such a high level crossing in 1918—and similar schemes continued to be put forward over the years.

  • Thu, September 14, 2017 9:12 PM | Anonymous member

    By David Swerdloff

    110 years ago this month, the Washington Post reported the completion of a marvel of engineering.

    Today we’d call the article fake news: the project had actually become a boondoggle.

    But its story is noteworthy because eventually it became the spark that transformed our neighborhood from a sleepy estate into a community of homes.

    The undertaking was the construction of the Sixteenth Street “Tiger” Bridge.

    Look at the bridge with new eyes: it extends over a deep chasm cut through the centuries by the Piney Branch (at one time an extensive network of creeks, springs and streams). The span was the first parabolic arch bridge in the United States, and mayhave been the longest in the world.

    What the article failed to mention is that Congress hadn’t appropriated the money to build the entire bridge. Instead, funding was released for just one narrow span, which was finished in 1907 (though in December, not August). Two DC Commissioners and the House Appropriations Committee Chairman took a celebratory drive across it. Then nothing happened for nearly two years. As the Post commented in 1909, the one span simply “stood like a big white monument in the surrounding woods.”

    Lawmakers got around to funding a second span and the union of the two sections to create the bridge we see today. It opened in 1910, taking Sixteenth Street north…though not far. The road had not even been paved up to Military Road. The finishing touch in 1911 was the installation of four tiger sculptures cast in bronze, weighing 1,550 pounds apiece.

    Before 1910, our neighborhood had been a hard slog to get to. The bridge and the extension of Sixteenth Street replaced a rustic country road. Piney Branch Road had been the only roadway in our area as it moseyed from Mount Pleasant to Brightwood.

    Its crude wooden bridge across the Piney Branch was passable for pedestrians, but horses and carriages were well advised to use the nearby ford. A steep slope wound down from Mount Pleasant on the south side, with forbidding Blagden’s Hill facing travelers on the north.

    We can see vestiges of the old route along 17th Street in Mount Pleasant as it plunges today toward Piney Branch Parkway. On the north side of the creek, the roadway ascended into our neighborhood, passing behind what is now the Crestwood Apartments. Though that part of its path is green space today, it’s still listed as an official DC right-of- way from the water’s edge up to Shepherd Street. Piney Branch Road then continued north northeast from the present-day intersection of 17th and Shepherd, crossing what is now Sixteenth Street just above Webster. The old road endures north of Buchanan Street, and a stroll along those narrow blocks feels like a step back in time.

    Piney Branch Road also formed the eastern boundary of the Blagden family’s Argyle estate. The 300-acre property, first mapped nearly 300 years ago, still largely defines the boundaries of Crestwood. The estate was centered on an 1840s mansion located on (as the 1910 Census put it): “no street—house is back in woods—enter from Piney Branch Rd.” The home would sit today near the corner of 18 th and Varnum, had it not been razed in 1934. The two oldest houses still standing in Crestwood were built along Piney Branch Road, although both of these 1900 wood-frame structures now have Upshur Street addresses.

    Merely having a plan to forgo the old route by constructing a modern bridge was enough to jump-start the sale of building lots in Crestwood (then called the Blagden Subdivision). Advertising appeared for new developments named “Mount Pleasant Heights” (1904) and “Argyle Park” (1907). Several older houses were torn down to prepare lots for development, including a number of small rental properties where African American day laborers lived with their families.

    New houses began appearing on the lots as the bridge was being finished in 1910. They were erected mainly in the north end of the neighborhood to take advantage of Decatur Street, the only road that provided access east to the 14th Street streetcar line (opened in 1906).

    Builders and buyers realized the new Sixteenth Street would provide a prestige address. “The absence of street cars on this fine thoroughfare and the high character of the surroundings insure the early establishment of one of the finest boulevards in the country,” reported the Post in 1907. “A movement is already on foot to have this driveway designated ‘The Avenue of the Presidents.’”

    More than a century later, Sixteenth Street remains a grand entrance to Crestwood. And the bridge not completed in August 1907 was the marvel that made our community possible.

  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:43 PM | Anonymous member

    George Lady, a former resident of Crestwood, has been going through old slides his father took of Crestwood. A few of the slides have been digitized and were provided to this website, along with some of George's memories.

