Growing up in Lewisdale (West Hyattsville) in the 1950s, my friends and I played on farmland that is now the Mall at Prince George’s. Nearby, next to Northwestern High School, was a pond shaped like the number 9. Rumors were that other ponds were shaped like the numbers 1 through 8. Is this true? If so, who built them and why?
— Michael J. Runfola, La Plata, Md.
Christian Heurich, the beer baron of Washington, built the pond. It was a feature of his country estate, Bellevue, which occupied 376 acres of land that spread out from the intersection of Queens Chapel Road and East-West Highway.
Heurich was a German immigrant who moved to the United States in 1866, joining his sister in Baltimore. Their parents had run a tavern in Germany, so, metaphorically speaking, beer was in Heurich’s blood.
In those post-Civil War days, Washington’s population was growing. So was its thirst. Heurich bought the failing Schnell Brewery here and began making his own beer. George Schnell died within a year, and Heurich married his widow, Amelia. She knew the business as well as he did. (She was the first of his three wives. His last was her niece, also named Amelia.)
As Heurich prospered, he bought property around the area. Said Kimberly Bender, executive director of the Heurich House Museum: “People like to think he made all of his money off beer, but the majority of his riches came from very prudent land investments.”
In 1892, Heurich built a handsome mansion near Dupont Circle — the Brewmaster’s Castle, open now for tours — but the family was also fond of Bellevue, the Prince George’s County farm he had purchased in 1887.
“They spent all their summers there,” Bender said. “It was really their second home.”
Bellevue was a functioning dairy farm, with a herd of Holstein, Angler and Durham cattle that in 1916 was producing about 200 gallons of milk a day.
In addition to the farmhouse, barns and various outbuildings, there was also a duck pond on the grounds. Answer Man supposes you might call that the number zero — it was round, as ponds often are, but that’s probably just a coincidence. There were no ponds shaped like one through eight at Bellevue.
Even the supposed Number Nine Pond may not have actually been that digit.
“There’s nothing in our records that shows it was on purpose,” said Bender of its shape. “No one in the family ever called it the Nine Pond. It was later called that, when kids were hanging out in the woods.”
The Nine Pond was built in 1935, according to one reference Answer Man found. It consisted of a long, rectangular section leading to a round section, in the middle of which was a circular island reached by an iron-and-concrete bridge.
The high edges of the 150-foot-long pond were faced with stone, giving the water feature a moatlike appearance. There may have been statuary on the island.
Christian Heurich died in 1945 at 102. In 1951, his family sold Bellevue to the Contee Sand and Gravel Co. for $1 million.
As the land sat vacant, it became a favorite haunt for youngsters, especially students from Northwestern High. In 1955, Army engineers from Fort Meade used dynamite to blow away one end of Nine Pond. The police wanted it drained so they could see whether a rifle used in the killings of two teenage girls had been thrown into it. (They found nothing.)
Bob Zeller’s family moved to a house nearby in 1956. He remembers playing around the pond as a boy.
“The fact that something like that could exist — What was it? Whose was it? — always captured my imagination,” Zeller said.
Despite 1955’s controlled demolition, water eventually filled the pond again. It was flooded until at least 1968, when Zeller took his new Super 8 movie camera there.
“My intention when I did it was to document its existence,” said Zeller, who, perhaps unsurprisingly, grew up to become a journalist. He lives in North Carolina, and his brief movie is on YouTube.
Heurich’s old farm is now covered in buildings and parking lots. The Nine Pond was just south of the intersection of Adelphi and Belcrest roads. Some who have bushwhacked in the woods behind University Christian Church say you can still see some of the stones that lined its banks.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.