Portrait of Brookland in 1908

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

Brookland bannerBrookland cartoon 1908

Almost Deserted During Day, Activities Begin After Nightfall.

MALES AT PREMIUM DURING DAY HOURS

Grocers Wake Up, Druggist Starts Fountain, and Business Begins.

By THEODORE TILLER

BROOKLAND is inhabited mainly by people who are not afraid to go home in the dark.

Hastening out there early in the afternoon, I expressed a burning desire to round up its well-informed citizenry and learn all about the place. Dr. J.H. Brooks, who had much to do with laying out the sub-division some fifty years ago, inasmuch as his ancestors had thoughtfully annexed considerable land thereabouts, quickly disillusioned me.

“You would converse with our leading citizens?” he asked, or words to that effect. “Ha! You are stranger in our midst evidently. We are all sundowners our here. Wait around until nightfall and the folks will come in from the Government departments. Our doctors, lawyers, merchants and other leading lights never hang out their shingles until after sundown. Yes, indeed, business picks up a bit out this way at night.”

The doctor was right. I conversed at length with the policeman, postmaster, town barber and a few women and children, all of whom have to stay in Brookland during the daytime, until the real population arrived at sundown.

Cavalcade Descends.

As the hour of 6 approaches a mighty cavalcade was seen descending from the hilltops, upon which the Brookland cars stop. The doctors prepared to diagnose, the lawyers to expound, the village barber to sharpen his razor, and the merchant to weigh out the daily portion of choice groceries.

Frantic canines heralded the approach of the head of the family; joyous children did likewise and clamored to know what further reason existed for not serving the evening meal. Brookland had come into her own and her male population had become a fixture for another fourteen hours.

While waiting. I had learned considerable about the place. It is bounded on the north by sites for colleges, on the west by colleges, on the east by more colleges, and on the south by still other colleges. Everything except a correspondence school is represented, and perhaps that will be as soon as land can be cleared.

People never ask out there about a stranger’s name or business. It’s “what school does he go to?” The rah-rah boy, the solemn visage wearer of the pronounced clerical garb, with theology written all over him, the vivacious seminary girl, the more sedate aspirant for a place in the cloistered precincts, bewhiskered professors – they are all every-day sights in Brookland.

One on Washington.

They are fond of telling a story like this at the Citizens’ Association meeting. Mgr. O’Connell, head of the American Catholic University, recently toured Europe. He happened to casually say something one night about Washington, D.C.

“Ah, I remember,” said a European professor who was in the group. “Washington? That’s near Brookland, isn’t it?”

Bishop O’Connell assured his hearers that Washington was near Brookland and stored the story away to tell the folks back home. It is a typical example of Brookland pride. What they don’t know over in Europe about Brookland as a center of learning could be put in one paragraph.

I tried hard to find out of the place was grouchy about anything. In other words, if they’d been treated badly by Congress when it came to the matter of civic improvements. I was hardly able to scare up a grievance, personal or otherwise. True, Congress had been a little slow in providing sewerage facilities for the northern portion of the city, but members of the Citizens’ Association seemed more inclined to blame Mother Nature than the Commissioners of the District. Nature, it seems, failed to lay the place out level, and of course the same sewer can’t run both up hill and down hill. Brooklanders have figured that out some time ago.

The Gas Question.

Then there’s the gas question. The suburb has grown so that the gas mains are not nearly big enough now. Furthermore, it’s growing so that they don’t know just how to compute for the future. ‘Tis indeed a ticklish proposition, for no one wants mammoth mains that will encourage the meter to leak a little. Meters are rather unkind bits of mechanism anyway.

But the town has no real kick. Listen to the explanation as given by A. F. Kinnan, a “sundowner” and former president of the citizens’ association for some eight years.

“We haven’t any real kick coming, because we don’t ask for more than we know we can get. A lot of associations send out large requests for about everything that is going in the way of civic improvements, they get about half of them and feel sore about the balance. We learned better out our way, and consequently stay pretty well contented.”

I judge from talking to a number of Brooklanders that the burg has the system down to a fine point. Here’s the way they do it:

The System Used.

“Well, Mr. Commissioners, we’ve come in to ask for umpty thousand dollars this year. You know Blank street needs paving, and Brotherly Love street needs grading, and the sewers are out of commission along Hooray street and —- ”

“Yes, I know gentlemen,” speaks the spokesman for the Commissioners. “But we can’t give you umpty thousand dollars this year. The best we can do is steen thousand dollars.”

“Ah, is that it?” says the Citizens’ Association delegation. “Well, we can make out. Give it here.”