    Hello Crestwooders:

    I am George Lady. I grew up in Crestwood, and have more or less considered it home ever since. I am writing to offer to share pictures of the neighborhood, against the chance that some of them might be considered appropriate to post on the Crestwood website. My history is briefly this:

    My grandfather, George Webster Lady, moved from Capitol Hill to Crestwood, building 1810 Shepherd St., around 1939, plus or minus a year or so. This is the very house in the background of the "Fun at the Fourth of July Parade" photo posted on the Crestwood website (as below):

    My father (David Franklin Lady) and mother (Dorothy Ellen (Dean) Lady) built 4028 Argyle Terrace in 1941 and my earliest memory is of that house (I was just 2). Around 1947 my parents sold 4028 and we moved a few doors down Argyle to 3930 Argyle Terrace, essentially the house that I grew up in. My father moved his dental practice in 1954 from Capitol Hill (from the SE corner of Lincoln Park) to the residence at the corner of 16th(4000 16th for the 16th St. entrance) and Shepherd (1601 Shepherd for the Shepherd St. entrance).

    This house had originally been built by Glen and Carolyn Pincock, both MD’s, with part of the house arranged to house their medical, and then my father’s dental, practice. I was married in 1962 and moved a few miles north, but returned to live for two years, 1965-1967, in the residential portion of 1601 Shepherd while finishing graduate school. My parents sold 3930 and moved to 1601 Shepherd in the fall of 1967. My father retired in the 1980’s and they sold 1601 and moved to the Kenwood condominium on River Road. Both of my parents have passed away, my mother most recently this past January. My sister, Carolyn Redmon (who lives in Lorton, VA), and I have finally faced up to looking over the literally thousands of 35mm slides that my father took over many decades. Of these, we have chosen several hundred, of which many show Crestwood during the 1950’s (and other years too), the golden age of my childhood. These are being converted to digital format and, once done, I plan to set up a website for my family. Many of the pictures may otherwise be interesting to current Crestwooders.

    For example, here is 3930 a few years after we moved in. My guess is that it is Thanksgiving 1949 or 1950. The cars show that it is a family gathering of my father’s father (from just down the street), brother and sister.

    And here is one of me, holding a football in my Redskins garp. This is pretty early, maybe even 1948. We are on the (then vacant) lot on the east side of Argyle Terrace between Shepherd and Taylor Streets. This was our neighborhood playing field throughout my childhood. The fine home there now, built I suspect in the 1970’s, is of course in my mind viewed as “the new house.” To my right in the green helmet is Bobby Simpson, son of Robert Simpson who lived across the street to the north (4000 Argyle Terrace) and next to him is (I am pretty sure) Jack Vernstein, son of J. Elsworth Vernstein who lived across the street to the east in 3911 Argyle Terrace (I am good at these addresses because we found the 1953(!) Crestwood Citizens Association Directory among my mother’s things). The three boys to my left I cannot, at this point, remember. In any event, I will soon have hundreds of these pictures. I will post many on a website ( As I go through these pictures, the ambiance of Crestwood comes back to me…a wonderful neighborhood that remains beautiful to this day.

    George Lady

    (I currently live in Hainsport, NJ and am a professor of Economics at Temple University in Philadelphia. I still have my Redskins season tickets and come down each year for games, to visit with my sister, or as a sometimes consultant to the Department of Energy. Every once and a while I come back to Crestwood to enjoy the pleasant memories).


    I will have to think about it, and you might also. I am bound to know something(s) that current Crestwooder's would find interesting. For example: six or so houses up from 3930, in the small cul-de-sac on what becomes Quincy, in the near-north house of the several in that cul-de-sac lived at one point Ezra Taft Benson, Secretary of Agriculture under Eisenhower. Edward R. Murrow did one of his, "You Are Here" or some such program which brought full TV coverage to the neighborhood in the day when that was pretty new (it would be pretty exciting now). My friend Buddy Smith, who lived over on Randolph St., and I tried figure out how to pull the plug on the TV coverage. But we failed, which I suppose was best, but it was exciting.

    Here is a very early picture of me (on the front porch) at 3930. This is before the "cars in the driveway" picture, which showed my father's new, and greatly proud of, 1949 Cadillac. Here we see his earlier 1947 Pontiac. Of course, I am the stately youngster standing on the porch.

