by Ann Kessler
Throughout DC are several streets that run only a few blocks at a time. They don’t fit in the grid of numbered and alphabetical street names. They’re not the avenues named for the states. These are remnants of roads that were here before the city grew into the District of Columbia boundaries.
One of these is Grant Road. Once a long, winding country road, it now exists only in unconnected segments: the hilly road entering Rock Creek Park at the intersection of Davenport and Broad Branch Road; the 3000 to 3200 blocks between the rear of the apartment building at 4701 Connecticut Avenue and 30th Street NW; the 3700 block near Nebraska Avenue at Davenport Street; and the 4400 and 4500 blocks of Grant Road, off of present-day Albemarle Street near Wisconsin Avenue.
The Grant Road segments today.
The story of these blocks and why this country road still exists in our neighborhood begins in Tenleytown.
The origin of Grant Road as an old country lane can be dated to 1859 if not before. During the Civil War it grew in significance as it became part of the military road between the village of Tennallytown (now Tenleytown) and the forts to the east. Named New Cut Road at first, a post-Civil War 1867 map by DC surveyor B.D. Carpenter called it “Road from Turnpike to Broad Branch” (“Turnpike” refers to Rockville Road which would later become Wisconsin Avenue) though it didn’t go all the way through to Broad Branch.
An 1870 map by the same mapmaker, designated this same road as “Grant Road” and it had been extended through to Broad Branch Road.
The general assumption is that Grant Road was named after General Ulysses S. Grant after he toured Washington’s defense perimeter in March 1864, having being named General in Chief of the U.S. Army. After the Civil War, Grant Road became one of the main east-west roads of Washington County.
An 1884 map by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers illustrates the way names of roads changed as the population quickly grew. Whereas the previous Carpenter maps of 1867 and 1870 showed Grant Road intersecting with Chappels Road (named after a prominent local family), the 1884 map shows Grant Road splintering into two spurs near what is now the location of Murch School.
The northern spur, which had previously been called Chappels Road, was now labeled Grant Road. The southern spur, which previously had been called Grant Road, was now given the name Military Road. Both spurs ended at Broad Branch Road.
Whatever the reason for the change in road names, it led to confusion for the residents who lived there. For example, in 1866 a school was built for African American students near Broad Branch. This one school was eventually called both “Old Military Road School” and “Grant Road Colored.” To deal with the mix of Grant and Military Roads, residents frequently called this section of Grant Road “Grant Military Road.” “Military or Grant Rd.” is the name given for this street in the 1920 Census.
To further complicate the situation Washington County now had two unconnected Military Roads: this spur of Grant Road and the Military Road northeast of Broad Branch Road leading to Georgia Avenue that appeared on the 1870 Carpenter map.
Here’s a description of the two sections of Military Road as viewed by an 1896 article in the Evening Star giving directions to local “wheelmen” for a ride in the country:
The Military road… is divided into two sections, one part running from the 7th street road to the Rock Creek Ford road, a distance of two miles, while the second half runs from the Rock Creek Ford road to the Grant road, a distance of a mile. This is all that remains of a celebrated road. It was made in the early part of the late war, hence its name, and virtually girded that part of the city, running from Brightwood straight through under one name to the Tenleytown road and then northward to the River road and western over the Murdock or Lodge road.
In 1912, an organization for automobile drivers, the Automobile Club of Washington held its First Annual Sociability Run. It had the same trouble as the earlier “wheelmen” describing the two sections of Military Road: “At Tenleytown the motoring party will proceed out the Grant Military road crossing Connecticut avenue extended and Broad Branch roads, and head straight for Military road via Beach drive, turning to the right over Military road in the direction of Brightwood.”
Eventually the naming of Grant Military Road became a moot point as a new straighter street, Davenport Street, was cut through to Forest Hills in the late 1920s. Since Grant Road was a wandering road the sections of it that fit in the grid pattern were renamed Davenport Street. The blocks that didn’t fit were either adopted into other streets, continued as the unconnected Grant Road, or were possibly demolished.
Residents of Grant Road in Forest Hills were impacted by the new Davenport Street. For instance, Dr. Charles Richardson, and later his widow Amy, continued to live at 2901 Grant Road through the 1920s and into the 1930s according to Boyd’s city directories of the period. Only later, in the 1950s, would their house’s address change to the 2900 block of Ellicott Terrace. Charles and Jeannette Tedrow, their neighbors on the next block, saw their address changed from 3039 Grant Road in the 1925 edition of Boyd’s Directory of the District of Columbia to 3039 Davenport Street in the 1931 edition. Same house, different address. (According to Jeannette Tedrow’s January 25th, 1949 Washington Post obituary, 3039 is reputed to have been used as a headquarters during the Civil War.)
In Tenleytown, the 4400 and 4500 blocks of Grant Road were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The street’s 12 houses and one commercial structure represent what remains of old rural Washington County.
Likewise, Forest Hills’ three blocks of Grant Road are a remnant of a great thoroughfare of the 19th century. It was a vital part of Civil War Washington County and helped lead to the further development and growth of our area.
Today we live in a city. But in the 1800s our area was sparsely-populated farmland, generally considered a rural suburb of Washington City. As one ponders the changes to our area that time has wrought, one can try to imagine how winding Grant Road represents a very current link to our past.
Thanks to Anne Rollins for her continued help and direction with this article.
Sources (other than those linked above):
Judith Beck Helm, Tenleytown, D.C.: Country Village into City Neighborhood (Washington: Tennally Press, 1981).
Kimberley Prothro Williams, Grant Road Historical Designation Form (2003).
Paul Kelsey Williams, Historical Research of 3039 Davenport Street, N.W. (Kelsey & Associates).