Portrait of Tenleytown in 1908

Today I’m continuing to re-post a series of articles that were originally published in the Washington Times that paint caricatures of various Washington neighborhoods as they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown and Anacostia. Today’s focuses on Tenleytown.

Tennallytown BannerTennallytown cartoon

Even Old Inhabitants Fail to Agree on Correct Orthography.


Spelling on Tombstones Depends Usually on Death-Bed Requests.


JUST AS soon as a yongster passes the milk-botte stage, he draws his fond parent aside and asks a few pertinent questions. If he’s a real bright lad, with an ambition to become a politician some day her first tries to learn his name and how to spell it. Then, inasmuch as a politician must be born somewhere, or everywhere, he proceeds to that important detail, ascertaining from whence he came and how to spell it.

If you were to see that same lad forty years later and he didn’t know how to spell the name of his own town, ‘t would be an awful jolt to you. Yet I ran into a whole ‘covey of fellows out Tenleytown way the other day, who didn’t know how to spell the place, never had, never will, and never expect to. Wherefore, I started an investigation.

I ran up on several old residents who had been there ever since they were born, which was all I could expect of them, who confided to me that the same distressing state of affairs existed in the old days. Whenever teacher would find a real scholarly lad, who had a nickname for every word in the Blue Back Speller, and mowed down the other fellows at the spelling bee each Friday, teacher would always end the agony by saying: “Now spell Tenleytown, Willie.” Then Willie made five stabs and took his seat with the rest of them.


I didn’t have time to get acquainted with all the different ways of spelling this village, but was formally introduced to the following:

  • Tenlytown.
  • Tenleytown.
  • Tenalytown.
  • Tenallytown.
  • Tennalytown.
  • Tennallytown.
  • Tenley, D.C.

Indignation meetings, street corner confabs, petitions, official rulings, mass meetings and various other devices have been tried. I was to understand by the oldest residents, with a view of deciding the question. The old fellows spoke plaintively as they were made to realize that the undertaker would call at their house, sooner or later, and that, apt as not, some young fellow would carve Tenleytown on the tombstone in a manner altogether different from what the departed had been accustomed to in life.

As everybody in Tenleytown has a favorite way of spelling the name, it should be a well-recognized theory that all death-bed requests, as to how the epitaph shall read, must be faithfully observed.


However, this little domestic spelling trouble is but one of the grievances Tenleytownites have. It seems the Commissioners and Congress haven’t improved the place ejust as it might have, if the Capitol Grounds were in that vicinity.

The main street hasn’t a sidewalk part of the way, and, as pointed out most eloquently by J.J. O’Day, leading merchant, the street car tracks occupy the greater portion of the street. At the time this was pointed out to us, an exciting scene was witnessed and a near tragedy occurred. A gentle bovine had thoughtlessly placed herself in front of an oncoming car and persisted in walking placidly up the track, rather as a pilot, you know. Afterward the conductor told me if he hadn’t been a member of the Society for the Prevention of Bruises on Animals he would certainly have bumped her cowship. However, this illustrates Mr. O’Day’s point.

The Falls Branch sewer, which is almost there and yet isn’t, causes much concern and loose verbiage out Tenleytown way. It seems half the town has sewer facilities, while the other half throws the dish water out the back yard. This Falls Creek sewer has been built, at a cost of some $85,000, to within a mere block or so of Chesapeake street. An indignant citizenry now demands to know why the sewer doesn’t proceed on its way up Chesapeake, so that all real estate along that section may be advertised with “all modern improvements.”


Only last Friday night the Citizens’ Association had a special meeting, to hear from a prominent District official who had promised to explain the sewer situation to Tenleytown. However, there was an undercurrent of feeling that sewers, not explanations, were wanted.

As to other divers grievances that beset the Tenleytownite, the reader is invited to peruse the manner in which they are delicately mentioned in the various interviews I had with leading citizens.

Samuel Duvall, who has been blacksmithing for thirty-eight years, was one of the first village celebrities discovered. Mr. Duvall was surrounding the town scales, together with “Bob” Burrows and his boy, and consented to talk as long as his breath held out.

Mr. Duvall is a gentleman built along the Spanish style of architecture, with overhanging gardens of avoirdupois, distributed in convenient places about his person.

