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

Petworth bannerPetworth cartoon

Citizens Have Peculiar Trouble With Street Car Service.


“The Loop” and “Transfers” Are Responsible for Inhabitants’ Loss of Temper.


“Poor progressive Petworth; petulant Petworth:

“How oft in moments of remorse have I crept to the hilltops overlooking thy verdant beauties and wept; how heavily has heaved my generous bosom as the realization of thy grievous injuries came over me; how frequently would I have granted thy supplication for the death of the transfer, the abolishment of my “loop,” a glorious inaugural day of a through car to the throbbing city beyond – and yet ye would not, ye would not PAY TWO FARES.”

(Culled from the purported lamentations of one General Harries, vice-president and general manager of the Washington Railway and Electric Company, which benevolent corporation operates more or less frequently a system of cars between Petworth, whose ills we are now discussing, and that same transfer point referred to in last week’s Brightwood expose as “the loop.” The lamentations of Harries, de luxe edition, are said to have wide circulation in Petworth, which suburb is also the home of numerous other lamentations – mainly directed at the aforesaid street car system.)

So outrageously does petulant Petworth say she has been treated in this matter that kicks may be expected with almost everything out that way except the real estate prospectus. They say the prize car service is actually holding back the place, that people are just clamoring to come out and be one of them – but they get no farther than the loop.

The loop, let me explain here, is the bugaboo for Petworth, Brightwood, Takoma Park, and Brightwood Park, so you just as well become acquainted with it now. Petworth has a little bit the advantage of the other place, however, for when the weather and walking is good a number of its best people tramp across lots, by the new Tuberculosis Hospital, and take the Fourteenth street line, five blocks away. Even this is preferable to the loop, ‘twas said.

Street Car “Evil.”

So it would be impossible to introduce you to Petworth without dwelling largely on this question of street cars. That’s the kind of stuff that will interest them.

“Lambast them all you can, won’t you? Gee, but it’s awful. Seems to be just a case of ‘how long, oh Harries, how long,’” said some of them to me as they poured into my ears a tale of daily suffering. The I let the fellow weep on my shoulder while I took notes and nobody could have a sobbing form like that stacked up against him without growing real mushy. And I agreed to write something about it.

Anyway, the leading citizens might not be interested in anything else. I don’t believe they would peruse more than a paragraph about the discovery of the North Pole, the settlement of the race question, whether or not Gompers would deliver the labor vote or whether the Duke of the Abruzzi is en route to American – provided the next column contained something about through cars on the Petworth-Brightwood line.

True there is a little complaint out that way because Brightwood avenue has been changed to Georgia avenue, with a resultant confusion among the old timers, but this is a mere subordinate grievance. So is paving and sewerage. The care is the thing.

The historian who would analyze the ills of Petworth for this and future generations needs a vocabulary mainly composed of the following words:

  • Commute.
  • Commuter.
  • Transfer.
  • Transferable.
  • Suburbanity.
  • Kick
  • Loop.
  • Harries.

Meaning of Commute.

In the several definitions of the word “commute” as prescribed by our old friend, Noah Webster, we find the following:

“Commute: To substitute (one sort of burden) for another: to exchange (one penalty or punishment) for another.

“To pay in an aggregate sum instead of by installments: as, to commute for annual railroad fare.

“To atone, to compensate, to stand in the place (of).

“Commuter: One who commutes.”

Never has one bunch of definitions all seemed to apply as the above to Petworth. In commuting out that way, they insist they have the burdern, penalty, and punishment, atonement and compensation all working overtime and the union offering no boycott plans. When it comes to the word commuter – “one who commutes” – Petworth just stands up on its rear legs and joins in the chorus – “That’s me.”

Gently, I would pass over the definition of the word “transfer” as given by Webster. In the old days the lexicographer called it “A ticket given a passenger on one line entitling him to transportation on an intersecting line.”

No such definition as that goes in Petworth. A transfer wouldn’t know itself if it were addressed in that manner out on the Brightwood lines. Nobody would talk like that to a transfer, unless it were some king-hearted old lady from the Home for the Aged. Here’s one of the 1,000 names the transfer has been called since Petworth got mad: “Gimme one of those blank-a-blank purples, conduc. I’m so tired of carrying these things my fingers are stained. I wish the whole —– system,” but never mind what he wished.

Transferable: “Capable of being transferred or conveyed from one place to another.”

Again does Petworth sob, “us again.”

Ditto transferee, “the person to whom a transfer is made.”

Suburbanity: “Fondness for suburban life.” I put on the soft pedal here. Everybody seemed fond of Petworth but nobody of the means of getting there.

