A Lighthearted Impression of Georgetown in 1908

In looking through the 1908 Washington Times, I found a curious series of cartoons and texts that focuses on a few of Washington’s neighborhoods. Even though the text is somewhat gossipy and some of the subjects of the articles are a little obscure today, I thought they provided some interesting insight into what the neighborhoods were like back then.

I’ll post each article in turn, starting with the first one here, which featured Georgetown.

Georgetown bannerGeorgetown 1908 cartoon

The article accompanying the above cartoon is below:

Both Find Food for Thought and Pen, Which They Present After Their Characteristic Fashion.

YOU MUST “BELONG” OR YOU DON’T GET IN

Family Trees Are Discovered in All Back Yards, Zealously Guarded by Honorable Genealogists.

By THEODORE TILLER

A STRANGER generally wonders what that “only” means when he sees a “Georgetown Only” car piking around the corner. There’s an excellent way to find out if you’ve got the price to ride out there.

Yes, sir, they do say Georgetown folks are rather exclusive. As soon as the presence of a new face is noted the reminiscent residents of Georgetown and ask two questions:

What is his name?

Does he belong here?

Now it really doesn’t matter about what name your laundry shows, but the answer to the latter question positively, emphatically, must be affirmed. If he “belongs” he may be allowed to join the canoe club, the citizens’ association, or the Coming Men of America. If he doesn’t, the people go indoors, interest ceases, and the stranger has about as much company as the milk man at 4 a.m.

Which reminds one of the exuberance of the family tree in Georgetown. No one rents a Georgetown flat and expects to become friendly with his neighbor across the back fence unless he possesses a family tree.

Genealogists Flourish

The genealogist flourishes in Georgetown. When a new family moves on the block the neighbors watch nonchalantly the unloading of the kitchen utensils, father’s carpet slippers, and the imitation mahogany bedroom suite. Suddenly there is a pricking of ears, an arching of eyebrows.

Hark! what is it that approaches? ‘Tis the genealogist, with the all important genealogical tree, not a twig missing, strongly in the foreground.

After which the genealogist takes the first floor front room, becomes a fixture, and the new family can borrow provisions from anybody on the block.

Citizens’ associations are great institutions. Georgetownites who do not keep reminiscences handy may belong to the associations and talk there.

Eloquence Stirring

A.K. Parris, well-known banker, is one whose eloquence has time and time again stirred the oldest inhabitants, who remember Daniel Webster. Mr. Parris is indissolubly connected with the thought that the old Boyce tract should be converted into a park. Whenever the citizens’ association has nothing particular to talk about Mr. Parris moves that consideration of the previous question, and revamps certain unassailable arguments anent this burning issue.

Creed M. Fulton, of Chancellor trial fame, has an association of his own over in West Washington. Mr. Fulton will be famous in history as he who first uttered with dramatic intensity: “Gentlemen, the school board must be abolished, I demand —-“

Frequently, meetings are opened, it’s rumored, something like this: “Gentlemen, have we any other business to transact before I explain to you the art of abolishment?”

Was a Volunteer.

I talked with Captain Kedney who owns a cigar stand. When the captain said he moved to Georgetown from Virginia I intimated he might be a Southerner. Whereupon he smote his chest mightily and exhibited a ribbon “Fifth Conn. Vols.” Before this I had asked the captain if he’d lived in Georgetown all his life and he told a story of an Arkansas farmer who replied under similar stress: “No, not yit.”

The captain still resides in Georgetown from latest reports.

I took up next the case of the rivals – William Henry Williams, aged eighty-nine, who lived in Georgetown longest, and Capt. John Cathell, who hasn’t resided here as long as Mr. Williams, but is two years older, namely, ninety-one. These two patriarchs are full of two things – reminiscences and ambition to be the oldest living resident. Neither consents to stand aside in the other’s favor. Of course neither really wants to see a funeral with the other man playing star engagement, but how’s the ambition to be satisfied?

Captain Cathell was superintendent of the gas company forty years. Now he’s on a pension. People have always kicked about gas bills, says the captain.

Mr. Williams was twenty-six years market master. He makes the sapient observation that it has been necessary for him to tell college boys time and time again that they can never learn one thing up on the hill – “common sense, it can’t be learned.” said the veteran.

I located Donald Miller, rising young real estate man, with but little trouble. Don is so popular that when the office boys says “a loidy on the phone, Mr. Miller,” Donald replies something like this: “Ask her if she wants a house or to converse personally with me?”

Dons regular hours for considering matters of heart are from 6 to 10:45 p.m., at which latter hour Georgetownites wind the clock and get some more sleep.

Col. John A. Joyce, poet, philosopher, and friend as the advance notices say, is backed by the whole of Georgetown In his controversy with Ella Wheeler Wilcox anent the authorship of “Laugh and the World Laughs With You.” These beautiful thoughts occurred to him, says the colonel, while Ella Wheeler was still conducting the “Advice for the Lovelorn” and woman’s inquiry column. The colonel writes poetry that is poetry, and Georgetown is right with him.

Was “Awful” Lonesome.

Captain Schneider, recently on the grill for the wholesale Saturday night arrests he ordered along M Street, says he was awful lonesome when he first went to Georgetown. It took him sometime to “belong here.”

About those arrests he ordered his valiant officers to make, he is backed by a law that says any two persons congregating together is an unlawful assemblage. Such indiscretion was especially distasteful in Georgetown and the captain said “How dare you!” and slapped ‘em right behind the bars.

W.J. O’Donnell, with his two drug stores, has seen more spooning couples than the park policeman. More affinities have been found under the soothing influence of O’Donnell soda water than the man who put the word in the dictionary ever dreamed of.

Levi Middleton, present superintendant of the gas works, takes Captain Cathell’s place as buffer between the cusser and the company. Nothing I might say in Mr. Middleton’s favor would convince some people the meter didn’t leak last month, especially as the flat was closed and the family absent.

A Pioneer Merchant.

James Hays, forty-seven years on the job selling tea and coffee, is one of the four pioneer merchants. Mr. Hays can fire reminiscences so fast that his listeners are compelled to buy coffee quiet their nerves.

At last we came to Capt. Thomas Barker, fifty years on the river front, renting boats to lovers and anybody else who had the so much per. Captain Barker took us up the river, called every rock by its first name, spoke pleasantly to the canalboat mules, renewed acquaintances with some of the leading turtles along the banks and gave us more Georgetown history than you could get in a Presidential message. He had reached the year 1867 when we had to leave. Later he’s to relate what’s happened since that time.

Don’t fail to see the Key mansion. It’s fine inside if you can get by the banana stands. Of course, you might slip upon a peel and break a limb or two, but who wouldn’t run a little risk for his country?

Georgetown is a real entertaining old place. Any number of entertaining things happen out here.

And there’s lots of impression to be gained there, makes no difference whether you are a Stranger or “belong.”

(From the Washington Times, September 20, 1908)

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7 Comments on “A Lighthearted Impression of Georgetown in 1908”


  1. […] week, I posted a lighthearted report on Georgetown as it was in 1908.  The article was the first in a series originally published in the Washington Times. Today […]


  2. […] Washington neighborhoods as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown and Anacostia. Today’s focuses on […]


  3. […] of various Washington suburbs as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, and Tenleytown. Today’s feature is […]


  4. […] of various Washington suburbs as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, Tenleytown, and Brookland. Today’s feature is […]


  5. […] of various Washington suburbs as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, Tenleytown, Brookland, and Brightwood. Today’s feature is […]


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  7. Everything is very open with a really clear clarification of the issues.
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