Especially around the equator does Mr. Duball emulate a certain Presidential candidate now before the people. His bump of good living is so pronounced that all persons must remain at a certain distance during a face-to-face conversation. The ancient custom of rubbing noses as a means of greeting, in vogue more or less between the natives of Australia, would be utterly impossible in Colonel Duvall’s case.

Colonel Duvall freely expressed faith in the John L. Sullivan maxim, that if he could have as good time getting rid of the embonpoint as he had in acquiring it, he would immediately begin taking anti-fat.


Incidentally the colonel is one of the old-timers and remembers when people had to pay the Rockville and Georgetown Turnpike Company in order to pass through a toll gate which guarded Tenleytown. Said toll gate once stood where now abides a sign reading “Gloria Point.”

“Bob” Burrows, fifty years on the job as contractor, explained to me that the public scales were auctioned off each year by the District. Everybody pays 50 cents a load to get anything weighed out that way. This season the scales are owned by E.B. Lafferty. Young Leonard Burrows, son of Bob, was weighing a load of stone when I hove to. Leonard weighs whenever he gets away from school, but says he’s never made any big thing out of it. Just now Leonard is much peeved because they’ve piled up seven studies on him at the high school. This is pretty tough on a young fellow who wants to come down to the drug store every night.

But to return to Robert Burrows, the elder. He’s a man noted for his longlived ancestors. He started a live insurance examiner not long since. Like this:

“Your age, please?”

Answer – “Fifty years.”

“Your mother’s age when she died?”

Answer – “Not dead yet.”

“Your grandmother’s age when she died?”

Answer – “Not dead yet.”

Mr. Burrows’ oldest ancestor was then 102l. Yes, he got the policy.


Mr. Burrows says the late Governor Shepherd would have made a good place of Tenleytown, if they’d let him alone. He yearns for the old days when “ye olde Irving Road House” was a great political center and the spellbinder held forth almost nightly.

Bob’s friends tease him a little for living out toward “Hungry Hollow” and having to carry a lantern to find the way most of the time, but that’s another story, for he doesn’t look a bit hungry.

Referring to “ye olde Irving Road House,” this historic place now has a sign like this over it: “Wm. Ackterkirchen. Bar and Restaurant.”

It must be admitted that Proprietor Ackterkirchen’s name is a nightmare to any bibulous person who strolls out that way and sees a sign like that confronting him. It’s really enough to make a man feel dizzy if there weren’t other reasons for doing so. There is a standing offer of $25 for anybody that can take four highballs and then pronounce it.

Within the bar we were confronted with another dazzler in sign language. It said: “Any person under twenty-one years of age is not allowed in this place. If the proprietor doubts anybody’s age and if he don’t go out peacefully, he will be put out by force. By order of the proprietor.”


Dr. A.M. Ray is the prize bachelor package out Tenleytown way. He tried hard to throw us off the scent, but his alleged friends exposed the “doc” and his record. From them I learned that doc might get married, if he’d devote his attentions to only one. As it is, he flits about from parlor to parlor and never lights permanently anywhere. The Citizens’ Association gets everything it wants, mostly, says the doctor, except perhaps – wives for lonely members.

Meandering on up the street, I came to the police substation. Serg. William Easley, for nineteen years a fixture, in charge. The sergeant had in the tolls, on Ethiopian by the name of Jim Johnson, or Tom Smith, or something lake that. Jim was importuning the “searg” to lend him $10 to get out with … The sergeant was unable to segregate his personal from his official self and held Jim fast.

The sergeant and his men were most jubilant, because, after many years, the District has at last installed a bathtub for the Tenleytown station. Other stations have had shower baths, says the sergeant, while Tenleytown had not even had a tub appropriated for. Consequently, the men have had to gaze rapturously at the motto on the hall: “Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness,” and make out the best they could.


Eli Riley, retired, thirty-two years on the Tenleytown police force, was sweeping his front porch, when we descended upon him. We had heard that Tenleytown was a great cock-fighting mecca in the olden days. Mr. Eliresented the cock-fight slander with all the vigor commensurate with his seventy-nine years. ‘Twas a base canard put out by a rival village, he opined. If there had been cock-fighting, he guessed he would have heard about it.

There might have been a few back in the woods toward Mt. Pleasant, he said, but the villains had assuredly steered away from the valiant Tenleytown police.

Mr. Riley didn’t know how to spell the town’s name and never had, exactly. He had seen almost all the letter in the alphabet utilized during his time.

