by Ann Kessler
A 1913 real estate map of Washington makes it look easy to drive into Rock Creek Park from Connecticut Avenue. Just turn onto Albemarle Street and continue straight into the park.
The publisher of this map obviously took liberties in drawing proposed streets as actual ones. This map’s version of Albemarle Street, as described in The Washington Post in May 1906, was not to be: “Albemarle street seems destined to become one of the most attractive thoroughfares around the suburbs of Washington, as it is planned to have it run all the way from the grounds of American University to Mount Pleasant.”
Somehow Albemarle Street never became this envisioned route across the city. That failure though was not the fault of businessman and lawyer Louis P. Shoemaker, who spent years trying to get Albemarle Street, his dream route into Rock Creek Park, extended.
Louis Peirce Shoemaker was the descendant of two of the oldest families in the District, the Peirces (of Peirce Mill) and the Carberys. His grand uncle was the sixth mayor of the city of Washington in 1822 and his maternal grandfather, Louis Carbery, was active in the Georgetown government.
Born on July 2, 1856 at Cloverdale, the Peirce estate located near the family mill, Shoemaker attended St. John’s College in the District and Georgetown Law School. He entered the real estate business and became one of the most prominent businessmen and landholders in Washington for many years.
The death of his father, Pierce Shoemaker, in 1891 left 800 acres of prime DC real estate under his control. The 1913 map mentioned above shows the large amount of land Shoemaker owned along both sides of Albemarle and in Forest Hills.
As early as 1897, Shoemaker, in his role as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Citizens’ Northwestern Suburban Association, began lobbying for an entrance to Broad Branch Road and Rock Creek Park from Connecticut Avenue.
In July of that year he said, “I would also suggest the importance, if not the necessity, of having a highway leading from some point on Connecticut avenue, through the lands represented by me as trustee of the estate of Pierce Shoemaker. At present we are required to go a much further distance from the city than ought to be necessary, and take the Military road [now Davenport Street] to reach the Broad Branch road.”
By 1899, Shoemaker had chosen Albemarle Street as the best location for an entrance to Rock Creek Park. In his report as chairman of the Executive Committee of the Association that year he listed desired improvements for the area including: “That the Commissioners be requested to take the necessary legal proceedings to open Albemarle street from Connecticut avenue to Broad Branch road and Rock Creek Park, which the association believes is a public necessity in view of the inadequate facilities of streets in this growing section.”
The commissioners he is referring to governed the city until 1967, and the three in office at the time seemed to agree with the choice of Albemarle when, in 1901, they acknowledged the expected extension but also noted their awareness that the grade of Albemarle near the Park was not amenable to a direct connection to Broad Branch. Instead the commissioners’ designers suggested that a bridge be built to span Broad Branch and reach the park at an elevated grade.
Shoemaker wasn’t suggesting Albemarle Street be extended to Broad Branch so he could make a profit by selling off his land located adjacent to it. Indeed, he believed so deeply in the necessity for this connection that he donated land for the Albemarle extension from the Shoemaker land holdings. In 1903, he donated one mile of his land adjacent to the park for this purpose. He even arranged for land that he didn’t own, closer to Connecticut Avenue, to be acquired from the owners, a California syndicate.
There was only one additional lot necessary to complete the Albemarle Street extension and Congress had to act in order to get it condemned and purchased. With the DC commissioners’ support, several senators introduced bills from 1900 to 1904 providing funds for the condemnation and purchase of the necessary lot. On April 28, 1904, Public Law 231 (58th Congress, 2nd session) was passed. The act set up the procedures to be followed in the creation of a jury to consider the assessment for the condemned land.
In January 1905, the jury of appraisers awarded Sebella Goetz, the landowner in question, $200 for a mere eight-hundredths acre parcel adjacent to Connecticut Avenue.
At this point, it probably looked like all that was needed was to appropriate the money to build the Albemarle Street extension. But that would not prove to be easy. For a number of years, bills were introduced into the Senate and House for that purpose but no action was taken. The DC commissioners at first disapproved of the Albemarle extension since, in their opinion, it wasn’t as important as others. They also felt the extension would solely benefit the local residents. Thus, in their opinion, the total cost of the grading and paving (estimated to be $5,000) should be assessed to the nearby homeowners. However, the commissioners said in 1907 that they did intend to see the street finished within the next two to three years.
In the end, however, the extension of Albemarle Street into the park was not to be. As Louis P. Shoemaker testified to the Subcommittee on Appropriations of the Senate in January 1914, the commissioners withdrew their support for the Albemarle extension when it was determined that the very severe grade of the hill near Broad Branch was too difficult to overcome.
Shoemaker did not give up on an extension into Rock Creek. At the same 1914 hearing, he testified in favor of extending Audubon Terrace. He also criticized federal government policy that it not pay for any street paving or opening or extension of streets in the District. Shoemaker stated, “And I do think it is a great mistake and a great injustice to the people of this district that the Congress of the United States should dedicate a great national street plan… and then not be willing to pay its proportion of the cost of opening the street.”
The street that was eventually chosen for an extension to Broad Branch Road was nearby Brandywine. Shoemaker died on November 24, 1916, before the decision was made. Albemarle Street and Audubon Terrace were graded and paved but left as dead ends, with steep declines and natural scenery leading into Rock Creek Park.
Still, Shoemaker’s dream of an access to Rock Creek Park from Connecticut Avenue came true, just not as he had envisioned it.
In addition to the sources linked throughout, information for this piece came from:
“Congressman Buys Land: Representative Flood Purchases Large Tract on Albemarle Street,” Washington Post, May 6, 1906, E 1.
Louis P. Shoemaker. “Historic Rock Creek,” Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 12 (1909): pages 44, 38-52.
“Louis Peirce Shoemaker,” In A History of the City of Washington: Its Men and Institutions, edited by Allan B. Slauson, 223. Washington: Washington Post, 1903.