Mount Alto

 

Photo, circa 1880, Historical Society of Washington

 

 

 

“The elegant villa erected by B.F. Hunt on Bohrer’s Hill is nearly complete.” “Benjamin F. Hunt has erected a fine residence on Pole Hill where he can doubtless keep cool this warm weather, as it is perhaps the highest ground of the District, and commands a fine panoramic view of the surrounding cities.” The editor of the Georgetown Courier was evidently confident that his readers knew the hill in question. The highest point in the municipal boundaries of the city of Georgetown also went by the name Red Hill, but the name of this parcel of land, and of the house Mr. Hunt built there, was Mount Alto. (Georgetown Courier, July 30, 1870; May 6, 1871; November 23, 1872; plat of “Mount Alto”, surveyed June 17, 1867, for buyers B.F.Hunt and Joseph Weaver: DC Liber ECE17 (1867) f.46-8)

Benjamin F. Hunt, a beef butcher and his wife Martha were Virginians; their five children were born in the District of Columbia, starting in 1857. Their household also included Hunt’s brother-in-law James Hoffman, a butcher who was in partnership with Hunt, as well as two other butchers, an Irish maid, a black hostler to take care of the animals, and William Hoffman, the carpenter who was building Hunt his nine-room frame house.

This was not a summer house: Hunt, who had meat stands in several city markets, lived there year-round, and slaughtered animals in the slaughterhouse at the back of his property, overlooking Tunlaw Road. (1870 Census; DC Liber JAS91 (1855) f.467/354) (Goode, Capital Losses, p. 405; Georgetown Directory; 1865 Georgetown Assessments)

Hunt died in 1875, and his heirs put the property on the market; the buyer was Amzi Lorenzo Barber (1847-1909)a Howard University professor whose early involvement in the development of Le Droit Park––was the first step to becoming the leading asphalt producer in the United States. Barber sat on his investment until 1901.

 

“News From Georgetown––A Proposed Costly New Residence for A.L. Barber.––The representatives of A.L. Barber are preparing for the construction of a magnificent house on the place purchased by the asphalt man about two years ago from the heirs of the late Benjamin Hunt, sr., and others, fronting on Wisconsin Avenue and running back to the Tunlaw Road.” “The site selected is to the rear of the present house, formerly occupied by the Hunts. This will be demolished as will also the frame [house] to the south. The houses on the Schneider land, which has also been acquired by Mr. Barber, will share in the work of demolition.” “The site selected by Mr. Barber is situated on an eminence commanding a splendid view of the city. It is just beyond the corporation limits [of Georgetown]. The three distinct purchases of contiguous property comprising the site and surrounding grounds represents an outlay of nearly $75,000. It is stated that at least $200,000 will be spent on the house.”  (Evening Times, January 26, 1901, p.5)

 

Barber may have been spurred to action by having played a part in the plan for the National Cathedral, which improved the value of every property in the vicinity. “Land For A Cathedral.––Conveyance of a Deed From Amzi L. Barber and Wife.––The deed of Amzi L. Barber and his wife, Julia L. Barber, conveying to the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation of the District of Columbia, a corporation, all that part of the tract of land known as Mount St. Alban’s, part of Pretty Prospect, and Lucky Discovery Tracks [sic] is filed in the office of the recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia. The price for the property is $245,000.” (Evening Times, September 12, 1898, p.2)

Amzi Barber died before any of theses plans could be realized, and in 1915 his widow sold Mount Alto to Charles Francis Wood.

 

“Georgetown has the distinction of having furnished the largest sale of the week, although the property is so far out on the extreme northern point of the city lines as to be generally regarded as county property. For a consideration indicated by the revenue stamps as $120,000, William S. Minnix conveyed a large unimproved tract on Wisconsin avenue and Tunlaw road to Charles F. Wood. The property is said to have been purchased in the interest of a Catholic educational institution, although the purchaser declines to discuss the plans and name of the institution. The land is described as lots 293 to 305, 263, and part of lots 262 and 264, in square 1300, and is located on the west side of Wisconsin avenue, with the Tunlaw road forking for its north and western boundaries.” (“Biggest Sale In Georgetown”, Washington Times, May 22, 1915)

 

Construction began the following year on a permanent home for a school for young women founded a dozen years before by Mary Arline Zurhorst. Charles Francis Wood was the architect; his prior commissions had included the cadet barracks at West Point and the officers’ quarters at Annapolis. Planning was on a grand scale, and the description of a twelve-acre campus with six tennis courts appears to have led some to picture an exclusive girl’s school. (Goode, Capital Losses, p. 405; Sturtevant, Northwest Current, June 11 & 25, 1997)

Actually, it was a trade school, as its name and newspaper advertisements made clear: “National School of Domestic Arts, 1756 M St. N.W.: Practical Classes in Cooking, Sewing and Tailoring.” Although courses in music, languages, and elocution were to be added in the new location, home economics would still have been the school’s strong suit. A degree in “Household Engineering” equipped its bearer to go out and teach on her own. (Classifieds, Star, September 23, 1906; August 27, 1916, part 5; September 24, 1916, part 1)

The National School of Domestic Arts and Science was not a success; the 1919 city directory shows the school sharing its new campus with the short-lived Mount Alto Inn, and with Veterans Hospital No. 32, and by 1920 the government owned everything: the school and the inn had closed, and only the hospital remained.

(See The National School of Domestic Art and ScienceMount Alto Veterans Hospital, and Russian Embassy.)

 

Mount Alto was moved to the southern edge of the property to make way for construction of the National School of Domestic Arts and Science. Lowered, and stripped of its front steps, shutters, porches, and balustrades, it served as the residence of the hospital’s director, and survived into the sixties. (Washington Star Magazine, November 26, 1961, p.4)

Mount Alto was moved to the southern edge of the property to make way for construction of the National School of Domestic Arts and Science. Lowered, and stripped of its front steps, shutters, porches, and balustrades, it served as the residence of the hospital’s director, and survived into the sixties.  (Washington Star Magazine, November 26, 1961, p.4)

 

 

___________________________________________________________

Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

All rights reserved.

 

 Questions and corrections may be directed to

carlton@gloverparkhistory.com

 

The support of the Advisory Neighborhood Council (3B) is gratefully acknowledged.