The History of Chevy Chase MD

People always ask me if Chevy Chase MD was named after the famous actor. While I love the National Lampoon movies and “The Three Amigos,” I’m sorry to report that the name of the suburb really has nothing to do with the actor. And no, he was not named after Chevy Chase MD either. There are two different theories about where the name might have come from. One is that it evolved from “chaces” – the hunting grounds in the Cheviot Hills along the Scottish-English border. Others say it derived from the French word “chevauchee” used in medieval Scotland and England to describe horseback border raids.

The year was 1725 and Colonel Joseph Belt received a patent for 560 acres of land in colonial Maryland, which he named “Cheivy Chace.” He sat on his unincorporated farmland until the late 19th Century when a streetcar linked this suburb to the capital. Entrepreneurs Francis G. Newlands and William Stewart aggressively bought up shares of land in northwestern Washington D.C. to make this residential street car possible. They also helped spread the reputation that Chevy Chase was the ideal suburb for D.C. workers. Railroads made it even easier for people to commute into work.

Newlands went on to inherit the Comstock Lode fortune and serve as Nevada congressman. Stewart was a U.S. Senator from Nevada. Once in office, they bought up thousands of acres along Connecticut Avenue and transferred the land to the Chevy Chase Land Company, which extended Connecticut Avenue from Calvert Street to Chevy Chase Lake, where the road culminated with an amusement park.  The 1920s brought tree planting campaigns, road repairs, new storm sewers and recreational facilities for golf, horse riding, hunting and tennis.

The founders of Chevy Chase MD envisioned a collection of impressive homes in a park-like setting with sidewalks and plenty of green space. A strict building code enforced that vision. They did not want any congested alleyways or apartment buildings and businesses would only be established near the boundaries. Homes were built for at least $5,000, with 35+ foot lots along Connecticut Avenue. Along the side streets, homes had to be constructed for at least  $3,000, with 25 foot lots. Residents of Chevy Chase would receive every modern convenience – water, electricity, recreation, churches, and streetcar service to Washington D.C.

Today, there are 1,032 homes and approximately 3,000 residents in the Town of Chevy Chase MD. Jones Mill Road, Bradley Lane and Brookeville Road were once popular farming byways, but they are still heavily traveled roads today. The site of the old man-made Chevy Chase Lake is just a patch of woods south of 8401 Connecticut Avenue, but the community is still known for resisting urban sprawl, while retaining its beautiful parkways and green space.

I highly recommend a visit to the Chevy Chase MD historical society if you’ve never been. You can see old photos, learn about the rose named after our town, take a self-guided walking tour, and events discussing the local implications of the War of 1812. I’d also be happy to show you around the more historic sections of town. You’ll see Colonial Revival, Neoclassical, Tudor Revival, Italian Renaissance and Craftsman homes in Chevy Chase MD. All in all, the architectural landscape of historic Chevy Chase Village represents an important demonstration of American wealth and power.

Keep checking back in, and if you don’t live in Chevy Chase yourself, maybe next time the team at DC Real Estate Marketplace will write about your neighborhood!

About Rich Jones