Its Peculiar Trouble.

The place has a peculiar trouble all its own. Herr Jacob Xander told me that Petworth had more right to kick than any other place on the line, because the cars all get filled up before they reach Petworth, consequently all Petworth stands up until the loop is reached. Petworth citizens are glad to even ride on the steps, the trolley pole, or the fender. Inside the car, they say, you find as many Brightwood, Takoma Park, and Brighwood Park citizens as could possibly be jammed in a place meant for about fifty people, but bulged to accommodate 117.

Because a male insisted upon beating a tattoo upon his chest down at Marshall Hall eleven years ago, mr. Jacob Xander, formerly our best-known wine merchant, has now retired and is living out his declining years with as much grace as possible, considering the street cars and the changing of Brightwood avenue’s name.

“Who is dot Senator Bacon of Chorgia?” he asked. “We nefer heard of him oud here until he haf der name of Brightwood avenue changed to Georgia avenue. I hope he do someding for us now.”

Mr. Xander is a genial old fellow, who told us he joined the Brightwood Citizens’ Association rather than the Petworth Association because he couldn’t talk English plain, and President Shoemaker, of the former association, seemed able to get more for him. ‘Tis largely a matter of doing it yourself, though, he said, out Petworth way. He was painting his fence when we found him, just to set an example to his neighbors.

Not content with changing the name of the street running in front of the Xander house, they tore down another signboard some months ago, interfering with the map of the north side of the Xander possessions. “From Omaha to Randolph,” the order read. “I’m getting old; soon I don’t know where I lif,” said Mr. Xander.

Druggist’s Complaint.

Dr. Fred B. Campbell, rising young druggist, who has the only drug and soda water emporium in Petworth, is also there with a large complaint as to what Senator Bacon did to honor Georgia’s name. Only recently, the doc told me, he narrowly missed the receipt of a box of candy from Baltimore, because the railroad people couldn’t find his number on the Georgia avenue, which was once down southeast Washington. Doctor Campbell isn’t married, at least wasn’t when we were out the first of the week, but my, his place is a mecca for sweet young things.

Everett Maddox, who wanted to know what his name was wanted for before he consented to spell it, is one of the handsomest soda jerkers I’ve seen, and I’ve seen 2,677. “Ev” is now working on an invention which, when perfected, will enable any soda jerker to send a wireless message just with the fizz. This, however, is patented only for use when soda is being drawn for somebody worth while, across the counter. The vocabulary is to consist of a few words like “cute, darling, cunning, I saw you last night, I’m jealous, I’m giving you extra quantity,” ad infinitum.

Still, Mail Carrier R.T. Donovan, No. 337, brought me a discouraging report. Cupid isn’t near so busy as he might be, he opined. How does he know? Because don’t nearly so many perfumed letters come to Petworth as they used to on his Mt. Pleasant route. Colonel Donovan, with fifteen years’ experience, says the degree of love is plainly indicated by the daintiness of the perfumes used in the tender missives.

Sausage Perfume.

Sixteen years ago, he ways, everybody used to go to Loeffler’s sausage factory, just on the outskirts, for their mail. Petworth wasn’t big enough then to get delivery, the nearest station being up at Loeffler’s place. Nobody felt like the mail was genuine in those days unless it smelled to heaven of sausage.

“Going to have sausage for dinner tonight, are we?” asked a fond commuter as he came in from the day’s labors.

“No, Ferdinand dear, little Mary has been up for the mail and it smells a little yet,” replied a voice from yon kitchen. Great days those. Loeffler’s factory is still on the job, and Petworth citizens still smell sausage, the difference being that now the fumes float in and out of the early morning and late afternoon cars as the commuters whirl by.

Talent at Grocery.

I struck a bunch of talent down at the corner grocery store of Turner & Rector. This establishment is conducted by William Rector, who is undoubtedly qualified to sit on the bald-head row, and Raymond Turner, who has more hair but just as much trouble. Ray came in on the wagon while we were there and delivered an arotion on the slowness of collections in some quarters. They must do an immense business, for there were so many clerks we could hardly get in the door. Among them we noted James A. Archer, Arthur Turner, and Bob Winfree, any one of whom knows by heart the appetite, capacity, and taste of any citizen of Petworth.

Distributed over the adjacent landscape we saw Newton Dempsey, Enos Harnden, Henry Le Duc, George Stose, and others prominent in Petworth athletic circles.

Harnden said if we were gong to put anything about him in the paper he wished we’d spell his name right. Several times, he said, he had seen his name in print in different publications, each time as Hearndon, Herndon, or some other way. “Enos,” the name by which he is summoned to dinner at home, it seems has also been carelessly played with, inasmuch as it is not so common as Bill or Reginald.

