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