Early Homes And Life In Chevy Chase MD

I’ve always thought Chevy Chase MD was a special place. Many people thought the neighborhood must be named after the famous actor. However, this land has gone by that name since the 1700s. It is believed that “Chevy Chase” refers to a prime hunting area in Northern England’s Cheviot Hills. The area began as a farm – granted by Lord Baltimore in 1725 and owned by Colonel Joseph Belt and his family until 1886.

Around that time, Senator Francis Newlands and a group of local developers began buying up parcels along Connecticut Avenue to bring Chevy Chase MD into the modern era. This plot of land was chosen for a new development due to its high elevation, warm summer breezes, and proximity to D.C. Famed developer Frederic Law Olmsted helped incorporate the suburb into a multi-neighborhood “streetcar suburb” community that ran from Chevy Chase Lake to Van Ness Street, and from Rock Creek Park to Reno Road.

Early plans for this community began to take shape in 1892, when the trolley was built. The homes would be set in a vast park with large lots and plenty of green space between the homes and the streets. There would be no commerce in Chevy Chase MD. Chevy Chase would have running water, electricity, telephone service, sewers and all the latest modern conveniences. It was a tall order that didn’t really come to fruition until decades later.

In 1908, the very first local home was built on Oliver Street in Chevy Chase MD. You’ll see many “Four square” design homes in the area, as that was popular around the turn-of-the-century. There are ample Dutch Colonials peppering the landscape as well. Many of these early homes were selected from the Sears catalog or from other catalog home builders, which was customary back then. These structures cost at least $5,000 on main boulevards and $3,000 on side streets – a decent sum of money back in those days.

The goal for this new community was to create quality homes for “discerning buyers,” but not necessarily people of great wealth. Today, these sturdy, well-built structures give Chevy Chase its original character. Today, you’ll find most of these homes still standing, although many of the double lots have been parceled out to contemporary builders to give the neighborhood a more eclectic charm.

One noteworthy 19th-century architect is John Russell Pope. He is responsible for memorable homes and memorials in Washington, including the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace, the National Archives and Records Building, and the Jefferson Memorial. Another property he designed is the wondrous “Woodend” – the Georgian mansion where the Audubon Society is housed. Visitors flock to Chevy Chase MD to tour this grand home, view the extensive North American bird exhibit, peruse the library, and relax on the 40-acre woodland grounds.

Much of the infrastructure in Chevy Chase was erected in the 1930s. Sidewalks, new streets, storm sewers and towering trees were all added to boost the quality of life for residents. A preservation society was formed in the 1980s to protect the town from the excesses of incredible growth and change that its neighbor, Bethesda, faced. Residents here appreciate quiet streets, quality services and community-building events, all the while living near a very vibrant urban environment.  Local citizens are encouraged to be active town participants and voice their ideas to local legislators. In essence, I think that’s what makes Chevy Chase MD such a nice place to live.

About Rich Jones