by Ann Kessler
Conrad F. Springer claimed to be the “last farmer in Chevy Chase” when interviewed for a Washington Post article in November 1937. Mr. Springer’s farm actually wasn’t in Chevy Chase, though, it was in Forest Hills.
We can forgive Mr. Springer’s inaccuracy because, after all, he had lived at 3150 Gates Road since 1896. The name Forest Hills had only been recently adopted for the community that had grown up around him.
Mr. Springer was actually more a florist than a farmer. His business, a greenhouse and a shop on Gates Road, was listed in the city directory under the category “Florists.” He did apparently own some cows and chickens on his 11-acre farm located east of Connecticut Avenue, north of Albemarle Street, and abutting Gates Road. It was said that one could see the Springer home and hothouses from Connecticut Avenue as one passed by on the bus at least as late as the 1930s.
Mr. Springer had emigrated from his native Germany in 1892, where he had been a florist in Stuttgart, and later, Switzerland. He had also served in the Imperial German Army for three years. He first settled in the United States in Louisville, Kentucky, and then moved to Washington in 1893. In Washington he worked for John Saul, a leading local florist, and as the florist of the Reform School for Girls of the District of Columbia. There, we think, he might have run a greenhouse and taught these girls skills they could use to attain gainful employment upon their release.
He appears to have made a fortunate marriage, marrying Sebella Goetz in December 1897. Sebella was a member of the Goetz family (also known as the Gates family) that owned a major plot of land adjoining Connecticut Avenue, north of Albemarle Street. After their marriage this became the Springer farm.
Mr. Springer was something of a curmudgeon. He seems to have gotten into a number of minor disputes with his neighbors over the years. In 1910 his neighbor on Gates Road, dentist Dr. E.A. Bryant, testified that he had seen Mr. Springer throwing stones at one of Dr. Bryant’s geese. Mr. Springer said that he liked geese and hadn’t been cruel to any goose. The judge noted the same neighbors had been in court the week before, that time with Dr. Bryant accused of being the stone-thrower. Mr. Springer was released on personal bond.
In April 1936, Springer’s conflict with his neighbors was over whether to fill the ruts on the 600-foot long Gates Road. Neighbors like Mrs. Leslie Wright and the Forest Hills Citizens Association wanted the ruts fixed so that the local children could ride their bikes down that route to school. Mr. Springer worried that if the road was repaired it would cause more water to spill onto his fields. While he opposed his neighbors paying $255 to patch the road, in the end he found there was nothing he could do legally, and the neighbors won.
The following month, May 1936, Mr. Springer wrote a letter to the Evening Star denying a claim his neighbors had made during the previous dispute that he had planted poison ivy along his fence to keep people out. Rather, Mr. Springer said he had planted a hedge of red rambling roses which worked well as a deterrent to trespassers.
In October 1938, Conrad Springer put part of his Gates Road property up for sale: “6 acres fronting on Connecticut Ave., Albemarle St., Brandywine St., and 32nd St. N.W. Free of encumbrances. Partly zoned for Apartment Houses.” This ad wasn’t successful, however, and no sale was completed.
In September 1947 and again in June 1948 Mr. Springer advertised his farm for sale. This time he was selling “10 acres on east side of Connecticut Avenue through to 32nd St., between Albemarle and Brandywine Sts., including Gates Road. Title clear and free of encumbrances.” Morris Kanfer, a prominent Washington attorney and developer, bought those acres from Mr. Springer in 1949. Kanfer would eventually build the Avalon at 4501 Connecticut Avenue and the Brandywine Apartments at 4545 Connecticut, with construction taking place from 1952 to 1955.
We lose track of Mr. Springer after he sold his farm in 1949. He was 82 and had been a widower for nine years. Perhaps he went to live with a niece or nephew out of the area. What we do know is that he was quite a character and a great addition to the lore of Forest Hills.
My sincere thanks to Anne Rollins for all her help with this article.
“Ads,” Washington Post, Sept. 28, 1947, p. R8 and June 13, 1948, p. R8.
Baist’s Real Estate Atlas of Surveys of Washington, District of Columbia: Complete in Four Volumes. Volume 4, Plate 32. Philadelphia: G.W. Baist, 1913.
“Big Apartment Set for 7-Acre Northwest Site,” Sunday Star, Nov. 2, 1952, p. 1.
“Coxey’s Army Veteran Fights to Keep Ruts in Gates Road,” Sunday Star, April 26, 1936, p. 1.
“89 D.C. Farmers Keep Capital on Nation’s Agriculture Map,” Washington Post, Nov. 1, 1937, p. 13.
“For Sale,” Washington Post, Oct. 16, 1938, p. R2.
G.M. Hopkins & Co. Real Estate Plat-Book of Washington, District of Columbia. Volume 3. 1894.
“Goose Case in Court,” Evening Star, April 27, 1910, p. 11.
“Rose Hedge Keeps Trespassers Off Property, Says Florist,” Sunday Star, May 3, 1936, p. 10.
Sadler, Christine. “Citizens’ Interest in Forest Hills Transcends Its Borders,” Washington Post, Nov. 21, 1939, p. 17.
Mary Beth Ray says
Ahh, those Brandywine potholes are nothing new! Glad the neighbors are more thoughtful these days!
Fascinating. Thank you for the research. I have never seen photographs of the period when Forest Hills was farm land in the 1800s — it would be interesting if one of our local historians could find and post some.