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Chevy Chase Historic District
Developed between 1892 and 1930 along Maryland’s border with Washington, D.C., Chevy Chase is a comprehensively planned suburban community of upper-middle-class residences. The community was envisioned by Nevada Senator Francis G. Newlands, who was among the first in this area to recognize the speculative potential of streetcar lines and careful community planning. Forming the Chevy Chase Land Company in 1890, Newlands strategically located his community adjacent to Washington, D.C. to take advantage of the city’s proximity and potential real estate market.
Chevy Chase is centered along Connecticut Avenue, a main thoroughfare into Washington that was extended 7.5 miles into Maryland in order to facilitate the community’s development. The Maryland extension began at Chevy Chase Circle, which functioned as the formal gateway into the community, with its orientation clearly toward Washington. It was intended as an elite residential community, regulated by covenants and restrictions to ensure its exclusivity, including the establishment of large lots, high minimum house values, and the exclusion of development incompatible to a residential environment. The community was to remain strictly residential, relegating stables and other ancillary structures to the rear of lots and locating shopping and commercial strips south of the district line.
The plan of Chevy Chase encompassed a verdant landscape embracing the picturesque qualities of suburban design as promoted by individuals such as Frederick Law Olmsted. In addition to its uniform setbacks and sizable lawns, Chevy Chase embraced curvilinear tree-lined streets, generous plantings, and open spaces that conformed to the natural topography. Indeed, a naturalistic landscape enhanced by an impressive variety of heavily planted trees, hedges, and banks of boxwoods is among the distinctive features of the community. Stately old-growth trees now provide a canopy along streets, contributing to its picturesque, parklike setting. Chevy Chase also incorporated public amenities such as Village Hall, which contained a library and post office; the Chevy Chase Club with clubhouse, golf, and tennis facilities; schools; and a recreational lake.
A major reason for the success of this pioneering suburban community was the fact that the Chevy Chase Land Company included civil, sanitary, and structural engineers as well as architects, landscape architects, and real estate agents to incorporate zoning, architectural design guidelines, landscaping, and infrastructure. To facilitate transportation to and from Washington, the company built the Rock Creek Railway. The company also constructed water and sewer systems and an electrical power house.
Envisioned as a multi-phased long-term investment, Chevy Chase was originally divided into five distinct sections that opened separately between 1892 and 1925. Each was designed by well-respected engineers and landscape architects, and has its own salient features as dictated by the lay of the land, and to some extent, by representative architectural styles. The first section opened for development in 1892; called Section II but often referred to as “Chevy Chase Village,” it was located closest to the circle and included the Village Hall and clubhouse. Designed by New York landscape architect Nathan F. Barrett and civil engineer Thomas J. Fisher and Company, its plan includes five curvilinear parkways with landscaped “parklets” scattered throughout, and a rich array of plantings such as hedge and tree varietals. Barrett also supervised the planting of Japanese boxwood in common areas, one grouping of which is still extant. His plan also included wide streets and large lots and setbacks of at least 25 feet (originally 35 feet along Connecticut Avenue).
Section III, which opened in 1905, was surveyed by civil engineer W.J. Boyd. It features Colonial Revival houses, as well as Craftsman Bungalow and Foursquare plans in a wide range of architectural motifs. Section IV, designed by civil engineer and landscape designer David J. Howell, opened two years later. A liberal planting of trees and conformity to the undulating topography contribute significantly to its still verdant character. Sections V and I, which opened between 1923 and 1925, respectively, are more rectilinear in plan and are predominately characterized by houses in the Craftsman Bungalow, Mission, Tudor Revival, and Renaissance Revival styles. Later additions adjacent to the original sections of Chevy Chase were made by other developers so that the greater Chevy Chase community continued to grow through the 1940s.
The company sought to control the architectural program by using their own architects to design the first houses, setting the tone for the community. Thus Chevy Chase is significant for its exceptional architecture, representing a broad range of eclectic styles popular within more affluent communities around the turn and early part of the twentieth century. The architectural program was established in part by architects Leon Dessez and Lindley Johnson, both of whom served as board members and were employed by the Chevy Chase Land Company to design some houses and to review plans for others. As a result, the houses in Chevy Chase exhibit an impressive level of quality and represent the changing architectural tastes of the period.
Chevy Chase became the prototype for upscale development throughout northwest Washington and southern Montgomery County, Maryland, although most others were not as comprehensively planned.
Atwood, Albert W. Francis G. Newlands: A Builder of a Nation. Washington: Newlands Company, 1969.
Atwood, Albert W. “The Romance of Senator Francis G. Newlands and Chevy Chase.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society(1969): 294-310.
French, Roderick S. “Chevy Chase in the Context of the national Suburban Movement, 1870-1900.” Records of the Columbia Historical Society49 (1973–1974): 306-340.
George, Mary Roselle. “Developer Influence in the Suburbanization of Washington, D.C.: Francis G. Newlands and Chevy Chase.” M.A. Thesis, University of Maryland, 1989.
Lampl, Elizabeth Jo, and Kim Prothro Williams. Chevy Chase; A Home Suburb for the Nation’s Capital. Maryland Historical Trust Press, 1998.
Robinson, Judith Helm. “Chevy Chase: A Bold Idea. A Comprehensive Plan.” In Washington At Home: An Illustrated History of Neighborhoods in the Nation’s Capital, edited by Kathryn Schneider Smith, 191-201. Northridge: Windsor Publications, 1988.
Williams, Kim Prothro, Elizabeth Jo Lampl, and William B. Bushong, “Chevy Chase Historic District,” Montgomery County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1998. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
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