Then the delegation departs in a most happy frame of mind, the result of the conference is duly made known at the next meeting and thereafter it is impossible to find any large kick out that way. That’s philosophy as taught and practiced in Brookland.

Col. John McPhaul, present president of the Citizens’ Association, who spends his days in Washington, expounding law for the Interior Department, gave me the above recipe. Mr. McPhaul resembles, and is, as optimistic as William Jennings Bryan. It was impossible to get him to fret about anything. So eloquently did he paint the content of all Brooklanders that I inquired about the price of building lots.

One of the Landlords.

I learn that one, J.B. Lord, is much of a landlord out that way. Mr. Lord is a descendant of another thoughtful line of ancestors who staked out Brookland when it was nothing but tall grass and scrubby bushes. Consequently, Mr. Lord’s most arduous labors these days consist in indorsing rent checks and seeing that his “For Rent by J. B. Lord” signs are properly tacked up. The real estate magnate maintains a colonial home out on the Bunker Hill road.

That reminds me that President McPhaul noted the settling of the controversy of some eleven years’ standing at the last Citizens’ Association meeting. Away back there the Southsiders and the Northsiders spilled much oratory and anger, as to which side of the town was entitled to a park. The Southside had a site; so did the Northside, the latter offering none other than the historic spot on Bunker Hill road through with the British marched upon Washington. Other things have happened there since, it being noted, for one thing as the place where the late Mark Hanna spent his short term of service in the civil war.

Well, anyway, the association met at 7 o’clock eleven years ago and adjourned about 1, after everybody had gotten fighting mad and at outs with his neighbor. The site wasn’t asked for at either place, and everybody was satisfied, not that he had the park, but that the other fellow hadn’t.

Newcomers Faux Pas.

The other night a newcomer in Brookland, who know nothing about the park proposition being a tabooed one, got up in Citizens’ Association meeting and, in a speech teeming with patriotic references to the Stars and Stripes forever, the beauties of Brookland, the greatness of its people, and the amount of tribute due them, demanded that a resolution be passed forthwith setting aside the Bunker Hill road site for a park and asking an appropriation therefore.

There was much laughter, which confused the newcomer mightily. He felt a tug at his coat tails and, taking his seat, was told what a grievous error he had committed. Then President McPhaul, who had lead the fight for the Southsiders eleven years before, surprised the assembled citizens by back-pedaling and advocating the Northside site.

Sure, they asked for an appropriation, and everything is now lovely again.

The Pipe Hospital.

Reverting to Dr. J.H. Brooks, he who enlightened me as to the “sundown” proclivities of the inhabitants of the village; I may say that the doctor maintains one of the most charitable hospitals in the country. While waiting in his study, I noted that I was surrounded by pipes. Big pipes, small pipes, crooked pipes, straight pipes, old pipes, and young pipes! There were everywhere, their sweet aroma ascending heavenward from the doctor’s study.

“Yes, I hate to throw them away,” said the doctor, “so I keep them here – in my pipe hospital. A lot of them are pretty strong to be in an institution of this kind, but they’re here nevertheless, and I’m adding to the pension roll.”

Dr. Brooks, who has been a resident of Brookland, as I have said, before the place was Brookland, gave me much data about how the Brooks, the Middletens, McGuires, Queens, and others had sold off the place bit by bit to the “sundowners.” The old Brooks home is now used as Benedictine School for Girls.

Occupant of Ridgeway.

Living in retirement at the old Ridgeway place, I found a lovable old gentleman from “Merrie England” – Nicholas Crook. He camee over this way in 1881, and is glad of it. Mr. Crook’s hobbies are birds, flowers, and his family. To all three he has been devoted for a lifetime, and so familiar is he with every plant and tree that grows that he can shut his eyes, feel the leaves and string out a scientific name that sounds like the roll call of the Russian standing army. He has had his heart set for some time on the Ridgeway place, property of Robert Ridgeway, a noted scientist, who collected about him his specimens of trees and flowers from every land and clime.

So acute is Mr. Crook’s sense of observation that ‘tis said he knows the pedigree of every bird on his place, and officiates in the settlement of the domestic troubles of the feathered tribe. In turn they have all become so accustomed to the quaint accent of the gentleman from Lancashire, that mother birds ward their young not to trust any gentlemen not having a decided fondness for the letter “h.”

Typical Sundowner.

