LOCAL LORE: The Sculptor and the Slave


Did you know that great, monumental art was once produced in our neck of the woods? A little over a mile away from Brookland, just past the site of Queen's Chapel, sculptor Clark Mills once had his foundry. Mills moved here from South Carolina in the 1840s when he won a competition for an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson to be placed in Lafayette Park. For that, a temporary foundry was set up near the White House and there Mills and his workers produced the first bronze statue ever cast in this country. It was also the first equestrian statue to be balanced solely on the horse’s hind legs. Mills unveiled it in 1853 to great acclaim.  (Click photo for larger image.  The Library of Congress, Carol M. Highsmith archive)

Following that success, Mills built a foundry just off Bladensburg Road in the present day Langdon neighborhood. 

(1861 map of the area by A. Boschke. Click for larger image. Library of Congress)

There he produced another equestrian statue, this time of George Washington. It too was a success, and was placed in Washington Circle in the West End. 

(Photo by Robert Malesky)

A hulking octagonal building, the Bladensburg Road foundry could be a hot, dirty place to work. The bronze casting process is difficult and exacting and requires great patience and skill. 

BROOKLAND ROADS: Robert Brent’s Road

Continuing my look at the four boundary roads of the original Brookland neighborhood.

The first two roads I wrote about, Bunker Hill Road to the north and Queen's Chapel Road to the east, were both in existence before the construction of Washington began in 1790. The southern boundary of Brookland, Brentwood Road, wasn't created until the early 1800s, when the first mayor of Washington, Robert Brent, built a mansion near the outskirts of the city.

I say "outskirts," but we're talking about 6th Street and Florida Avenue NE. Back then Florida Avenue was known as Boundary Road, and it defined the limits of Washington City. North of it lay Washington County, primarily farmland, which filled in the rest of the District diamond. Brentwood Road ran northeast from the mansion, much of it along the route of present-day Rhode Island Avenue.

(Click to enlarge. 1894 map by G.M. Hopkins, Library of Congress.)


Jefferson letter


Brent’s response

Robert Brent was part of the wealthy Carroll family, who owned a good deal of the land on which this city was built. He was friends with most of the Washington elite, including President Thomas Jefferson. In 1802 Congress passed a bill incorporating the city and giving it a mayor, to be appointed by the President and an elected city council. On June 3, 1802, President Jefferson sent a letter to his friend Robert Brent, asking him to take the office. That same day, Brent wrote back, accepting. 

LOCAL LORE: The opening of the Michigan Avenue Viaduct

Anyone who has ever walked across a set of railroad tracks and felt the rumbling of an approaching train knows grade crossings can be dangerous. That's why the Michigan Park Citizens Association, starting in the mid-1920s, agitated for more than a decade to get a bridge built over the railroad tracks at Michigan Avenue. 


(A 1926 photo looking west up Michigan Avenue. The tracks are difficult to see, but they cross just beyond the first tall utility pole on the left. If you enlarge the picture you can see the striped signal gates. Beyond the tracks on the right is Catholic University’s Maloney Hall, with other school buildings past it. Historical Society of Washington.)

Over that time a number of bills authorizing construction were brought forward but none made it through the municipal legislative process. It was the Depression, and funding was tight. By 1936 there were only two grade crossings left in DC, the one at Michigan Avenue, and one a half mile farther north at Bates Street. (That Bates street and its grade crossing no longer exist, but that's another story.) 

Although there had been no deaths at the Michigan Avenue intersection, the Michigan Park Citizens Association pointed out the high number of accidents and close calls there, in addition to traffic tie-ups when freight trains rolled through. Finally construction was approved and on May 22, 1937, what was officially known as the Michigan Avenue Viaduct was ready to be dedicated. Plans were made, guests were invited, speakers and bands arranged for. But Washington weather decided to intervene. Here's how the Washington Post described it:

Revisions are a good thing

I have revised the post about Queen’s Chapel from the original, thanks to Christopher Pohlhaus, who in the comments to that story directed me to a very thorough history of Queen's Chapel that was put together by Elio Gasperetti in 1992 for St. Francis de Sales parish. It is extremely well-researched and his conclusions are logical and well-informed in my view, even though they differ in some respects from received family and church traditions. I edited my post so that I hope it is now much more accurate. 

This is the way I hoped this blog could work. It even led me to some ideas for future posts, including the Black Queens - the African-American branch of the family, of which I was unaware. So once again, thanks to Christopher and I encourage everyone to add your own voice to the conversation.

BROOKLAND ROADS: Just where was Queen’s Chapel?

Continuing my look at the four boundary roads of the original Brookland neighborhood.

When I moved to DC decades ago and first drove out Michigan Avenue I noticed it suddenly became Queen's Chapel Road as it crossed the Maryland border. What queen? I wondered. What chapel? And then I kept running across little pieces of Queen's Chapel Road in nearby DC. Just a block or two here and there. It got me curious so I looked into it. 

What we now know as 18th Street, the original eastern boundary of Brookland, was once part of Queen's Chapel Road, which ran from the Hyattsville area all the way to Bladensburg Road. It was the route to the Catholic chapel on the colonial estate of the Queen family. Queen's Chapel stood near the intersection of present-day 20th and Evarts Streets, NE in Langdon, and it has quite a history.


Marsham Queen was part of the wealthy Queen family, who first came to Maryland in the late 17th century. Through marriage, the Queens came into a huge tract of land in the early 1700s that stretched from Bladensburg to this area and beyond, and their name and influence is all over the region. Though Queen family tradition says that in 1721 Richard Queen built a mansion in what is now the Langdon area, Richard wasn't born until 1725, so it was most likely his father, Marsham Queen, who built their home. The Queens were slaveholders, as were most of the colonial landowners in the area, and the slaves were probably the actual builders of the mansion, one wing of which was reserved as a Catholic chapel.

LOCAL LORE: The Great 1906 Train Wreck

December 30, 1906. Brawner Hetfield, a young CUA student, was just hanging out. Most of his fellow students had gone home for the holidays, but Hetfield was a local, his family lived on Lawrence Street in Brookland, so he stayed here. Brookland's business district at the time revolved around the intersection of the B&O tracks and Bunker Hill Road, and that's where Hetfield was that evening. It was about 6:30, the sun had set and fog had rolled in. 


About a mile up the tracks train 66, a local coming from Frederick, Maryland, was stopped at the Terra Cotta station. Terra Cotta station no longer exists, but was about where the Fort Totten station of the Metro sits today. Train 66 had three passenger cars, all made of wood as most were a century ago, and it was pretty full. Behind it, coming from Takoma Park, was a deadhead train, 2120, with a big locomotive pulling six empty passenger cars. For safety, the railroad used what was a called a block system, which divided up a rail line into predefined "blocks" marked by signal towers. A dispatcher controlled the signals for each block, ensuring that two trains were not within the same block on the same track at the same time. But something went wrong. The engineer of train 2120 was in a hurry and had the throttle wide open, even though it was dark and the fog was making it hard to see the signals. About 6:30, train 66 had just pulled out of Terra Cotta station, its wheels slipping as it worked up speed.    

© Robert Malesky 2017