IN WASHINGTON at the turn of the century, summer began on May 30. The Marine Band would board the Chevy Chase open-air trolley downtown and play all the way out to Chevy Chase Lake. People crowded on the trolley, standing on the steps and hanging on for dear life or leaning out the windows and waving at hose who couldn't go. Men, women and children rejoiced in straw hats and holiday spirits.
Out at Chevy Lake a sensational seashell bandstand flickered with the new electric light. The Marine Band would play loud and fast, first operettas so popular in those years and then dance music. Those not musically inclined could boat, bowl or ride ponies or horses, both real and-merry-go-round. Everyone agreed that it was much cooler up there on the hill than in swampy, humid Washington.
The trolley, the lake and the entertainment, like the 20 artesian wells, the library and the school, were all paid for by the Chevy Chase Land Co., the developers of what is now called Chevy Chase Village. The village became one of the first and most successful planned communities in the United States, though the lake has been filled in for apartments and the Marine Band plays elsewhere.
In the 90-odd years since, property values have greatly increased. Originally, covenants restricted houses on the avenue to those costing not less than $5,000, just $3,000 on side streets. Today it would be fifficult to buy a house in the area for less than $200,000.
Saturday, the Chevy Chase Village Tour will open seven houses from noon to 5 p.m. Most are from the early 1900s, but one is and 1893 house believed to be the oldest in the village, originally built as a model homse. The event will also offer tea and a display of old photographs of the community at the Village Hall at 5906 Connecticut ave.
A group of local history buffs, organized by Katherine Kerr, will be on hand at the hall to talk about the community's past. Kerr, a family therapist who acquired her taste for history in researching her own family's past, has put togehter a great fund of reminisences and clippings about Chevy Chase in preparation for the tour.
(See Etc. on this page for ticket information. The tour benefits the Citizens Coordinating Committee on Friendship Heights.)
The land company put up the entire cost of Connecticut Avenue from Dupont Circle to Jones Bridge Road. The iron trestle bridge over Rock Creek at Calvert Street and the Klingle Street bridge were built in 1891.
Albert W. Atwood, in the records of the Columbia Historical Society, 1966-68, quotes Edward L. Hillyer, an early vice president of the company, as remembering:
"The grading of Connecticut Avenue was through a rolling terrain. The hills had to be cut down by pick and shovel and the valleys filled by horse-drawn carts. A good illustration of that operation was the cutting down of what was known as soapstone Hill on the west side of the Avenue at Albemarle Street and the earth had to be taken across the Avenue and filled in...a fill of 40 or 50 feet. In some places a train of small dumping cars with a doneky engine carried the dirt on the narrow gauge rails."
Architect Lindley Johnson designed prototype houses for the village, some in the popular style called "cottage"-though some were immense. No one seems to be sure if Nathan F. Barrett, a New York landscape architect, or Johnson laid out the streets. The setbacks on the avenue were 35 feet, 25 on the side streets. All lots had to be at least 60 feet wide. No alleys, row houses or apartment buildings were allowed. Sanitary engineer Samuel M. Gray developed the water supply of 20 artesian wells; Chevy Chase villagers complained when they eventually had to hook in to the District of Columbia's water.
The village was not a boom town, according to Roderick S. French, writing in the 1973-74 Columbia records. The Spanish-American War of 1898, the panic of 1907 and World War i slowed sales. "Sixteen homes were built in 1894, a smaller number the next year. There were not quite 50 families living there by the end of the century....
The real movement of people into Chevy Chase Village, as into other outlying sections of northwest Washington, took place in the boom years between World War i and the Depression."
The first houses were built for officers of the company. Sen. Francis Grififth Newlands, president of the company, built himself a fancy three-story English Tudor at No. 9 Chevy Chase Circle on 2 1/2 acres, called Ishpiming by its later owners, the William S. Corby family. It is now the home of Dr. and Mrs. John Threlfall.
Newlands never saw a profit from his investment, according to Atwood. "...No dividend was paid to investors until 1922, five years after Newlands died and 32 years after the company was formed."
Chevy Chase Village, unlike earlier sections of town such as Capitol Hill, Georgetown and Dupont Circle, never has had a period of deterioration though many houses have been expanded and remodeled. The large houses, with their wide verandas, bays and cupolas, are today among the most desirable and expensive in the area.