In the five years that I lived in Alexandria, I often visited the National Zoo in Woodley Park. I also have a photo of my son and myself at the intersection of Woodley Road and Woodley Place NW. However, I was never successful at determining who this "Woodley" was. It came up again when several of my family members were together, but none of us knew the answer.
Bob Woodley, Stratford, Ontario
Answer Man knows what you're hoping, Mr. Woodley. You're hoping he will say that Woodley Park was named after one of your forebears and that he has discovered a musty piece of paper proving you are the rightful owner of all real estate from the Taft Bridge to Porter Street NW.
Dream on, my Canadian friend. For the neighborhood is not named after a person, but after a house.
Of course, behind every great house is a great person. Sometimes they're in front of the house or off to one side. In the case of Woodley, that person was Philip Barton Key.
One of the interesting things about Philip Barton Key is that he was a traitor to America. Born into a family of prosperous Cecil County, Md., planters, Philip was miffed when the Colonies started throwing off the yoke of British oppression. He considered himself a British subject, and although his older brother, John Ross Key, joined the Revolution, Philip cast his lot with the Loyalists.
In 1777, Philip abandoned law studies in Annapolis and traveled to British-occupied Philadelphia to join a regiment of Maryland Loyalists. Because of this, he was indicted for high treason and stripped of his ancestral land.
Over the course of the war, Philip found himself in Philadelphia, New York and Florida, where he was briefly held prisoner by the Spanish. At war's end, most Loyalists were high-tailing it to Canada. Philip went to England instead, where he managed to extract from the British government both a pension for his wartime service and compensation for the land he had lost. He also gained admittance to the Middle Temple of the Inns of Court, where he resumed his long-interrupted study of law.
In 1785, Philip returned to Maryland where, if he had been like nearly every other Loyalist turncoat, he would have been tarred and feathered.
That he wasn't is due to several factors: He was rich. He was smart. He was good-looking. He was upper class. And he was able to marry into one of Maryland's leading families, the Platers. (Keep these things in mind should you ever wish to return to a country you betrayed.)
Philip prospered as a lawyer and a real estate speculator. He was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates and became a circuit court judge.
Finally, in 1801, just as you're wondering what any of this has to do with Woodley Park, he moved his family into a stylish home on a spot of high land in Washington. He called the house "Woodley."
Why Woodley? While in England, Philip had spent some time at Woodley House in Berkshire. He liked the look of the place and directed that his mansion be of a similar design.
(And how did the original Woodley House get its name? David Nash Ford, a British historian, explained that it stood near a village called Woodley, which is a Saxon word meaning "wooded clearing." The original Woodley House -- torn down in 1962 -- was on the edge of the Royal Forest of Windsor, where the trees thinned out down toward the Thames.)
Philip Barton Key's Woodley was an imposing edifice that had a lovely view of the slowly growing capital. It was inevitable that it would lend its name to the immediate area.
The house still stands, and since 1950 it has been owned by the Maret School on Cathedral Avenue NW. Tom Mourmouras, a 17-year-old senior, said, "This building is the essence of Maret. This building represents not only the history of America but the history of Washington and the history of great leaders."
Presidents Martin Van Buren and Grover Cleveland are known to have stayed at Woodley, and there's evidence James Buchanan and John Tyler did as well. Gen. George S. Patton rented the house in 1928. Henry Stimson, secretary of state and secretary of war, was the house's last private owner. Maret history teacher Al Kilborne said Woodley is second only to the White House in terms of the esteemed Americans who have lived and visited there during its remarkable history.
Woodley once boasted a window on which Philip Barton Key's nephew, Francis Scott Key, had engraved his initials. Sadly, it was lost during a renovation.
Answer Man's sincere offer to engrave his initials onto a Woodley window was met with dismissive chuckles.
Today we start Week 2 of our eight-week campaign to raise money for another Washington landmark, Children's Hospital.
Our goal by Jan. 20: $600,000.
Our total so far: $14,556.31.
There are three easy ways to donate:
Make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital" and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.
Go online, to www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital, and click on "Make a Donation."
To contribute by Visa or MasterCard by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on the recorded message.
Julia Feldmeier helped research this column. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.