Archive for the ‘People’ category

Historic Neighborhood Groups — American University Park

January 29, 2015

Following up on yesterday’s post on the Columbia Heights Citizens’ Association as it was in 1940, is this window on the American University Park Citizens’ Association. The map and article below were originally published in the Washington Post on September 30, 1940.

American University Park associationAmerican University Park article

Looking at Historic Neighborhoods — Columbia Heights

January 28, 2015

From September to December of 1940, the Washington Post published a series of articles focusing on the Citizens’ and Civic associations of Washington. A review of the articles are interesting for a number of reasons, not the least being that most include maps showing the areas served by the associations which help illustrate neighborhood boundaries. Yet, even with this one needs to keep in mind that some areas were served by more than one association and that there are areas of neighborhood overlap.

As neighborhood boundaries are something that many Washingtonians find interesting, beginning with today’s post on Columbia Heights the series will be reprinted.

Columbia Heights Citizens Association boundaries

The map above and article below were originally published in the Washington Post on October 14, 1940. You’ll noticed that the map goes as far north as Shepherd Street and includes areas today considered part of Pleasant Plains, Park View, and Petworth.

Columbia Heights article


Remembering June Norton: Sang with Duke Ellington, Broke TV Race Barrier

January 23, 2015

June Norton 1950(A photo of June Norton from the Afro-American, 1950)

Several years ago, then Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Kralovic (ANC 1A01) told me about a former resident of 1435 Perry Place, NW, named June Norton. Kralovic told me that Norton had performed with Duke Ellington and that she was highly regarded in the neighborhood. She also stated that she had moved to Maryland a few years earlier but had since passed. I was intrigued, and what follows is what I’ve been able to learn about her life thus far.

June Norton (1924-2004) was a singer with Duke Ellington and his orchestra, working with Ellington in 1949, 1950, and 1960. Norton was born in Alexandria, Va., and graduated from Cardozo High School and Howard University. Though better known for singing with Ellington, her most notable achievement was singing as part of a one-minute commercial for station WTTG-TV.

Norton was hired to sing commercials on television for a product aimed at such states a Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the District of Columbia. She was singing at the Flame restaurant in Washington in the fall of 1961 when representatives from a local advertising agency heard her. The representatives had been looking for a black artist to break the television race barrier, especially in Washington which had a population that was estimated at more than 50% African American at that time. The commercial’s sponsors – the Beautycraft Plastics Company – reported that June Norton was the first African American woman in the mid-Atlantic region to appear on TV commercials beamed at the mass market in Southern states.

In recognition of Norton’s work in the commercial, she received the 1962 Achievement Award from the National Association of Colored Women and drew acclaim from the YMCA which presented her with their trophy as “Singer of the Year for 1962.” A local bottling company named her “TV Personality of the Year” and the National Association of Market Development bestowed upon her their 1962 Emphasis Award.

Norton’s voice was described as having the range and flexibility to put across the up-tune as well as the ballad. During the 1960s audiences could hear her perform at venues such as the Shoreham’s Marquee Lounge (1964), Twelve Devils, near the corner of Connecticut and Calvert streets, NW (1965), and Mr. Henry’s Georgetown (1968).

In the early 1970s, Norton engaged in work as a counselor for women offenders imprisoned for drug related and other crimes. This work was featured in an episode called Ebony Reflections that aired on WETA-26 in 1973. In 1993, June Norton, along with other former Duke Ellington vocalists Adelaide Hall, Joya Sherrill, Kay Davis, Maria Ellington Cole, and Dolores Parker, received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian Institution.

June Norton passed away on October 30, 2004, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to her husband, Thomas C. Cuff.

Best Bird Houses in Columbia Heights (1921)

January 22, 2015

Wilson Normal bird houses

In revisiting the photo collections at the Library of Congress, I found the gem above. The photograph was taken on the afternoon of January 20, 1921, and shows a member from the American Forestry Association with children who were awarded blue ribbons for building  bird houses. The photo captures the event located on the western side of the Wilson Normal School. Today, the school is known as the Carlos Rosario public charter school and the location where the children are standing is part of the parking lot.

