Bryantown

 

In 1807, John Threlkeld to Bryan Duffy, land at what is now 35th Street and Reservoir Road.  (DC Liber S18, f. 113/93; Bryan Duffy, DC Wills, 1813, box 4)

“Anon. col’d child, 4 mos., found in Bryan Town”. (Holy Trinity Death Register, November 28, 1834)

The 1836 will of Dr. Charles Worthington mentions “sundry lots on Fayette St. in “Duffy’s Town”.  (DC Wills, box 13; Pippenger, District of Columbia Probate Records, 1829-1840, p.205)

The name Bryantown seems to have been applied anywhere west of 33rd Street, between Volta Place and T Street. Its center was the Bear Pump––previously Bear Wallow Spring––at 35th and Reservoir, which is specified in Georgetown ordinances as being “at Bryantown”.  (Georgetown Ordinances, July 1, 1865; Courier, April 3, 1869; Edgar F. Russell, A Short History of Burleith, 1955)

The West Georgetown Methodist Episcopal Church stood at the southeast corner of 35th Street and Reservoir Road. Built in 1856, it was razed in 1898. The church was succeeded by a store that is still standing.  (Star, August 27, 1898; Jane Donovan, Many Witnesses: A History of Dumbarton United Methodist Church, 1772-1990, 1998, p.326)

Brinetown is remembered as an area where many black families lived, particularly after the Civil War, until they were displaced by the building of Western High School in 1891. (Lesko, Babb, Gibbs, Black Georgetown Remembered, 1991)

In 1911 a band of gypsies, led by a man called King Jawn, were reported to have pitched their camp on the outskirts of Georgetown for several days. Visitors to the camp––of whom there were several thousand––had their fortunes told, and heard rumors that there was to be a gypsy wedding.

 

The much-heralded wedding did not take place. According to Lieutenant Schilling, of the Seventh precinct, the gypsies had no idea of performing a wedding ceremony, in the first place. “King Jawn,” he said, “is a shrewd customer. He knows the value of advertising and acts as the press agent of the whole brigade. No sooner had the gypsies comfortably settled themselves in the Georgetown camp than they confided in several women visitors that a wedding was to take place this week. “Say not a word about it to anyone,” King Jawn told them. “We do not want it known.”

“The request of the gypsy king was treated just as he thought it would be. Within an hour after the departure of the feminine visitors droves of persons came to the camp to make inquiries about the supposed pranks of the Hungarian Cupid”. The gypsies are headed toward a warmer Southern clime, and expect to spend the winter in middle Tennessee.

(“Gypsy Band Quits Georgetown For Warmer Clime––Hungarian Wanderers Suddenly Leave For Virginia”, Washington Times, November 2, 1911, p. 13)

 

The gypsy encampment, described as being “near Western High School”, can be located with greater precision because it was remembered by a child born in 1904 at 3416 Reservoir Road, in what had been Bryantown.

 

I remember years ago, Mrs. Hillary and Mrs. Chamberlin and mother (Sadie Louise Thomas Brown) ‑‑ we’d go out to what we called the “B.T.” woods where the big estate is now, which was right across from Georgetown Hospital, where the Archibald Estate is on this same location now.  Every couple of years a big tribe of Gypsies in their wagons and horses and covered wagons would show up over night and they’d have big bonfires around with kettles of soup going. Momma and Miss Chamberlin and Mrs. Hillary got pretty well acquainted with these Gypsies, especially the King and the Queen of the tribe. And I remember that they once said they were going to have this huge wedding and wouldn’t my mother and her friends make some dresses and blouses?  All of them were good seamstresses and they felt sorry for the Gypsies and they knew they’d be invited to the big wedding. It was supposed to be a big festival. So mother and all her friends after making all these garments, delivered them one day. The next day when the wedding was suppose to take place, we went up to the woods and everything was cleaned out ‑ the Gypsies had left overnight, if I recall correctly.

(Oral History, Raymond R. Brown, 1969, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library)

 

In 1955, Edgar Farr Russell still knew of Bryantown, but being unaware that Reservoir Road had earlier been called T Street, was mistaken about its location.  He also mentions  B.T. Ball Ground.  (Edgar F. Russell, A Short History of Burleith, 1955)

Mike McKinley recalled that, in the 1940s, Whitehaven Park was called “BT” Woods; by then, Bryantown had been forgotten, and children explained that the letters stood for Big Trees. (Francis McKinley: Remembering Glover Park in the Forties)

 

___________________________________________________________

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.