I met one Mr. Barnes, a “sundowner” as he entered the city. Mr. Barnes (I afterward learned this was his name), gave me a lot of information about Brookland, but he refused to divulge his identity. In vain I showed him my Sherlock Holmes badge and told him that I would ferret out the mystery anyway. He was willing to talk, but being modest, really did not crave to see his name in print. While I remonstrated with the stranger my artist friend slipped over to an urchin across the street and from him learned that the individual was “Mr. Barnes, who lives just behind Mr. Crook’s place.” Hence he was discovered, just as we told him he would be. Mr. Barnes is especially enthusiastic over the Brookland Brotherhood, a social-religious-patriotic-fraternal organization which has for its object the drawing together of the men of Brookland.

Engaged in conversation with Mr. Barnes, I was unable to halt a rather fashion-modeled gentleman who passed jauntily by us. Afterward I learned that he was another “sundowner,” H. M. Woodward, building permit clerk, secretary of the automobile board and possibly a few other things at the District building. Being called a “pooh-bah,” it is natural that Mr. Woodward should be a keeper of state secrets. The records of automobile licenses he is said to be particularly solicitous of and he must know that the person seeking information has the consent of the Commissioners before he will deliver the goods.

The joke Mr. Woodward considerably about the District building on the theory that he is peeved because this automobile license business carries no salary with it. Constant recommendations that a salary of $300 be attached having proved unavailing. Wouldn’t you be peeved too?

Director Joseph E. Ralph, of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing is another Brooklander. Children view Mr. Ralph with awe as he meanders back and forth along Brookland streets. “He makes all the money,” quoth they, whereat Mr. Ralph’s chest goes outward and he really looks fleshy.

Dr. Charles C. Lennan, who moved from Alexandria to Brookland and opened a drug business, says the latter place is “all to the good.” The college boys and college girls, the doc says, have a most admirable habit of spending father’s money, all of which adds to the Lennan till’s total every night. The Lennan drug store is the mecca of all college lads and maidens who are hunting soda water and affinities.

No, really, doctor didn’t seem a bit unhappy because he’d moved from Alexandria to Brookland.

Brawner Hetfield, I was given to understand, was really one of the most popular young men out Brookland way. He had just left for Johns Hopkins Institute, where he will learn to diagnose measles and other things, and become a “sundowner.” Much gloom has settled in certain college precincts since Brawner’s departure. He is said to have perfected the art of wearing a cap, turned up trousers, real peek-a-boo shirts, and a pipe.

Strenuous Fire Life.

I found an overworked group at Engine House No. 17. George Saur, who has more than his share of avoirdupois, had to answer the ticker every few minutes and really couldn’t carry on a lengthy conversation. Colonel Saur had heard there was considerable fire up town at times. Going to one of these, Driver J.S. Trotter got tangled in a runaway and had to play the hero and get himself and companions out. Others who bore witness to the brisk life led by Brookland firemen were Lieut. C.A.E. (Alphabet) Watt, Newman J.W.C. (Alphabet) Hetlin, and Captian Grimm. The captain didn’t say anything, but while I talked to the bunch he came to the door and looked in. He seemed, oh, so tired.

Just now the firemen are much distressed over the absence of Jeremiah Sullivan, who sings bass and pitches quoits with equal dexterity. Mr. Sullivan is up New York way on a vacation.

Postmaster Johnson reversed the order of things and stays in Brookland by day and Washington by night. The mail during college days is especially heavy, says the P. M., and he suspicions that there is more or less love Billy Do’, or something like that, in the daily assortment. The P. M. has no objection to young folks meeting in the office for the exchange of pleasantries. He was young once himself, he said. I knew it myself, just from the Fra Albertus tie and the marcel wave effect about the think cap.

Official Barber.

Joseph Gatto, official barber, who used to be a Washington hotel man, has the most formidable mustache in Brookland. He was introduced to me by Policeman C.H. Bradley, who has assisted in keeping Brooklnad in order for eight years. Mr. Bradley is Scotch, and proud of it, although he admits there are some good Irishmen on the force. Just why Mr. Gatto doesn’t have wasn’t explained. He’s certainly there with the hirsute adornment, however, and is by no means an advertisement to his own business. He says he’s satisfied with Brookland. He shingled Bradley’s hair forty years ago, declared he with pride, as he confessed to sixty-five, and didn’t look fifty.

James Mulvihill, dispenser of cigars and tobacco, was an awfully quiet person, and I really didn’t get much out of him except that some days business is dull and again good. He’d been selling twelve years.

Yes, it’s a delightful place and everybody is contented.

(From the Washington Times, October 11, 1908)

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2 Comments on “Portrait of Brookland in 1908”


  1. […] they were in 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, Tenleytown, and Brookland. Today’s feature is […]


  2. […] 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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