The construction of bird houses by the students was part of the week-long tree work exhibition at the Wilson Normal School which opened on Monday, January 17th, and ended on Friday, January 21st. While the exhibition had a large educational focus, the general public were encouraged to participate. In additional to the birdhouses and other pupil activities, the event included exhibits of trees, their diseases, insect destroyers, furniture of all kinds and essays on tree values.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the American Forestry Association was engaged in a nationwide referendum to determine what tree best represented America. Selecting the right tree was difficult. President Wilson weighed in during the survey stating that he was “quite unable to choose amongst the infinite variety and richness of American forests.”

The overwhelming result of the referendum among Washington school children was that the national tree should be the oak. D.C. children cast 7,004 votes for the oak – nearly twice as many as cast for the nearest competitor, the elm.

The entire vote breakdown in D.C. from school children in the 1921 American Forestry Association referendum follows:

  • Oak, 7,004;
  • Elm, 3,765;
  • Pine, 1,355;
  • Sugar maple, 1,392;
  • Apple, 1,145;
  • Hickory, 1,060;
  • Dogwood, 619;
  • Tulip, 328;
  • Walnut, 273;
  • Sycamore, 108; and,
  • Various others, 36.

Currently, the national tree of the United States is the Oak, which was chosen in 2004.

National Tree ballot

Hillcrest Children & Family Center Event Successfully Kicks of 200th Anniversary

January 16, 2015

Yesterday, January 15th, the Hillcrest Children & Family Center Kicked off a year of celebrating their 200th Anniversary. Hillcrest was originally called the Washington City Orphan Asylum and founded with the help of First Lady Dolly Madison. I was honored to MC the event which was held at the Octagon House. I’ve included a link to the video for anyone interested in watching the event.

Hillcrest video

Exhibition on History of Hilcrest Children & Family Center Kicks Off on Thursday

January 13, 2015

This year, the Hillcrest Children and Family Center will commemorate its 200th anniversary to celebrate the resilient and amazing impact over the years among people with mental illnesses, physical challenges, and life adversities. Originally founded as the Washington City Orphan Asylum, the name was changed to Hillcrest Children Center in 1927.

To celebrate their bicentennial, a kickoff press event is schedule for Thursday, January 15th, beginning at 11 a.m. which will open the Evolution of Hillcrest Center Exhibit. The exhibit unveiling and press event are free and open to the public. See the flyer below for details.

Hillcrest Bicentennial Kickoff Flyer 4

Allen B. Hayward: The Man Who Lived in a Tree

August 28, 2014
Allen B. Hayward, photographed on May 8, 1920, at the age of 81 (Image from Library of Congress).

Allen B. Hayward, photographed on May 8, 1920, at the age of 81 (Image from Library of Congress).

Among the more curious tourist attractions, and Washingtonians, in 19th Century Washington was Airy Castle, the tree-top home of Allen B. Hayward. In actuality, during Hayward’s lifetime he had three tree-top homes. The first Airy Castle was located in today’s Columbia Heights. Hayward constructed it in 1883 and lived there for about a year until the property was sold, necessitating the need to build his second castle in 1885. The first tree-top home was described as being one block west of 14th Street and northwest of the Columbian College property placing in roughly at the northwest corner of 15th and Euclid streets. The structure was between two great oaks about thirteen to fifteen feet from the ground and consisted of a platform among the branches upon which Hayward pitched a good-sized “bell” tent. Access was gained via a ladder which was pulled up each night.

Hayward's Airy Castle in 1885 (Image from collection of Kent C. Boese).

Hayward’s Airy Castle in 1885 (Image from collection of Kent C. Boese).

The third and last Airy Castle was located in Forest Glen, about a half mile north of the streetcar station at the end of the line. He moved to this structure about 1903 by his own account.

