In the April 2013 issue of this newsletter, architectural historian and former Northwood neighbor David S. Rotenstein used the Read house on Dennis Avenue to highlight the transition of our neighborhood from farms to subdivisions. As he noted, the original Read connection to the area dated to the mid-1850s, when William A. Read and his bride, Mary Eliza Beale, received a deed of trust for 202 acres. If we pick up the evidence there and follow it further into the past, we can illuminate the history of antebellum summer retreats of Washington’s social elites, and land patents issued in Maryland’s colonial days.
Mary Eliza Beale (1828-1903), was the fifth child of George Beale (1792-1835) and Emily Truxtun (1798-1885). The Beales were an accomplished and prominent family of Washington City, District of Columbia. George Beale, a decorated naval hero of the War of 1812, died in 1835 at “Bloomingdale,” their country estate located — in what was then the countryside — about a mile north of the Capitol. Mrs. Emily Beale survived him for another half-century, and raised a remarkable group of offspring while moving in the highest social and political circles of Washington.
Mary’s older brother, Edward Fitzgerald Beale (1822-1893), gained a naval commission from President Andrew Jackson, served in the Mexican War, explored California with John Fremont, and served as the first U.S. Indian Commissioner and Surveyor General of California. He was later U.S. minister to Austria, close friends with President Grant, and owner of the Decatur House on Lafayette Square as well as a country estate in Hyattsville.
Her younger brother, George Nancrede Beale (1829-1912), accompanied his brother on the Fremont Expeditions as a teenager in the 1845, and served as Commissioner of Roads for the Commissioners of the District of Columbia for three decades starting in the 1870s.
This remarkable family crossed into Four Corners’ history in the summer of 1850, when Mrs. Emily Beale purchased 60 acres north of the old Bladensburg Road and on both sides of the road to Washington from the estate of the late Maj. Thomas Gittings (1785-1847). The Gittings property was part of the original colonial patents of “Hills and Dales,” “Clean Shaving,” and “Lucy’s Friend,” which dated to the early 1700s. The east side of the estate later became known as Indian Spring, for a large and never-failing spring on it. The property was described in 1854 as “wholly covered with pines large enough to be cut for wood, interspersed with beautiful chestnut trees. The land lies well, and the soil is kind.” Today it comprises the Woodmoor and Indian Spring View neighborhoods.
In 1854, Mrs. Beale and General Edward F. Beale “(of California, now sojourning in the City of Washn.),” paid off and transferred to her daughter Mary Eliza Read, wife of William Read, additional property — west of the road from Colesville to Washington and north of the Bladensburg Road — for their residence and use for the remainder of their lives. Eight decades later, this area was developed as Northwood Park and other subdivisions.
In the following years, the Beale family remained closely connected with Four Corners. Martenet and Bond’s map of Montgomery County, published in 1865 (page 14), shows that Mrs. Beale kept property and a house adjacent to her daughter and son-in-law’s house, fronting on Bladensburg Road (now University Blvd). She also owned land along the Sligo Branch a short distance away. Also visible is George N. Beale’s property to the east, just south of the Northwest Branch. Another map from this period denotes his property as the “Hermitage.” His family resorted to its shaded groves and pure spring waters during the summers, a welcome retreat from the heat and humidity of Washington, and at least one of his daughters was born there.
When Mrs. Beale died in 1885, her three children most closely associated with Four Corners — Gen. Beale, George N. Beale, and Mary Eliza Read — bought her property holdings here from her estate. Two years later, George N. Beale moved to Takoma Park and sold the Indian Spring Farm to a colorful and wealthy former newspaper editor from New York City, Carolan O’Bryan Bryant. This opened another chapter in the history of Four Corners, which we will narrate in an upcoming column. [See link below.]
[Hawkins has a Ph.D. in history and lives in Northwood Park.] ■Read Part 2
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