  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:40 PM | Anonymous member

    The story of Carter Barron and the tennis stadium

    If you are wondering why there is a tennis stadium, an amphitheater and ball fields just north of Crestwood in Rock Creek Park, you can blame (or credit) the DC Water Department. While nearly the entire park is preserved in a natural state, this parcel was developed because of a precedent set by a DC Water facility at the end of the nineteenth century.

    From 1899 to 1937, the tract was the site of the Brightwood Reservoir (also called the Sixteenth Street Reservoir or Middle Reservoir). This "first major incursion into the park" (as it was described in a 1991 article in the magazine of the Historical Society of Washington DC), then made it possible to consider many other uses for land in that part of the park - even radical ideas like a pro sports stadium or the Jefferson Memorial. Here's the story.

    When the DC Water Department proposed building a reservoir on the property in 1897, the US Attorney General declared that such a use of parkland was prohibited under the law that established Rock Creek Park. DC authorities then appealed to Congress. When it became clear to the Park’s Board of Control that lawmakers would authorize construction of a reservoir, the Board gave the Water Department the use of nine acres of parkland in exchange for the city’s purchase of some private land on the eastern boundary of the Park.

    Construction of the Brightwood Reservoir commenced May 1, 1899, some 300 yards south of the Brightwood Driving Park harness track. The south basin of the reservoir was in use by the end of June 1900. The north basin was finished in December 1900. The total area of the two basins was 245,000 square feet.

    The clearing of the land presented opportunities for recreation at the site. First, a nine-hole golf course was laid out next to the reservoir in 1907, with hopes that additional land could be purchased to expand the course to 18 holes. There were reports that a clubhouse might be constructed near the intersection of Sixteenth Street and Blagden Avenue. The golf course plan fell through for lack of funds. But playing fields, tennis courts and a large picnic area were built adjacent to the reservoir in 1916. The Olmsted master plan for Rock Creek Park in 1918 noted that the site was on a plateau "separated topographically from the rest of the Park, easily accessible from adjacent residential areas and, by car, from other parts of the District…[and] admirably adapted for more or less intensive recreation--tennis basket ball, cricket, football, and band concerts."

    The land became the site of community gatherings, especially after 16th Street was extended past the reservoir in 1910. Washingtonians celebrated the Fourth of July in both 1915 and 1916 with a horse show and tournament at Brightwood Reservoir. The Post reports in 1915:

    "The grassy slopes about the reservoir at the head of Sixteenth street were crowded long before 2:30, the time for the start of the sports. More than 15,000 persons were present…Every event of the sixteen was of engrossing interest, from the mile-long work-horse parade with which the tournament opened, to the steeplechase at its conclusion."

    The 1916 celebration also began with a work-horse parade that assembled on 15th Street south of Pennsylvania Avenue and proceeded to the reservoir for the judging at 2:30. Other events included a horse show, horse races, a mule race and a mounted tug-of-war. Workers in the street cleaning department also participated in a tug-of-war and a greasy pig chase.

    Shakespeare was performed in Rock Creek Park decades before the construction of Carter Barron Amphitheater (where a number of seasons of the Shakespeare Free-For-All were to be staged). As the Post reported (5/11/1916): "The tercentenary of Shakespeare was celebrated with pageant on the natural stage south of the Sixteenth street reservoir in Rock Creek park yesterday by students in English literature of McKinley, Business, Central and Western High Schools, with the assistance of the art, music and physical training department and the dramatic associations of several schools.” The performances over three nights included scenes from several plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, As You Like It, The Taming of the Shrew and The Winter’s Tale.

    The Brightwood Driving Park had closed in 1909 because of the extension of 16th Street through the middle of the oval. But the success of the holiday celebrations near the reservoir led to proposals to open a municipal racetrack on the property. The Post reported (10/12/1916):

    "The track will be used exclusively for races in the nature of the Fourth of July and Labor Day celebrations. It will be merely a large bridle path fenced in. The track will comprise a half-mile flat track and a steeplechase course…It is expected that work on the project will be begun early this winter and that it will be complete by early spring."

    When a new filtration plant at the Dalecarlia Reservoir went on line on October 7, 1927, the Brightwood Reservoir was no longer needed. The Post reported it would "be retained until the new plant is working well." Soon the reservoir stood empty next to the recreation area.

