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Crestwood Agriculture

Tue, June 06, 2017 3:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

If you are planting a vegetable garden, this week’s Crestwood History Blog lets you know you are following a long tradition of agriculture in and around the neighborhood.

The most patriotic use was during World War II. In 1943, the developers of Crestwood let residents use about three acres of vacant land for "victory gardens." The site was bounded by 18th Street, Shepherd Street, Argyle Terrace and Taylor Street.

Farming in the Rock Creek valley dates back to the early 18th century. As tobacco farms exhausted the soil, farmers switched over to wheat. To serve them, millers set up shop up and down the creek. The Argyle mills attached to our neighborhood pre-date Peirce Mill, and may have been built before 1800. When Rock Creek Park was established, what was left of the Argyle mills was destroyed during the construction of Beach Drive.

A farming settlement sprouted at a crossroads just northeast of present-day Crestwood as early as 1730. This village along Milk House Ford Road (not far from where Military Road is today) was called Crystal Spring. The name came from a spring that flowed into Rock Creek down the hill from a site just north of where the Fitzgerald Tennis Stadium is today. By 1825 the settlement would become Brightwood.

Later in the 19th century, Thomas Blagden did some farming when he owned the Argyle estate that became Crestwood. Figures from the 1860 US Census show that his farm produced 400 bushels of Irish potatoes and ten bushels of sweet potatoes. Blagden also owned six horses, four asses or mules, 20 swine, and three milk cows that produced more than 100 pounds of butter. In addition to the milling complex, 15 buildings are identified on the property including a farmhouse, barn, ice house, gardener’s house and grapery.

Blagden’s son, also named Thomas, was a self-proclaimed “deer farmer.” He fenced off 20 or 30 acres of the estate and raised deer, a rare creature at the time. His stock of deer grew from a pair he imported from his property in the Adirondacks in 1874. In an 1899 Washington Post interview, he said there was a market for the animals he raised, because “pretty nearly all the millionaires in the country are interested in buying deer” for their own game parks. Washingtonians would ride out to Bladgen’s Deer Park to gawk at the strange animals. In a letter Teddy Roosevelt wrote to his son Archie from the White House in June 1904, the President described how he “climbed into” the Deer Park and frightened a “pretty wee fawn, all spotted.” Teddy drew a picture of the deer to show how it “made great jumps and held its white tail straight in the air.”

Even in 1900, an ad in the Suburban Citizen newspaper advertised more than a dozen dairies in DC, including three in Brightwood. One of them, owned by Hugh McMahon, retained the village’s early name: Crystal Spring Dairy. Tenant farmers like McMahon were allowed to lease land in Rock Creek Park until 1912 (and a few even thereafter).

Happy gardening!

--David Swerdloff, Trumbull Terrace

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