Newton Dempsey, called “Oh, you Newt” for short, had no particular kick coming. Newt, although slim of stature and short measure across face, showed he was an athlete by wearing a sweater and carrying a golf stick. He and Harnden were both members of the new basketball team which comprise such other celebrities as Graham, Jim Dempsey, Garrett, Lynch, Jones, Clayton, Brunz, Langley, Thomas, Stockman, and Gable.

Henry Le Duc and George Stose, both popular bachelors, were wrestling manfully with the laying out of a tennis court. Work had been interrupted, they said, because the city had thoughtlessly put down a sewer across the yard, which naturally interrupted the game for everybody except the mosquitoes. Le Duc told me that Petworth had the only tennis court located on Government property with the exception of the one upon which the President plays. A permit had to be obtained by Petworth to lay it out. I had no statistics on the subject, so we’ll let it go at that.

Beau Brummel.

I didn’t see Dr. Alfred Norcross, but the fellows told me he was an awfully anthusiastic athlete and incidentially a Beau Brummel. It is really wonderful the number of bachelors one finds in Petworth. It does seem that this might be the subject of a message to Congress.

There’s Fred Grant, secretary to the Chamber of Commerce. You would think that any man with a soft job like that would want to turn over his pay envelope to somebody every week, but then he doesn’t. Still, there are those who have hopes.

William Gude, former president of the Citizens’ Association, former secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, and all the time a florist, is another sterling Petworth product. M. Gude decided raising flowers was easy compared to getting a car service, so he stopped worrying and gets back and forth the best he can.

Edwin A. Newman is the P. P. – Petworth Politician. Mr. Newman is national committeeman from the District, and is now engaged in appealing for funds to help elect Bryan. He was one of two District men who got his name in the paper for contributing over $100 to the Democratic cause. Mr. Newman coughed up $250 and felt much relieved. Next to boosting Bryan. Mr. Newman is principally concerned with squelching the Carr-Darr faction in District Democratic politics. Every four years there is a debate between the Newman crowd and the Carr-Darr crowd as to which is the “regular” faction. Mr. Newman speaks and debates and does other press agent stunts with the facility that an eel would exhibit in going through the average sluice gate. Mr. Newman owns much Petworth property and built the original block there.

“Gas Accelerator.”

Col. Edmund Claxton, thirty-six years with the gas company uptown, now has charge of a machine which “boosts” the gas on to Takoma Park. “Accelerating the flow,” he called it. Mr. Claxton knowns nearly everybody in Petworth, for most of them have moved in since he came, he says. Population has jumped from a mere 400 to more than 1,000 in two years, he told me. The walls of Colonel Claxton’s Petworth station are adorned with formidable relics; the nippers placed on Guiteau; a rifle used in the war of 1812, the battle of Waterloo, and the civil war; the first model Colts navy revolver and other instruments of death and destruction are his midnight companions.

Clarke Mayne is studying chemistry in George Washington University. Meanwhile he and “Doc” Campbell have compounded something to make the hair grow. The baby has been named “Seehairagain.” Pretty classy, isn’t it?

Parker Anderson and Dick Turpin are summer commuters. Like birds of passage, they migrate back and forth according to the frost. Both are firm believer in the five-block walk and the Fourteenth street car line. Both tickle a telegraph key in Washington by day, and by a relay alarm clock syste are able to get up in time to get down to work. Turpin is fair and scarce twenty, but married. Anderson has been here longer and is going to remedy the little matrimonial oversight soon.

I close with a brief reference to William Nevarre Cromwell, president of the Citizens’ Association, and James Partello, former secretary, whose arduous duties are now performed by C. L. Gable. Suffice it is to say that these gentlemen are mainly engaged in putting Napoleon’s famous question, “What has he done?” to General Harries. They paused for reply and echo answers.

Mr. Partello, however, has other things to think about now, principally how he escaped being killed in that Sand Patch wreck on the Baltimore and Ohio, in 1902. He gave such a graphic description of the tumble down the mountain side, how he lifted the debris from himself and other mail clerk companions, and how he bluffed off a bunch of mountaineer looters, that I forgot to ask him what he thought about the Brightwood car line. Kicking became too arduous, he says, when a member of the P.C.A. He’s now with the Postoffice Department, after having ridden half a million miles within the past fifteen years as a postal mail clerk.

If the company don’t make them pay two fares, in consideration of a probable through service, you ought to go out there and see Petworth some time.

(From the Washington Times, October 25, 1908)

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