    The high ground along the reservoir came in handy on Election Day, 1928, as ballots were counted in the presidential election between Herbert Hoover and Al Smith. Every two minutes, residents could see a pair of 300-million candle power searchlights sweeping the sky, one from the reservoir and the other from the driveway of the District Building. If the lights burned continuously, Smith was leading; if the lights flashed on and off, Hoover was ahead. When a winner was determined, the beams would either stay on or keep flashing. Roy O’Neal also flew a small airplane over DC and the close-in suburbs during the evening, firing red flares to indicate that Hoover was ahead (Smith supporters were looking for green flares). The pilot was not able to signal a Hoover victory because the plane was damaged on landing after his first flight.

    During the winter of 1931, the empty reservoir "was filled with water to a depth of a foot or two for the purpose of affording recreation to ice skaters in case of cold weather," as explained in a letter to the Post (2/27/1931). The writer added, "Since the Sixteenth Street Reservoir has steps built for the purpose of descending to the bottom, I think it should be flooded with a foot or so of water in summer for the purpose of providing the kiddies an opportunity to wade and splash around."

    The bigger question was: what should be built in place of the unneeded reservoir? In 1929, news reports showed that the Piney Branch Citizens Association was considering a proposal by the National Capital Park and Planning Commission to erect a football stadium with a running track around the field and a swimming pool to one side. By 1931, the Commission was calling for a more general recreation center. At that point, the Sixteenth Street Heights Citizens Association voted to oppose the plan. At a meeting in January 1931, US Marshall Edgar Snyder told the Association that children in the area had sufficient playing facilities in school playgrounds and their own backyards and that "having a lot of children playing in the center of the Sixteenth street residential section would be a nuisance." Snyder suggested the site be converted into a sunken garden.

    The reservoir sat unused until December 21, 1937. The front page of the Post the next morning featured a large photo with this caption: "Dynamite yesterday blasted a hole through the obsolete Sixteenth Street Reservoir so that steam shovels could begin razing the plant for an athletic field and playground to be erected there. Photograph was taken just as the high explosives went off." The Works Progress Administration hired some 250 laborers to transform the site into a recreation center. The Post (12/28/1937) reported it would feature 16 tennis courts, a field house, a baseball diamond and fields for football, soccer and lacrosse.

    Local opposition continued. In February 1938, Sixteenth Street Highlands Association President W. E. Stoutameyer again raised the proposal for a sunken garden instead. But he added: "Almost anything that would beautify the plot would be acceptable. We do not want the whole area made into tennis courts and swimming pools. It is the main approach into the city from the north and it is important how it looks. Someone suggested putting the Jefferson Memorial there. That, of course would be all right with us." (Construction of the Memorial on the Tidal Basin began in December 1938.)

    Finally, it should be noted that the idea of building a stadium at the site of Brightwood Reservoir did not disappear. DC Stadium (later RFK Stadium) opened to the public in October 1961, right after the original Washington Senators had played their first season in Minnesota as the Twins. While still in Washington, the team had weighed in on the site of the facility that would replace Griffith Stadium. A member of the Senators’ Board of Directors, C. Leo DeOrsey, wrote an opinion piece in the Post (1/20/1958) explaining his vote against putting the new stadium at the Armory site:

    "They tell you all about the 'plans' for larger highways to this new site, but the way they attend to things in our Nation’s Capital, it may take too long, and by that time, with pay TV, you may not need a stadium. The game may be played in a TV studio. And furthermore, I’m not going to engage in an argument about good or bad neighborhoods. I’m just against the site. My choice for a site would be around the Ellipse, or Hains Point, or Foggy Bottom, or 16th Street Reservoir or the present site with better parking facilities."

    So the building of a reservoir set in motion a process that could have brought pro ball to Crestwood.

    The Crestwood History Project is sponsored by the Crestwood Citizens Association. A book about the neighborhood's history will be published this fall, to benefit the Association.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace

  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:40 PM | Anonymous member

    More where they came from and why

    This week’s blog follows up on last week's discussion of the street names we find in and around Crestwood.

    Many of the oldest roads in the area have names based on natural features, including Broad Branch Road (built in 1839) and Piney Branch Road (a north-south route from Washington city to Brightwood by the time of the Civil War).

    Mills were early destinations and inspired the names of historic roads. Pierce's Mill Road was constructed in 1831, with part of the route duplicated today by Tilden Street. One block of what is now called Pierce Mill Road still exists off of Park Road. Blagden's Mill Road appeared on city maps into the 1950s, and you can still discern part of its track from Colorado Avenue (near Blagden Terrace) down to Rock Creek (south of Boulder Bridge).

