The History of Chevy Chase and?Friendship Heights
Founded in the 1890s, Chevy Chase was built as a residential community, free of commercial enterprises.
Although Chevy Chase and Friendship Heights share a common border—Wisconsin Avenue—they hardly share a similar history. A good place to learn about this essential difference is in a 1971 interview with the late Chevy Chase grande dame Edith Claude Jarvis, on file at the Montgomery Historical Society library:
“During my administration, we had quite a squabble over the Saks Fifth Avenue store coming into the Village,” Jarvis said.
A squabble over Saks Fifth Avenue? Wasn’t Saks good enough for the Village of Chevy Chase?
Jarvis was a member of the Chevy Chase Village Board of Governors during the 1950s and early 1960s. She also was the granddaughter of Maj. George Augustus Armes, one of the men who dreamed up Chevy Chase, and thus a living link to the ideology of strict planning and exclusivity that defined the posh suburb at its creation.
The Chevy Chase Land Company, which broke ground in the early 1890s, banned all commerce from residential neighborhoods. In this, it borrowed from the preeminent landscape architect of the time, Frederick Law Olmsted, who proclaimed that the “tendency of civilization” was to “separate and greatly distinguish business premises from domestic premises.” It was a reversal of thousands of years of urban custom, when, for better or worse, home and work were side by side (and often under the same roof).
Along with the Boston-based Olmsted and noted Washington, D.C.-based designer Leon Dessez, the land company came up with a quasi-romantic plan of winding streets wrapped around hillsides and enlivened with native oak, maple, elm, sycamore and dogwood.
The name recalled both a 1725 land grant for the area, called “Cheivy Chace,” and the Cheviot hills along the border of England and Scotland.
Chevy Chase “was a seminal development in the history of the growth of the Nation’s Capital for the influence it exerted upon the location and quality of other suburban subdivisions,” wrote county historian Joey Lampl in her 1998 history of the community. Its “well-built houses represent an important cultural expression of American wealth and power.”
Friendship Heights’ origins and aspirations, by contrast, were humble. The name comes from the 3,000-acre “Friendship” land grant made to colonists in 1713. During the 19th century, the Shoemakers, a Quaker family from Philadelphia, farmed the land along Georgetown-Frederick turnpike (now Wisconsin Avenue) on both sides of the District line. It was a quiet place, about a mile from Tenleytown, then a largely working-class community and site of an inn, blacksmith shop and other crossroad businesses.
By 1900, the trolley tracks from Georgetown reached Montgomery County’s southern border, prompting local entrepreneurs to construct homes for commuters. Among the builders was Albert Shoemaker (great-grandson of original settler Samuel Shoemaker), who later served as attorney for the D.C. chapter of the Anti-Saloon League, a prohibitionist group. Henry Offutt, a Georgetown grocer turned banker, was another founding father. Offutt subdivided 16 acres in 1901 along the northern side of Willard Avenue.