Howard Riley, his son, is one of the town’s most ardent swains. The envious ones emit loud cries of “Oh, you million-dollar Beau Brummel” most frequently.

Pining because he’d been given a job that required but little exertion, I found Uncle W.B. Dobbins, aged eighty-five next St. Patrick’s Day, thirty-three years with the Water Department and now stationed at the Fort Reno reservoir. He’s been in the District since ’47, coming over from Baltimore. He got away as soon as he could, it seems.


I asked Mr. Dobbins to tell me the secret of long life. There was no particular secret, he said. He used to have a good time when he was a youngster and has managed to keep entertained since growing up. He had no hesitancy in admitting that he had always turned up the glass when he felt like it, and he named a particular brand, which I can’t use, as it’s too good an [?] and besides might lead astray some white ribboner. Yes, tobacco, too. He ought to know, he’s eighty-five and looks good for many more.

I have referred briefly to on J.J. O’Day, leading merchant for a score of years. He handles anything from a box of axle grease and ax handles to borated talcum powder, and sells it. He spells it the shortest way – T-e-n-l-y. Life’s too short for the extra n’s and l’s, he observes. He also observes that there are many things the Citizens’ Association hasn’t secured, among them that widened street and sidewalk.


Dr. George P. Parton runs a drug store and the Untied States post office. As I waited for the doctor to assort the heavy Tenleytown mail, I noticed quite an influx of colored drug hunters who were after something, but didn’t know how to ask for it. The doctor has to be a good guesser. While I waited a bit of the dusky tot came in and asked for “numoalums.” Doctor gave here stramonium, and asthma remody. “Uncle Epus salts,” Rockshell salts,” “Smellness castor oil,” “Mis’ Windy’s snoozin’ syrup,” are daily requests. Recently a customer returned a “pous” plaster because he found it had holes in it.

John Henry Harry, aged seventy-five, a mounted police officer for some fifteen years, is another old resident. Mr. Harry is full of stories, and derives much pleasure in worrying the youngsters by offering to bet a large sum that he can break a stone with his fist. There are none so bold as to take him up, for, although they doubt his ability, he has a way of making good which is most annoying when a bet is on.


‘Twas his son, John B. Harry, leading grocer, who told me of the lack of sewerage. He has just built a handsome home, which is as perfect as a sewer less house can be. Mr. Harry and his neighbors have also been fighting for a road from Chesapeake street to the car line. It was promised them, they claim, if the land was donated. The land was forthcoming, whereupon Mr. Harry fenced off his lots, hitherto used for cross-country travel, thinking the road would surely be built.

The District authorities now say they’re waiting on the chain gang. The chain gang is willing, so is Tenleytown. Yet there’s no road, and since Mr. Harry fenced off his land, the populace walks all around some seven blocks, cussing vainly all the while.

I discovered two monopolies in Tenleytown. W.A. Trigger is the town’s official barber, and they think so much of him, he can stay open on Sundays if he wishes. The District closing law, strangely enough, does not apply there. Yong Lee, a sunny celestial, does collars and cuffs. It’s either patronize Lee, come up town, or wear dirty ones. I persuaded Lee to give us his signature only after much argument. He was confident at first that he was being signed up for a year’s advertising contract.


C.C. Lancaster is president of the Citizens’ Association. As such, it behooves him to speak at great length and demand reforms. Could any public spirited citizen do less? Dr. Chappell is secretary of the association and stays off weight about ten pounds by reason of having to record everything Mr. Lancaster emits as his opinions.

I tried to run down a rumor that Mr. Lancaster is soon to hie himself to other fields. One of the neighbors told me he’d convinced a purchaser that his place of twelve acres, with improvements, was worth about $48,000, and had sold out while the other fellow was in the notion.

If he goes, it will be hard to find a man who can protest as often, as eloquently and as effectively as Mr. Lancaster. Mr. Lancaster’s protests come on letter heads reading “Tenleytown,” which I have accepted as the official spelling for the time being.

Tenleytown points with pride to two near-residents whose estates may be seen from the car windows. These citizens could improve the whole place if they had a mind to. I refer to John R. McLean and Banker C.C.Glover.

After all, the town is pretty well balanced, and if they get a few sewers, widened streets, a better school building, a real police station instead of a sub. And an official decision how to spell that name, the town will be all right.

(From the Washington Times, October 4, 1908)

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