Where We Live: Tenleytown, where old meets new

New chain stores stand next to historic resources along the Tenleytown Heritage Trail.
New chain stores stand next to historic resources along the Tenleytown Heritage Trail. (Amy Reinink for The Washington Post)
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By Amy Reinink
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, February 11, 2011; 1:14 PM

Anyone visiting the 50-meter pool at the Wilson Aquatic Center, the brand-new Tenley-Friendship Library, or the row of restaurants and big-box stores on Wisconsin Avenue would be forgiven for thinking Tenleytown is definedby the shiny and new.

But a walking tour with Tenleytown Historical Society advisory board member Frank Haendler reveals a pocket of rich history for every new facility and tony shop.

There's Fort Reno, the highest point in the city at more than 400 feet, which guarded the city during the Civil War.

There's the old Methodist cemetery, whose tombstones date to the mid-1800s.

And there's Grant Road, a narrow lane lined with turn-of-the-century Victorian houses, where Haendler has lived since 1984.

"It's the last surviving country road in Northwest Washington, and it still has the feel of a country road," says Haendler, 80, a retired American Foreign Service employee. "It winds a bit, goes downhill and uphill, and has never been widened. In the spring, when the gardens are in bloom, it's hard to believe you're in the city."

Haendler and other residents say that comfortable coexistence of history and progress defines Tenleytown, south of Friendship Heights along Wisconsin Avenue.

In the 1780s, Tenleytown, the second-oldest settlement in Washington, was the last outpost for food and lodging for farmers rolling barrels of tobacco from Frederick to Georgetown, Haendler said.

The neighborhood grew when it housed troops at Fort Reno during the Civil War, and it saw a construction boom after the trolley connected it to downtown Washington in the late 1890s, Haendler said.

"Tenleytown has a fascinating history, and people who live here tend to appreciate that," said Paul J. Fekete, 53, an economist for the U.S. Agency for International Development, who has lived in Tenleytown since 1986.

Today, enclaves of early-20th-century Colonials and bungalows sit within walking distance from stores such as Best Buy, Whole Foods and Hudson Trail Outfitters, and chain stores exist alongside independently owned ethnic restaurants.

"It's a very walkable neighborhood, with an enormous amount of access to shops, restaurants, Metro and a broad range of retail," Fekete said.

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