Brookland in 1910

Click to enlarge

The DC Public Library contains some fabulous online materials for those interested in Washington history. Their digital materials include the Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection, which has some excellent early views of DC aside from the usual monuments and government buildings. Ross was active from 1910 to 1930 and visited the Brookland area a number of times.

The above photograph is the result of merging two views Ross took from the balcony of Holy Cross College (now O’Boyle Hall) on the northern edge of the Catholic University campus. To the immediate left is the front of Marist College (now Marist Hall) with Catholic University’s campus sweeping downhill to the right. The open fields beyond the second tree line were once part of the Nicholas Queen farm, but by 1910 the property was owned by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and today it is the Turkey Thicket recreation area. Above that is Bunker Hill Road, now named Michigan Avenue, with the houses of Brookland sprinkled over the rolling hills.

I’ve numbered some of the more prominent and familiar features, along with a few lesser known sites.

1) Franciscan Monastery: Originally intended for Staten Island in New York, land prices made Brookland a much more attractive place for the Franciscans to build their “Holy Land in America.” They bought the McCeney farm and erected a large church on the hilltop, along with gardens and reproductions of biblical holy sites. When it was dedicated in 1899, architect Aristede Leonori said the design alluded to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Quincy Street did not yet run all the way to the monastery, nor did 14th Street, remaining just pathways for another decade. 

The Franciscan Monastery in a National Photo Company image taken at about the same time as the above panorama.  Library of Congress. 

2) The Burg House: At the beginning of the Civil War, Fort Bunker Hill was erected on the highest spot in what would become Brookland. After the war, the block containing the fort remained relatively untouched, with the exception of a lone house on the southwest corner, right next to the fort’s entrance. Joseph Paul Burg built the house in 1894 for himself and his parents. Burg was a bit of an eccentric, and with his German accent, residents began calling his house the “Castle on the Rhine.” Given its elevation, Burg probably had the best views in the neighborhood. The house was torn down in the 1940s.

The rear of the Joseph Paul Burg House. DC Department of Recreation

3) Brookland Baptist Church: Built in 1892 on the northeast corner of 12th and Newton Streets, the Brookland Baptist Church replaced a smaller chapel on Bunker Hill Road. Many prominent and influential Brooklanders worshipped there, including the Sherwood brothers, John B. Lord, and Arthur Kinnan. The church burned down in 1926, and nine years later Jesse Sherwood erected the Newton Theater there. Today, the converted movie house is a CVS pharmacy.

A closeup view of the Brookland Baptist Church.  Willard R. Ross Postcard Collection  DC Public Library.

4) Theodoron: This large house was built by Antoinette Margot in 1889. It sat on what we now call the Brookland Green, facing Bunker Hill Road. In 1870, Margot met Clara Barton, “The Angel of the Battlefield,” and the two lived and worked together for a number of years as Barton set up the American Red Cross. They eventually had a falling out and Margot, an ardent convert to Catholicism, decided to move to Brookland, where Catholic University had just opened. She named her home Theodoron, “God’s Gift,” and taught art classes there, reserving one room as a chapel. 

Antoinette Margot eventually built a new home on 12th Street and donated Theodoron to Rev. Henri Hyvernat of Catholic University to house the Institute of Christian Oriental Research. Photo from an old postcard, courtesy John Feeley.

5) St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church: When Antoinette Margot got permission to hold services in Theodoron, the hope was to eventually establish a new Catholic parish in Brookland. After years of fundraisers, Margot and Rev. Henri Hyvernat raised enough to purchase the lot at the corner of 12th and Monroe and raised a new wood-framed church there in 1896.  Today’s brick structure replaced the original church in 1937. 

The original wood frame St. Anthony of Padua Church in 1910. Library of Congress.

6) Brooks Mansion: Jehiel Brooks and his wife Ann Margaret Queen built their Greek Revival home between 1838 and 1840. They named it Bellair, and it is the oldest extant structure in Brookland. Although difficult to distinguish from nearby buildings in this view, the mansion had already been expanded by the Marist Brothers and in 1910 was serving as St. Benedict’s Academy, run by the Benedictine Sisters. Visible just behind it in the panorama is the steeple of the Brookland School (now Luke C. Moore High School), built in 1891. The Brooks mansion today houses DCTV, the city’s public access television station.

Front entrance to Brooks Mansion. Photo by Tyler Nelson.

7) University Station: The Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was completed in 1873. At first there was a stop on the south side of Bunker Hill Road named Brooks Station. It was tiny and as Brookland grew and Catholic University formed, a new station was needed. Constructed in 1890, University Station was erected on a small parcel of campus land donated by the school. Built of granite, the sturdy little structure served both the school and the Brookland neighborhood. It was demolished in the 1970s when the subway system was constructed. The west entrance to the Brookland subway stop is about where University Station once stood.

University Station in its heyday. The chimney of Catholic University’s power plant is visible in the background. Catholic University of America Archives. 

8) Observatory: Built in 1890, Catholic University’s observatory was set on what was then the highest point on campus. It contained a 9-inch equatorially-mounted telescope, a meridian circle, sidereal clock, chronograph and chronometer. In a seeming act of vandalism, the observatory burned to the ground in 1925 and was never rebuilt. 

The observatory in 1911. Courtesy Catholic University of America Press.

However, the base for the telescope still exists on campus. It’s on the pathway leading up to Marist Hall: 

There are other interesting features in the panorama you may want to peruse at your leisure. Here’s a full-size image of the photo without all the numbers and arrows. Click to enlarge:

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