by Ann Kessler
One of the first schools to be built in our area of Washington County1
in the 1860s was the old Grant Road School.
It has an interesting history as it was first a school for white children, then an African-American school. Then it was abandoned, razed and subsequently replaced by Ben W. Murch Elementary School.
Grant Road School was built in 1864, two years before the Old Military Road School situated down Grant Road (also known as Military Road and later Davenport Street) near Broad Branch Road in Forest Hills. While African American children attended the Old Military Road School, the Grant Road School was built for the white children of the area.
It was a two-room wooden schoolhouse located near what was then the intersection of Grant Road and Chappell Roads, NW.2
Interestingly, its long-serving principal, John E. Chappell, belonged to the family that Chappell Road was named for. The Chappells owned Fletchall’s Chance, one of the large landholdings of this area of the county.
As John E. Chappell’s obituary on the front page of the Washington Herald on September 29, 1907 states, “After the close of the war [the Civil War] he was largely instrumental in the establishment of public schools in the county, and was one of the first trustees. Later he was appointed principal of the Grant Road School, and held that position under the superintendency of Benjamin P. Davis and J. Ormond Wilson for many years, until he was succeeded by his son, who some years before had been taught by him in the same building.”
The Grant Road School served as a school for area white children from 1865-1882. In 1878 the Trustees of the D.C. Public Schools decided to transfer the Grant Road students to a new Tennallytown school (later called the Tenley School) to be built closer to the Georgetown Rockville Road (now Wisconsin Avenue NW). When the new school was completed in 1882, the white students of Grant Road transferred there and the African American students of the Old Military Road School moved to the Grant Road School building, which was closer to Fort Reno and to where many African American families lived.
In 1897, the Washington Post reported that a delegation of Grant Road School parents had appealed to Rev. Sterling N. Brown, trustee of the county schools, for relief from the overcrowding of the two-room school. More than 150 students were enrolled though the capacity of the school was 74, and many of the children were forced to attend only half-day. By 1902, it was agreed that land would be purchased in the Fort Reno section for a new African American school. Fort Reno was chosen as the location for the new school as a majority of the students of Grant Road were from that neighborhood. The African-American students of Grant Road were transferred to the new four-room Jesse Lee Reno School at then-Howard Street and Fessenden Place, NW in 1903.
The Grant Road School itself was abandoned around 1908-1909. Used mostly for storage, the building remained standing at Davenport and 36th Streets (formerly Grant Road and Chappell Road) until 1930, when Ben W. Murch Elementary School was built at the site.
In its short life, the Grant Road School had seen the surrounding area explode in population as Connecticut Avenue Extended was cut through, opening up the development of Chevy Chase. Becoming home to many young families meant the county needed new local schools. The building of Murch and Janney elementary schools led to the construction of Alice Deal Junior High School (later Middle School) and the Woodrow Wilson High School, all within a period of ten years.
1. After 1846 when Alexandria was retroceded to Virginia, Washington, D.C., as we know it, was divided into three distinct areas: Washington City (meaning what we would call downtown DC below what is now Florida Avenue NW); Georgetown; and Washington County (all the rural area north of the city.) These areas were joined under a territorial government by the Organic Act of 1871.↩
2. Chappell Road NW was one of the neighborhood roads through this area of the county into the 1920s. Eventually a substantial part of Chappell Road NW was renamed 36th Street NW. The remaining lone block of Chappell Road NW (5300-5336) is above the intersection of 36th Street and Nevada Avenue.↩
Baist, George William. Baist’s Map of the Vicinity of Washington, D.C. 1904. http://www.loc.gov/resource/g3850.la002283/
“Grant Road,” Public School Buildings – Past and Present [Private notebook, unidentified DCPS admin office]. Revised to 1972. From the collection of the Sumner School Archives.
Grant Road School photo from the collection of the Historical Society of Washington.
Helm, Judith Beck. Tenleytown, D.C.: Country Village into City Neighborhood. Washington: Tennally Press, 1981.
“Lifetime of Good Work,” The Washington Herald, Sept. 29, 1907.
“Needs of Schools,” Evening Star, Oct. 4, 1897.
“New School Building Needed: Grant Road Has Accommodations for 74 and 156 are Enrolled,” Washington Post, Feb. 10, 1898.
“Petition Presented for Increase of its Facilities,” Evening Star, Oct. 4, 1897.
“The Public Schools: Sixth Division,” Evening Star, June 26, 1878.
“Purchase of School Site: Prof. Stuart Makes a Report on Senate Bill 3380,” Evening Star, Feb. 24, 1902.
U.S. Geological Survey. Washington and Vicinity, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia. 1924. http://www.loc.gov/resource/g3851p.ct004825/