The founders of Washington Grove intended from the start that it would also operate as a summer resort. A promotional pamphlet from July 1873 read, “After the land has been plotted, it is the intention of the Trustees to issue renewable leases to sites suitable for summer residences, for which its nearness to the railroad, its elevated position…its salubrity, and numerous other advantages, renders it more desirable to the public than any other place in the vicinity of Washington.”
In fact, newspaper reports from the period reveal that Washington Grove was being used as a summer retreat rather than simply a temporary revival site and had its first permanent summer cottages as early as 1878. A newspaper account (“God’s First Temple,” Washington Post, August 3, 1878) reported that the cottages were painted white, “so as not to mar the beauty of the contrast made under the thick green foliage of the forest trees and the clear white of the tents.”
The same article noted that the houses were “handsomely arranged with Venetian doors and divided into rooms to suit the convenience of their families, and ornamented according to the taste of the inmates….” Summer residents set up house well before the camp meeting, making good use of the grounds and its amenities for the entire season. Features such as Maple Spring were popular destinations for nature walks, picnics, and other passive recreational activities.
For those who resided at Washington Grove, whether for a week or two to attend the camp meeting or for the entire summer season, the association provided many of the civic amenities offered by contemporary suburban communities. The most viable and enduring nineteenth-century suburban developments offered a range of facilities such as hotels, schools, libraries, churches, club buildings, athletic fields, public parks, and sometimes small business districts.
The suburb of Kensington had the first public library (the Noyes Library) in the Washington, D.C., area, which opened in in 1893. Francis G. Newlands, the founder of Chevy Chase, induced buyers to his community by providing a post office/library, public schools, a hotel, a recreational lake, and a country club.
While Washington Grove did not have a school or a library, there was a hotel, a market, and open spaces for games and organized sports. Built in 1881, Washington Grove’s hotel (variably called the Albany Hotel or Hotel Albany) served long-staying seasonal guests as well as day-trippers. It was located within Howard Park, a small park along the north side of Center Street between Grove Avenue and Chestnut Road. Its design and construction were supervised by one of the Grove’s founding trustees, Richard H. Willet, who operated large lumberyards in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
In 1884, the Grove could also lay claim to a barbershop and a dentistry. Starting in 1886, a seasonal post office operated out of the hotel; year-round postal service began in 1890. Washington Grove had a dedicated stop on the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad, and the Humpback Bridge, a timber, pony truss bridge built by the B&O in the 1870s and located about 600 feet northwest of the Washington Grove station, greatly facilitated local travel, trade, and communication by providing a safe above-grade crossing at a blind curve in the tracks.
The subdivision of Oakmont on the west side of the tracks from Washington Grove was platted in 1888 by Henry Beard and James G. Craighead of Washington, D.C. Oakmont’s developers hoped to take advantage of the popularity of the camp meeting and the convenience and proximity of the railroad to subdivide and sell the land for residential development. The initial plat for Oakmont included a park “dedicated for public recreation,” that was located directly across from the railroad depot. The parcel north of the park was owned at the time by the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association. (This land was later sold.) The parcel to the south was improved in 1889 when Beard and Craighead built a two-and-a-half story, frame building on the lot, which operated as a general store (likely with living quarters above).
In 1894, the Washington Grove post office moved into the store, where it remained for over eighty years until 1978. For the residents of Washington Grove, the market and the post office were an important part of camp meeting life. (Yes, the aforementioned two-and-a-half story, frame building now houses Hershey’s Restaurant and Bar.)
Washington Grove’s earliest cottages typically featured steeply pitched, front gable roofs that evoked the shape of canvas tents. While the massing and form of Washington Grove’s cottages were in part influenced by the canvas structures that initially made up the community, nineteenth-century trends in architecture and vernacular building had a strong influence on the Grove.
Nationally, the Carpenter Gothic style, which was developed by builders as an American domestic interpretation of the Gothic Revival, was pervasive. At Washington Grove, this style was expressed using scroll-sawn bargeboards, bracketed pendants, decorative dressings over or around windows and doors, and turned or chamfered porch posts. Board-and-batten construction created a visual quality consistent with the vertical emphasis of the style. Interior spaces were high and narrow. Gable windows provided ventilation and natural light. In some cases, a loft was built to create sleeping quarters above the ground-floor level. Many cottages featured double front doors, sometimes with flanking full-height windows. When the front doors and windows were open, much of the interior was exposed to view.
Another significant feature was the front porch, which was typically built on grade or slightly raised. Most porches had hipped roofs and extended across the entire width of the cottage. A visitor writing in 1879, noted, “[The cottages] are all diversified in their architecture as in their internal appointments. Yet there is an air of harmony about them, standing amid the white tents, that is pleasant to the eye.”
Many of Washington Grove’s cottages were built within close proximity to one another. One observer, writing in 1887 described, “a jumble of gable ends and ridge roof, airy verandah and picket fence.”
Like many religious campgrounds, the transition from tents to permanent cottages at Washington Grove took place over a number of years. A historic photograph of the Grove from 1886 depicts the two generations of dwellings standing side by side. As was the case at many camp meeting sites, the cottages at Washington Grove were initially built on tent lots, which constrained their size and massing.
As a result, many cottages had a rectangular plan that measured 14 feet wide by 30 feet deep. The house at 315 Grove Avenue, which faces Second Avenue and dates to circa 1888, still retains its historic, 14- by 30- foot core. The original size of the cottage at 1 the Circle was 14 by 40 feet. Cottages were typically built on posts (often locust or cedar due to their resistance to decay) without foundations. The framing was minimal, typically consisting of 2- by 4-inch studs on 54-inch centers for both walls and roof. According to oral tradition, canvas was used to insulate and weatherproof the walls and roofs. Local builders of this period used triple-beaded, tongue-and-groove lumber for interior paneling, exterior siding, and porch ceilings, and some of the cottages at Washington Grove featured this distinctive type of lumber.
Frequently, cottages were expanded as more space was needed. A newspaper article from 1880 noted that while new cottages continued to be put up, “many of those already built have been enlarged by the addition of kitchens and dining rooms.” Canvas was sometimes used for exterior passages between the main house and kitchen wings.
While the names of many of the carpenters and builders who worked at Washington Grove are unknown, records indicate that one “pioneer cottage builder” was W. A. Scott. Scott was an African American who was living in the area when Washington Grove was founded. In 1883, he was appointed superintendent of the grounds and was given year-round use of a one-and-a-half-story, frame, Carpenter Gothic-style house located near the corner of Center Street and Chestnut Road (the site of the current parsonage at 101 Center Street). Behind the superintendent’s cottage stood several outbuildings and fields.
Because outdoor space was limited, some families planted small gardens in front of their cottages. A newspaper account from 1884 provides a description of the trend. “Perhaps the prettiest cottage in the grove is that of Mr. Ignatius Knott. It is surrounded with a miniature garden in which are tiny beds of flowers in unique design and several urns filled with flowering plants,” it reads. The trees, tabernacle, and fire stands at Washington Grove were whitewashed.
This tradition encouraged a “beautiful and cleanly appearance” and allegedly protected the trees from insects and fungus. Lamplight and moonlight reflected off the painted trunks, helping with nighttime visibility.
(Robinson’s entire report may be accessed at Historic Context Report Town of Washington Grove (PDF))