Portrait of Brightwood 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, Tenleytown, and Brookland. Today’s feature is Brightwood.

Brightwood bannerBrightwood cartoon

“Better Car Service” Is Constant Appeal of Its Inhabitants.


Weights 437 Pounds, But Isn’t at All Sensitive About Being a Prize Winner.


MORE Brightwood folks have “looped the loop” than those of any other suburb on the map.

About seven things are counted on as certain out in Brightwood each day – sun up, sun down, three meals and two “loops.”

Do not gather from this that Brighhtwood harbors a miniature Coney Island with its chutes, merry-go-roungs, mystic mazes, wild men and loop-the loops. Far be it from me to act as press agent for the village and spring a yarn like that. ‘Tis a sadder tale than this that duty bids me tell.

THE LOOP, to which I refer, and to which every Brightwoodite refers at least eighty-six time per day, is situated just to the west of the National’s ball park. Tenderly speaking, it is a place where all folks going to and from Brightwood are dumped out around a little station house and made to transfer – after waiting awhile for the next car.

Lost Without Transfer.

No man out that way feels at ease unless he has a transfer in his hand. So common are transfers in Brightwood that they are almost used for legal tender. Children cry for them and beg to loop-the-loop when they should be thinking only of leap frog and mumble-peg. Transfers are used as paper chest protectors, as lamp shades, for wall papering or to stop up the chink when the neighborhood bad boys break out the window pane.

From time immemorial, or at least from the time when the Brightwood Citizens’ Association was formed, we have been accustomed to see in the newspaper headlines:

“Brightwood Demands Through Cars to City.”

“Brightwood Demands Better Car Service.”

“Brightwood Citizens Kick on Being Dumped in Cold and Rain.”

Occasionally we would also see that Brightwood demanded better lights along its avenue, wider roads in Rock Creek Park, more sewers, and a few other things.

Whereat we have become accustomed to sympathizing with Brightwood because everybody knows that a lot of wide-awake people live out there and that the suburb itself is a delightful one – after you get there and when you get there. In inviting a friend out to dinner, however, the Brightwood citizen impresses upon you that his hospitality does not begin until after you have reached the confines of the village itself. He takes no responsibility for the street car service and the means of getting there.

Will Telephone Wife.

Mr. Bright Wood will telephone his wife as follows:

“Constance, I will bring my old college chum, Mr. Grouch, out to dinner tonight. Have something nice, will you?

Wherefore, the real head of the household will bestir herself for some hours and have a steaming repast ready at the appointed moment. After a wait of some two hours or more, perhaps she hears a familiar footstep and indignantly rushes to greet the tardy one. Two bedraggled, dispirited specimens meet her glaring gaze. There is a moment of tense silence and then she tenderly takes their dripping coats and sends the specimens themselves into the spare room to dry.

There are no words spoken. Words are not necessary for any wife would know that the car hadn’t shown up and that it rained and that hubby had “looped-the-loop” again.

No wonder therefore, that each meeting of the citizens’ association is so replete with fervid oratory that the windows have to be raised even on the coldest night, and no wonder that when you speak the name of President George H. Harries out in Brightwood you are welcomed as you would be in Ireland if you shook a red bandana handkerchief and shouted “Long live the King.” General Harries, as everybody, I presume, knows is president of the street railway company that furnishes, or fails to furnish, transportation to all the folks out Brightwood way.

Harries Often Mentioned.

General Harries’ name is conjured with at almost every meeting of the association and if it had been a punching bag would have been smashed to smithereens long ago.

While on the whole I found that the people seemed more contented out in Brightwood than I really thought they had a right to be, I located one gentleman who seemed especially delighted with everything. In reality, I believe he’s too fat to get mad. I refer to “Pop” George C. Mountcastle, proprietor of that famous hostelry “Old Brightwood Hotel” and also proprietor of 437 pounds of good, hard flesh.

“Pop” is a character in whose company one might spend many a joyous hour. He says he’s also nick-named “Beefy,” but I didn’t hear the boys call him anything but “Pop,” especially when they wanted to borrow a half-dollar or stand off the bar-keep for a round.

Well, anyway, “Pop” isn’t sensitive about his weight and about the first thing he asked me and before I could ask him anything, he inquired, gently: “How much do you think I weigh?”

Not wishing to offend and yet desiring my ability to size up the cubic feet in almost any mountain, I chirped. “Oh, about 325.”

Pop Not Reed Like.

“Ha, ha,” said “Pop.” “I weigh 437 pounds, yes sir, just 437. Been weighing that now for about ten years. Why, I’m bigger around that you are tall, young man, and I weigh more than you and your artist friend and one or two others from your office thrown in.”