    Other early roads were named after people, including Joshua Peirce's Road, laid out in 1831 (later renamed Klingle Road). Beach Drive was named in 1901 after the man who oversaw its construction. Army engineer and Rock Creek Park Superintendent Lansing Beach didn’t let the lack of Congressional appropriations stand in his way…he began construction using prison labor. The second Thomas Blagden donated land to create Blagden Avenue in 1899. Blagden Terrace is a more recent road named after the family.

    As described last week, the names of most of Crestwood's non-numbered streets date back to a decision announced August 14, 1901. East-west streets (arranged in alphabetical order) were to be named after famous Americans. That changed the names of streets that were already in existence or on planning maps east of our neighborhood in Petworth and Brightwood Park. Here again is a list of some of the former names of streets and what they were changed to: Philadelphia Street became Quincy Street; Quincy was changed to Randolph; Richmond to Shepherd; Savannah to Taylor; Trenton to Upshur; Utica to Varnum; Vallejo to Webster; Yuma to Allison; Zanesville to Buchanan; Albemarle to Crittenden; Brandywine to Decatur.

    So who were these famous Americans after whom our streets were named? There are a few mysteries to be solved, beginning with the first street in alphabetical order.

    The most prominent American for whom Allison Street might have been named was William Boyd Allison, an influential US Senator from Iowa for 35 years. However, he was still in office in 1901, until his death in 1908. Both James Allison, Jr. and his son, John Allison, represented Pennsylvania in the US Congress. Although each served only one term, John Allison did have several other claims to fame that could make him the inspiration for the street name. He was an early supporter of the Republican Party, attending the Republican National Convention in 1956, where he nominated Abraham Lincoln to be the party's first vice presidential candidate (the convention chose William Dayton)...he served as Register of the Treasury, with his signature appearing on US currency...and his tenure at Treasury was cut short when he died suddenly in 1878. Another possible candidate would be Richard Allison (1757-1816), who held the post we now call Surgeon General.

    Buchanan, of course, was named for President James Buchanan (1791-1868).

    John Jordan Crittenden (1786-1863) was a US Senator, Congressman and Governor from Kentucky best known for the Crittenden Compromise of 1860, an unsuccessful effort to keep the South in the Union by guaranteeing the permanent existence of slavery in slave states and south of a particular latitude (but prohibiting it north of that line). His father was a major in the Continental Army. His two sons were generals on opposite sides of the Civil War.

    Stephen Decatur (1779-1820) was a US naval officer hailed as a hero during the Barbary Wars and the War of 1812. While serving in Washington as Commissioner of the Navy, he built the first private home on Lafayette Square, now called Decatur House, after purchasing the land with prize money he was awarded for his naval conquests in the War of 1812. Decatur died of a pistol wound after a duel with Commodore James Barron in Bladensburg in 1820.

    Mathewson Drive was named after the Mathewsons, who married into the Blagden family and ended up owning significant parcels of land in the neighborhood. Brooklyn doctor Arthur Mathewson married Harriet Silliman Blagden, a daughter of the first Thomas Blagden. Their son, William W. Mathewson, is pictured in the June 5, 1938 Washington Post wielding a shovel at the groundbreaking for the Crestwood development.

    There were many famous people with the name Quincy, from Revolutionary War Colonel Josiah Quincy to various lawyers, Boston mayors and Harvard presidents. The road may honor John Quincy Adams, who was more than a US President to the people along Rock Creek. He also owned the Adams Mill, located on property that today belongs to the National Zoo.

    The Randolphs were a very prominent Virginia family. John Randolph (1773-1833) was a powerful Congressman and Senator from Virginia and the subject of Whittier's poem "Randolph of Roanoke." Peyton Randolph was the first president of the Continental Congress. Edmund Randolph was America’s first Attorney General.

    Alexander Robey Shepherd (1835-1902) earned the nicknames "Boss Shepherd" and "The Father of Modern Washington." In the 1870s, first as head of the DC Board of Public Works and then as DC's Governor, he took a war-worn Washington City and filled in the Washington Canal, paved roads and sidewalks, built sewers and gas and water mains, planted trees, and installed street lights and a system of horse-drawn streetcars. However, after his public works projects put the city in debt to the tune of $13 million, he was fired, and the territorial government was abolished in favor of a three-member board of commissioners. After declaring personal bankruptcy in 1876, Shepherd moved to Mexico and made a fortune in silver mining.

