The History of Chevy Chase and?Friendship Heights
Founded in the 1890s, Chevy Chase was built as a residential community, free of commercial enterprises.
The pie-shaped, 32-acre “Village of Friendship Heights and the Hills,” recognized by the Maryland legislature in 1914, included the Offutt subdivision. Its boundaries have stayed the same: Wisconsin Avenue on the east and, today, The Irene apartments on the west. Much of the area outside the village line is known as Friendship Heights, too.
In the early days, Friendship Heights homeowners sometimes bought an adjacent lot to plant a garden or orchard. Cows and mules were common, as were chicken coops. The annual hog slaughter—the animals were dispatched with a .22-caliber rifle and then boiled to remove their hair—was a late autumn ritual.
In Chevy Chase, there were no hog killings in the front yard. A garden was OK, but finding other necessities meant driving your regulation Model T to Tenleytown, or ordering goods from Washington to be delivered by daily freight trolley. There was also a small grocery on Brookville Road that somehow escaped the commercial ban.
Not all the homes in Chevy Chase were lavish. And not all the residents belonged to one of the country clubs, Chevy Chase and Columbia. Just north of the entrance to the latter was a manmade lake for boating, a bandstand and, later, a community swimming pool.
By the 1950s, the Chevy Chase Land Company had eased its building prohibitions and stores popped up along Connecticut Avenue, just south of the District line. Today, this area remains a commercial strip, with the Avalon Theatre, Safeway and other stores.
The land company backed the Saks deal in 1960, generating the rebellion by Chevy Chase residents. Despite charges—and the requisite lawsuit—that the new Saks was “commercial rape,” the county approved the store, and villagers grudgingly accepted it.
“Certainly they [Saks] take up a large amount of space that would otherwise perhaps be given over to rather honky-tonky places of business,” Jarvis said in that 1971 interview.
Newlands Street, which meets Connecticut Avenue across from the Chevy Chase Country Club, is a memorial (along with the Chevy Chase Circle fountain) to the man who financed the suburb, Francis Griffith Newlands. Married to the daughter of William Sharon, a Western mining magnate, Newlands represented the new state of Nevada in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1893-1903 and in the U.S. Senate from 1903-1917. He was a leader of the turn-of-the-century campaign to complete Washington, D.C.’s monumental core.
After Sharon died, Newlands became a trustee of his father-in-law’s enormous estate. Convinced that Washington, D.C., would grow to the northwest and into southern Montgomery County, Newlands launched a secret campaign to buy up farmland along the future route of Connecticut Avenue. By 1890, he owned 1,713 acres and formed the Chevy Chase Land Company.
Newlands then bought the charter of a railway company intended to serve Woodley Park in the District, and made plans to extend service all the way to Maryland. Construction was a costly engineering challenge, as the rail crossed deep Rock Creek Valley and heavily wooded land to reach the Montgomery County line.
Nonetheless, the 5-mile rail bed was completed, and the line from 18th and U streets Northwest to Chevy Chase Lake opened in 1892.
To attract potential home buyers, the land company built the Chevy Chase Inn on Connecticut Avenue in 1894, and soon, wealthy Washingtonians were using it for summer vacations. The hotel couldn’t survive on summer business alone, though, and it was sold in 1903. The new owners used it for a women’s school that eventually became known as Chevy Chase Junior College; after the institution closed in 1950, it was bought by the National 4-H Foundation. It was later torn down and replaced with the brick-faced building used by the foundation today.
Another landmark, just south of the 4-H Foundation, is the Chevy Chase Club, one of the original country clubs created before the turn of the century as the elite began to pursue leisure at private enclaves on the outskirts of major cities. Since hunting was the preferred sport of those early members, the club’s kennels and stables were among the first facilities to be built, in 1895.
The creation of Chevy Chase’s core residential neighborhoods lasted from the 1890s to the 1940s, according to Lampl, the historian. Newlands himself built a house on the northeastern side of Chevy Chase Circle, effectively the gateway to the community, but only lived there until 1898.
Steve Dryden is a freelance writer who lives in Bethesda.