We agreed with “Pop” that he weighed some.

The he toddied about with us and showed us the hotel, the big chair made especially to order, and some souvenir post cards of himself astride a mule, which animal wanted to kick but couldn’t raise his foot off the ground to do so. Mr. Mountcastle says he doesn’t do anything particularly to get fat or to get thin. He just eats and does like other folks and lets the scales register what they please.

Last year he took the fat man’s prize at the Elks’ Jubilee in Philadelphia. He only stayed over there half a day, however, just long enough to cop the prize, for there were no beds in Philly sufficient to hold up the famous Brightwoodite. His own bed, he assured me, is floored underneath with substantial weather boarding, which I agreed was a most wise precaution.

“Pop” Mountcastle is full of philosophy, for which there is plenty of room, and we really felt grieved to tear ourselves off so soon. He’s had charge of the Brightwood Hotel for some ten years. The hotel itself has been in charge of somebody wince 1873.

Mann a Ball Fan.

Presiding at “Pop’s” refreshment counter, for you know all hotels, especially the only one in a place, should have a buffet attached, was Frank Mann, a most enthusiastic baseball fan who kept in close touch with the Detroit-Chicago game. Mr. Mann rides out each morning and back each night and always has a valid excuse if he should be late at either terminus. From the way they were lined up in front of him after work hours I am confident that he’s one of the most popular men out that way.

Adjoining the hotel is Brightwood’s only barber shop, skillfully conducted by one Alf De Grazia, whose name somehow savored of Sunny Italy, but who assured me that he was from Chili. I wanted to converse at length with Alf, but he closed up hurriedly and said he had to catch a car for the theater.

“Business, been no good today, anyway,” he explained. “I close early when I go t’eater. No, not mooch monnish in barber business. Not getting’ reech.”

Capt. W. J. Seitz, who sees that a repetition of the Chicago fire doesn’t occur in Brightwood, was one of the most optimistic persons which whom I came in contact. They are now going to give the captain and his gallant men an engine, and as soon as that is added, the captain says he’ll have one of the most complete fire-fighting apparatuses in the whole city. The captain has a large territory, but his men very seldom have to climb sky-scrapers.

Mr. Cox Has Hobby.

Across from the engine house is the elevated home of W. V. Cox, Washington banker, member of the Board of Education, Chamber of Commerce luminary, and patriotic citizen. I asked some of the people if Mr. Cox had a hobby other than the school board, banking, and the Chamber of Commerce.

“Yes,” they said, “he wants the Government to buy old Fort Stevens, where Lincoln actually participated in a battle, and make a park of it. Inasmuch as he was unable to persuade the Government to do it, he’s bought it himself, and now says whenever the Government gets in a notion it can have the place for what he paid for it, plus a legal rate of interest.”

This is perfectly proper, inasmuch as Mr. Cox is a banker and not supposed to lose sight of the little word “Interest.”

It was really a pleasure to round up C. L. Osborn, grain merchant; Edgar M. Shaw, prominent grocer, and L. D. Jones, village blacksmith, all of whom are bunched so closely together that they know by sight all the other fellow’s customers.

Envies Red Robert.

Mr. Jones, for fifteen years has kept the feet of Brightwood horses from slipping. He bemoans the fact, however, that Bob Fitzsimmons can make and sell horse shoes for souvenirs while he, with just as good a right arm, must nail them on the restless equine.

Mr. Osborn was so busy selling grain that he didn’t have much time to discuss with me the burning issues of the day but he furnished the names of several other victims who, he said, knew all about Brightwood, themselves, and their neighbors.

Ditto Mr. Shaw, who conversed on the installment plan while the customers came and went. Mr. Shaw admitted being born in his early infancy, and had managed to hold his own since that time.

“Why don’t you see the Clayton boys?” he asked. “They are among our leading citizens.”

He referred to Will McK. Clayton, delegate to the Denver convention, attorney, spokesman for the citizens’ association, and popular Brightwood bachelor, and, lest we forget, Claude Clayton, his brother, downtown cashier, peerless commuter, and also popular Brightwood bachelor.

W. McK. Has been extensively quoted of late, inasmuch as he appeared only last week before Secretary Eddy’s street railway committee of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and “demanded the demands” of the Brightwood citizens. W. McK.’s voice has ever been on the uplift for the abolition of things that ought not to be, and more than once it has floated out in soft cadences over the Brightwood night air, and the people across the street have been lulled to sleep, while the citizens’ association sat enthralled, disinclined for once to break the spell to even demand something.