    Taylor Street was likely named after another US President and military hero, Zachary Taylor (1784-1850).

    The derivation of Trumbull Terrace is somewhat in doubt. If it was named after a figure from the 1800s, that person might be Illinois US Senator Lyman Trumbull (1813-1896), who was co-author of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery. Another possibility is American artist John Trumbull (1756-1843). Four of his historical paintings of the Revolutionary War hang in the Capitol rotunda (and one of them is on the back of the two-dollar bill). Coincidentally (or not), Trumbull was also a family name among the Mathewsons ever since John Trumbull’s sister married Arthur Mathewson’s great grandmother. Before Trumbull Terrace appeared on DC maps, the street plan called for Crestwood to have its own traffic circle called Trumbull Circle, which was to be constructed near the present-day intersection of Upshur Street, Argyle Terrace and Mathewson Drive.

    Abel B. Upshur (1790-1844) served as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of State, and was instrumental in negotiating the secret treaty that led to the annexation of Texas. When Secretary of State, he was among eight people killed when a gun exploded on board the USS Princeton as President Tyler, his cabinet and about 200 guests were cruising along the Potomac to mark the launch of the new steamship. Another Navy man in the family was Admiral John Henry Upshur (1823-1917), who served during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and on Commodore Matthew Perry’s expeditions to Japan.

    Joseph Bradley Varnum (1751-1821) was a Congressman from Massachusetts. He served as Speaker of the House under both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, and was succeeded in that post by Henry Clay. His brother, James Mitchell Varnum (1748-1789), was a general in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He advocated allowing African Americans to enlist in the Army, resulting in the establishment of the all-black First Rhode Island Regiment.

    Daniel Webster (1782-1852) was a US Senator from Massachusetts and Secretary of State under William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. Alternatively, the street could have been named after author, spelling reformer and creator of the modern dictionary, Noah Webster (1758-1843).

    The remaining named streets in Crestwood include Crestwood Drive, named after the Crestwood development that began in 1938, and Colorado Avenue, one of Washington’s boulevards named after US states. As for the back-story for Argyle Terrace, Argyle was the name of both the estate that grew into Crestwood and one of the mills attached to the property. The word was derived from Argyle Cowall and Lorn (various spellings), the name for the original 300-acre plot described in a 1722 Maryland land patent. You may find the phrase Argyle Cowall and Lorn on the deed to your house. And, except for the property taken for Rock Creek Park and some land in the northeast corner of the estate that was cut off by the extension of 16th Street, that 300 acres still pretty much defines the area of Crestwood.

    The Crestwood History Project, including this blog and a book to be published this fall, are sponsored by the Crestwood Citizens Association.

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace

  • Tue, June 06, 2017 3:39 PM | Anonymous member

    Where they came from and why

    Before getting into today's blog post, let me thank the Humanities Council of Washington DC for generously funding a grant so that the history of Crestwood can be published in book form. The grant period ends October 15. So expect to be able to purchase a book in the fall, with proceeds to benefit the Crestwood Citizens Association. It should be full of maps, photos and drawings that help tell the story of our neighborhood and how it arose from a single estate established nearly 300 years ago.

    This week’s blog is for those of you who have wondered why the names of streets on one side of Rock Creek Park are generally different from the ones on the other. For example, in Crestwood we have Allison, Buchanan, Crittenden and Decatur Streets. But west of the park the streets are Albemarle, Brandywine, Chesapeake and Davenport.

    It all goes back to a decision announced August 14, 1901. The DC Commissioners released a plan for naming streets in more than 100 subdivisions, including the streets that would eventually be extended into Crestwood. The system formalized the pattern we see today with numbered streets running north and south; east-west streets were to be arranged in alphabetical order with a series of one-syllable, two-syllable and then three-syllable names. Moreover, each of the east-west streets was to be named after a famous American.

    Not only did that rule out street names like Albemarle and Brandywine, it also changed the names of streets that were on planning maps or already constructed east of our neighborhood in Petworth and Brightwood Park. Here is a list of some of the former names of streets and what they were changed to:

    Philadelphia was changed to Quincy...Quincy to Randolph...Richmond to Shepherd...Savannah to Taylor...Trenton to Upshur...Utica to Varnum...Vallejo to Webster...Yuma to Allison...Zanesville to Buchanan...Albemarle to Crittenden...Brandywine to Decatur.