But it was Hayward’s castle built in Mount Pleasant that was the most famous, and the one which Washingtonian’s long remembered. Hayward’s second tree-top home was located on the Fourteenth Street Road as it was headed downhill to Piney Branch creek, placing it on the west side of today’s Sixteenth Street and just south of the Piney Branch bridge. This is roughly the location of the Woodner Apartments.

The Mount Pleasant ‘castle’ was constructed on the side of the steep hill amide the arms of three or four great oaks, about 35 feet from the ground. After ascending a ladder, the visitor found themselves on a sturdy platform, below which was located “a big box that seemed to be hung under the platform.” This enclosed room – accessed by a short flight of stairs – served as Hayward’s dining room and kitchen.

Drawing of Airy Castle showing later addition of dance floor.

Drawing of Airy Castle showing later addition of dance floor.

The ‘castle’ was described as octagonal in form and longer one way than the other – the overall dimensions being 13 by 9 feet. The walls were constructed of wood to a height of four or five feet, above which rose a double roof of canvas, securely fastened and firmly supported by poles.

Hayward opened his tree-top home to visitors upon completion in 1885, and eventually entered into an agreement with his neighbor, Joseph R. Hertford, to combine their properties and create Airy Castle Park which included the castle and a pavilion for dancing, making the property an enjoyable city getaway. Hayward even marketed his house to visitors to the March 1889 inauguration of Benjamin Harrison by publishing a 32-page souvenir booklet on Airy Castle Park.

Allen B. Hayward

Hayward was a Union Army veteran who served three years in the 2d New Hampshire regiment, rising from the grade of private to that of First Sergeant. His term of enlistment expired in the latter part of May, 1864. While awaiting his formal muster-out his regiment went into the Battle of Cold Harbor on June 3. Although Hayward’s official service was over, he took up arms and joined his company in the battle. This decision cost him his right arm. A rebel bullet found him, shattered his right arm, and the surgeons sawed it off nearly at the shoulder. After the war, Hayward settled in Washington and became a clerk in the Pension Bureau.

His decision to live among the trees was rooted in his personal opinion that city life was unhealthy and his belief that he was threatened with tuberculosis. As Hayward put it in 1907:

“I was not advised by any doctor to take up this outdoor life, as you may think; it was voluntary on my part. But it is healthy. I have never felt so well in my life as I have since I left the city. Why, the city is no place to live. … it is unhealthy in every way. You eat adulterated food and you breathe foul air. Do you know, I believe nine-tenths of the food that city people eat is impure. And that makes them weak and sickly.”

By all accounts, Hayward lived well into his 80s, passing away sometime between 1920 and 1922.



“A. B. Hayward Lived in House Atop Tree.” The Washington Post, December 6, 1927. P. 30.

“The ‘Birdman’.” The Evening Star, November 19, 1944. P. C-4.

“A House in the Tree-tops.” The Washington Post, May 28, 1884. P. 1.

“Life in the Treetops.” The National Tribune, May 28, 1885. P. 2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Mount Pleasant Inspires Recollections of Pastoral Condition.” The Evening Star, June 10, 1927. Part 7, p. 2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “The Story of ‘Airy Castle’.” The Evening Star, July 10, 1949. P. C-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “Unusual Citizens.” The Evening Star, November 14, 1937. P. F-2.

Proctor, John Clagett. “The Village of Mount Pleasant.” The Evening Star, October 26, 1947. P. C-2.

Spears, Edith B. “The Flowery 80’s Were Gay in Old Mount Pleasant.” The Washington Post, March 31, 1935. P. F3.

Swerdloff, David. “Airy Castle Park,” in Crestwood: 300 Acres, 300 Years. (c2013). Pp. 57-8.

“The Tree Man.” Democratic Northwest (Napoleon, Ohio), June 20, 1889. P. 9.

“Washington Man Lives in a Tree to Escape World’s Contamination.” The Washington Times Magazine, February 17, 1907. P. 2.


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