Claudius is beknown to all Brightwood commuters, for more than once, have they sympathized as he chased the perspiration from his hair-free summit as he “waited at the loop” in sultry August, or as he stood a dejected target for the crool hail and biting blasts in the winter time.

One of the Fixtures.

Since 1882 Prof. W. E. Nalley has taught the youngsters of Brightwood to accept philosophically all street car inconveniences. He remembers when there weren’t any street cars, anyway. When he began to teach Brightwood dignitaries rode on a stage formerly used for Emancipation Day celebrations. This was called the “Red Bird,” and its purchasers failed to paint out the motto of the emancipationists written across the top, thusly:

“Twenty Years Ago We Was in Darkness, Now Let Us Walk in the Light.”

Only 25 cents was charged to haul a passenger to the city.

After that came the horse car, which always persisted in leaving the track near Loeffler’s factory. Often the professor has come in late to the evening meal after pushing nobly to put the car aright.

Prof. Nalley is a Brightwood fixture, and has taught there so long the clapper always cleaves to the side of the school bell unless he is on hand. He confirmed the statement previously made by “Pop” Mountcastle that there is no race suicide in Brightwood. He ought to know, as he’s taught about everything in Brightwood from a guinea-pig up.

The Keene Family.

Another old-timer is Joseph F. Keene, father of the Keene boys, one of whom was so keen (horrible pun) as to discover our identity. Mr. Keene, the elder, used to be supervising principal of that division, and has also taught a little school. Now he’s resting, at least the boys said he was resting the night we called, having put in a hard day overseeing his farm. Confidentially, thought, I don’t believe Mr. Keene wanted his hirsute adornments sketched by Artist Curtis.

However, I had an excellent conversation with John G. Keene – that is, I listened excellently. Mr. Keene is secretary of the Citizens’ Association, and naturally knowns more about Brightwood “demands” than the man who coined the word. He explained them to me with great eloquence, and, according to his viewpoint, and mine after he’d finished, things are in a desperate way, so far as getting anything frm the bunch on the Hill is concerned. Mr. Keene promised to send me a list of the “demands,” but I heard next day his typewriter had worn out listing them, so all is forgiven.

His brother, Dr. “Evvie,” is he who discovered us. “Ha, you are Tiller and Curtis,” quoth he. “You would jolly us a bit. Don’t think I have not seen through your disguise and your platitudes.”

We told the doctor he had one more guess coming, but didn’t need it. After this he opened up and put us on to several victims, assuring us that he knew we wouldn’t say a word that would offend even the oldest member of the Society for the Maintenance of Good Will Among Spinsters.

Dr. Keene is known as J. Everett among his dental patients. Being another Brightwood bachelor, he is best known out that way as Dr. “Evvie.”

The Real “Big Noise.”

At last we come to the big noise, the president of the Citizens’ Association, and holder of many mortgages and deeds to valuable subdivision of city lands – Louis P. Shoemaker. Mr. Shoemaker believes in everything the Citizens’ Association has kicked for – and then some. He adheres to the faith that a one-headed government would be better than a hydra-headed affair, because then there’s no chance for one Commissioner to “shoo” you to the office of another.

Better car service would undoubtedly add to the attractiveness of Brightwood real estate, and inasmuch as Mr. Shoemaker dearly loves to sign a rental contract or a deed in fee simple, ‘tis meet that he should crave the betterment of said transportation service. He presides with becoming dignity at all meetings of the association, and opens them with something like the following ritual:

“Aggrieved fellow-citizens, we have two minutes left before we proceed to devise ways and means of ridding ourselves of looping-the-loop and of obtaining a two-minute car service, with a half-hour night owl. If there is important business to come before this meeting other than that I have mentioned, and have been mentioning since I was a lad, I am now reardy to entertain a motion.”

Secretary keene inscribes the burning words of the president, and then calls loudly for help. When inquiry is made as to the reason for desiring such help. Mr. Keene opines that he himself would say a word about the outrages perpetrated upon a helpless people. Then he says and then the others say, and the next day the papers run the familiar heads that would incline us to the belief that Brightwood has a hard time.

More anon, perhaps, in the regular news columns.

(From the Washington Times, October 18, 1908)

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2 Comments on “Portrait of Brightwood in 1908”

  1. NYDC Says:

    Does anyone have a rec if a person who can install built in bookshelves at a reasonable rate? Thanks.


  2. […] 1908. I’ve previously posted the articles for Georgetown, Anacostia, Tenleytown, Brookland, and Brightwood. Today’s feature is […]

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