    Some of the mandated changes did not wind up as part of the street grid. Wilmington Street was to become Yancey, and Xenia was to change to Ziegler. Today there is no Yancey or Ziegler Street, although you can find Wilmington Place and Xenia Street in Southeast. In Columbia Heights, Harvard Street, Kenyon Street and Columbia Road were all slated to be renamed. Those changes also did not take effect.

    Some street names were altered in Mt. Pleasant in anticipation of the extension of 16th Street into our neighborhood. Pine Street in Mt. Pleasant became 16th Street itself. However, one block of Pine Street still exists. Going north on 16th, in order to turn west on Park Road, you have to veer right onto Pine Street by the Shrine of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

    Also, Piney Branch Road in Mt. Pleasant was renamed 17th Street. That seems appropriate, since the road used to come north from Mt. Pleasant, cross the creek over a small bridge, follow what is still an official right-of-way behind the site of the Crestwood Apartments, then continue north into Crestwood along what is also called 17th Street today.

    The old street names make everyday places seem unfamiliar. For example, if the road system had not been changed, Grace Lutheran Church would be at Piney Branch and Utica, not 16th and Varnum.

    Next week we’ll look at the people after whom many of the Crestwood roads were named.

    Here are several updates on last week’s blog about 1907 Quincy Street, which was the home of Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson in the years 1953-1961 and later became the official residence of Yugoslav diplomats.

    George Lady recalls when he was a teenager in Crestwood and Edward R. Murrow interviewed Secretary Benson live on CBS television from the Quincy Street home. Mr. Lady writes:

    "This involved the arrival of a number of large CBS network trucks and the setting up of much gear in order to shoot the show…There was, accordingly, much excitement in the neighborhood, especially among the kids…There was a thought, passed among the community of kids hovering around the occasion, which was swamped with bright lights, that it might be fun to figure out how to pull the plug on the whole business. No one figured out how to do it; or at least, it wasn't done.”

    Murrow interviewed Benson at least twice. The first time was on the program See It Now on October 13, 1953; the broadcast also featured Winston Churchill. It is more likely that George Lady was recalling the episode of Person To Person from September 25, 1954. That show featured interviews in the homes of Mr. Benson and actress Eva Marie Saint.

    I have also done further checking into a statement I quoted from a Washington Post story about Benson in 1953 that declared he was "the first clergyman of any faith ever to become a Cabinet member." Clearly, many early American politicians were trained as ministers, and a number of them went on to serve in the cabinet. However, Benson seems to have been the first clergyman in the cabinet for quite a while. Benson biographers have concluded you have to go back nearly a century to 1852, when Edward Everett became Secretary of State under Millard Fillmore. By the way, Everett is remembered most today for a two-hour oration he gave in Pennsylvania -- immediately preceding a short speech by Abraham Lincoln that we now call the Gettysburg Address.

    And Crestwood neighbor Jonathan Higman forwarded an interesting response to last week's post. As Yugoslavia broke apart, the diplomatic residence on Quincy Street was abandoned, and I had suggested that might have taken place after Yugoslavia withdrew its ambassador in 1989. Jonathan writes that a Serbian diplomat was still living there in the early 1990s.

    He goes on to describe frustrating conversations with the diplomat’s daughter, who claimed the White House and the Washington Post were "making up lies about the sufferings of the Bosnians." Jonathan says the daughter also thought Americans were foolish to feed their dogs commercial dog food; her family gave their great Dane chicken and rice. He tells a story about walking his own dog one night shortly before midnight:

    “There was a man holding a rifle standing on the lawn of 1907, a man I recognized as the diplomat. So I asked him what he was doing. 'We have rats,' he replied. 'We have rats in the yard.' Again I held my peace, though I felt like pointing out that if you live only yards from Rock Creek Park and leave chicken and rice glop outside, you will get rats. Anyway, Mr. Diplomat said, 'I was a great hunter in Yugoslavia. I used to go up into the mountains and shoot deer and wild boar and everything.' I nodded but said that if he shot off a rifle in Crestwood at midnight, there might be an unfriendly reaction. I guess he agreed with me, since I never heard a gunshot."

    --David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace

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