The History of Chevy Chase Lake
The year was 1890. Grover Cleveland was president, Thomas Edison had invented the light bulb, automobiles were beginning to be manufactured, and Washington DC was a thriving city. And in the late 19th century, the idea of living away from one’s place of employment resulted in the development of suburbs around the country. In that same year, Francis G. Newlands formed the Chevy Chase Land Company to fulfill his dream of doing just that; developing a suburban residential community north of Washington DC. Even though there were many obstacles to overcome, he was determined to make his dream a reality, and that he did. His dream is now a beautiful community named Chevy Chase, with wide, tree lined streets.
The first issue at hand was how to acquire land to build this suburb. With the help of a friend, Francis Newlands began to buy land from farmers whose properties ran adjacent to what is now known as Connecticut Avenue. In all, they purchased 1,713 acres of land. The second issue to overcome was how to connect Washington DC to this new suburban development. The Chevy Chase Land Company built trestle bridges over Rock Creek and the Klingle Valley, no small feat in those days. This required workers to cut through hills using picks and shovels and fill ravines using mule drawn carts, creating what is now Connecticut Avenue. In 1892, the Rock Creek Railway opened, providing a way for people to get from the city to Chevy Chase. Lastly, Senator Newlands had to devise a way to attract people/potential buyers to this new suburb.
Senator Newlands decided the best way to attract potential buyers was to create attractions and destinations that would persuade people to ride on the new Rock Creek Railway. One of these was the Chevy Chase Springs Hotel, which later became the Chevy Chase School for Girls and is now the National 4-H Youth Conference Center. Another attraction involved using the lake that had already been created to provide water for the electric generating plant for the Rock Creek trolley line. This man-made lake, created by damming Coqueline Run, was called Chevy Chase Lake, and it was the center-piece of what would become an amusement park in 1894. After visitors stepped off the trolley and crossed over the Coquelin Run Bridge, they were greeted by a pale blue, shell shaped bandstand equipped with beautiful sparkling lights. The beautiful bandstand was just one of the many attractions at the elegant amusement park. The streetcars were filled to capacity with people wanting to take part in such activities as dancing, boating, bowling, horseback riding and riding the merry-go-round. In addition, one of the most popular attractions was the United States Marine Band that played each evening. Chevy Chase Lake had a little something for everyone and was definitely the place to be, especially in the summer.
Now that people were interested in moving to Chevy Chase, Francis Newlands had to focus his attention on fulfilling his vision. One of the ways he accomplished this was by making sure the residents of the Village were very well taken care of. Some of the many amenities included: schools, churches, country clubs, and infrastructure such as the tree-lined streets, an adequate water supply system, and a sewage system. The Land Company even arranged for a freight-car on the Rock Creek Railway line to bring groceries and other purchases daily from Washington DC at no charge to the residents.
While automobiles have replaced the streetcars, and the lake, amusement park and bandstand are no longer here, Chevy Chase Lake continues to be a special place that has changed over time. As it continues to evolve through the redevelopment process, the Chevy Chase Land Company will again be looking to create a special place where the community can gather.
Thanks to our friends at the Chevy Chase Historical Society for their assistance with this post.
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