Who was Fred Rhodes? A federal worker whose long and varied resumé included the Manhattan Project and the Nixon administration, and later in life, a Baptist minister. But a century ago, he was just a kid in Forest Hills, and the Soapstone Valley was his playground.
Thanks to the Historical Society of Washington and Ann Kessler, Forest Hills Connection is reprinting excerpts from Rhodes’ 1979 memoir, Four Seasons in the Soapstone Valley. His springtime recollections include his father’s encounter with Prohibition agents, and bringing home a pony he’d won at a Wild West show. Summers were spent playing in Soapstone Creek and herding family’s livestock away from the Connecticut Avenue streetcar tracks.
Fred Rhodes’ fall memories include football, acorn wars and marching class at school. Yes, marching class.
Excerpts from Fred Rhodes’ Four Seasons in the Soapstone Valley
His memories of growing up at 3000 Albemarle from 1913 to 1926
My recollections of the Fall season relate to several activities. The first of these was football. The managerial skill for the local team came from my brother Cooper who played quarterback. My brother Wallace, who was larger, played center. There were never enough local boys to field a group of eleven so my brother Cooper would line up the assistance of ringers from Chevy Chase. Frequently these ringers included the Pugh boys, Ed, Charley and Jim. Their presence made the backfield a fearsome one. My brother Wally finally figured out a means of self preservation by snapping the ball immediately and diving under the opposing center. This he did whenever Cooper would call for a center rush which saved him from the painful experience of having Ed Pugh run up his back on such plays. The Pughs became outstanding football players in the Washington area and later Jim Pugh a respected jurist in Montgomery County.
I cannot remember the teams the boys from Soapstone Valley played against, but I can well remember the locations where they played. Their favorite spot was the athletic field of the Army Navy Prep School which by today’s standards was a poor one. It was located where the Van Ness Apartments stand and was directly across the street from the old “Standards Store” which in those days was our “Seven Eleven.” The other local field was on the north side of Albemarle Street on the west side of Connecticut Avenue near where the Shipleys lived. The trouble with this field was that it was really too narrow. It was bounded by the street on the south and by a rather high bank on the north. The equipment of this sandlot team was meager and few of the players had even so much as a helmet, and I can’t recall that any of them had cleated shoes. They enjoyed the game as did the neighbors who came out to watch these warriors perform.
Another fall recollection has to do with acorn fights. There were two reasons why these were always fought on our side of Connecticut Avenue. The first had to do with the fact that in the Soapstone Valley there were oak trees which produced enormous acorns and so the fights were always kept close to the ammunition sources.
Secondly one of the prizes of the warfare had to do with the caves which the boys had built on the north side of Albemarle Street across from where we lived. These were dug-outs which were usually no more than three feet deep and anyone who went in had to crawl through the passageways to the rooms which each boy built for himself. These were covered with boards and dirt was placed over the boards to keep outsiders from learning the configuration of these underground passages and rooms… Much work went into these forts and so their builders did not want to lose them to the opposing army which came from Tenleytown…
Much of the fall had to do with school activities and these centered around the E.V. Brown School which was located at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street. The student population came from all over Chevy Chase D.C. and Maryland and extended into areas which would now be considered part of Bethesda… In those days there were no school buses and transportation to school was an individual responsibility. Many walked substantial distances – others rode bikes – and those of us from the Soapstone area usually traveled by streetcar. [Rhodes said there was no student fare. In 1919, everyone paid a nickel.]
One of my recollections of the E.V. Brown School were the assembly periods which were usually held in the morning. Each class had to march into the auditorium in time to march music which was played on the piano by one of the teachers. There was an award given weekly – I believe – to the best marching class. In order to see that those of us who were of the “hay-foot, straw-foot” variety stayed in step – each kid marched in such close ranks that he was nearly touching the one in front and behind. Thus if one got out of step the offender would kick the one in front or be kicked by the one behind or a combination of both. There was usually a period of marking time in the hall while the teacher called out the cadence and then gave the command to march into the room.
It is not my wish to open the subject of Bible reading or prayer in public schools, but suffice it to say that these took place in assemblies. Also there were similar religious exercises at the beginning of daily class periods on non-assembly days. Passages were usually read from the Old Testament…
Many more things could be said about the fall of the year in our area where the variety of trees produced a color pattern which would equal Skyline Drive.