Our neighborhood origins
As the real estate market heats up, this week’s Crestwood History Blog centers on a land deal that came out of the blue in 1904 to shock our neighborhood into development.
Thomas Blagden owned the estate that grew into Crestwood when he died without a will in February, 1870. By 1876, the property had been partitioned into about 40 lots owned by members of the Blagden family. It appeared on DC maps as the Blagden Sub-Division. The maps included small but mostly phantom roads that separated the lots. In truth, very little development on the estate had taken place for years – save, perhaps, for a home along Blagden Avenue for Thomas Blagden’s daughter Harriet and her husband, Arthur Mathewson. The main manor house and large portions of the estate were controlled by Blagden’s widow, Laura (who lived in the house until her death in 1908) and their son – also named Thomas Blagden.
By 1904, there were indications the former estate would be ripe for development. A bridge was on the way to span the deep Piney Branch Valley and bring Sixteenth Street out from Mount Pleasant into our neighborhood. The old Washington Times reported in April, 1904: “Foreseeing the extension of Sixteenth Street, a number of years ago Mr. Blagden had accurate surveys made, and built on the line of said street, introducing at the same time city water, sewer and gas.” The trolley was coming nearby, as well, with the Capital Traction Company tracks along 14th Street open all the way to Brightwood by 1906 (accessible via Decatur Street).
But the younger Thomas Blagden still was surprised when a real estate broker named Herbert A. Gill approached him in 1904 with an offer from patent attorney Shelton T. Cameron to buy a chunk of the estate for a whopping $17,000. The Times report called the offer “unsought by (Blagden), the property never having been placed on the market up to the present time, excepting for renting purposes.” This “lot of unusual size” was located just outside today's boundaries of Crestwood in the northeast corner of the estate along Piney Branch Road. The large tract had at its southwest corner the present-day intersection of 16th and Allison Streets.
As the Times story related, the sale convinced Blagden “to place his property on the market” and “sell it by metes and bounds, so as to meet individual requirements of purchasers.” Mr. Cameron came back for more, purchasing ten acres of the estate along the path of Sixteenth Street for more than $80,000 in 1906. The Washington Post called the price “$4,500 more per acre than has ever been paid before for land in (the) vicinity.” On a modern map, the property would appear today bounded on the north and south by Emerson and Decatur Streets, and on the east and west by Piney Branch Road and Blagden Avenue.
Many buyers and many builders were to follow “by metes and bounds” - with the earliest building permits in the neighborhood issued in 1910. They were all within that second parcel purchased by Cameron - on Blagden Avenue, Sixteenth Street and Decatur Street. But the First World War intervened to put off a real boom until the 1920s.
Plans are underway to publish a book about Crestwood history to raise funds for the Crestwood Citizens Association.
--David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace