The Cedars


The Cedars, residence of Mayor John Cox of Georgetown, was replaced in 1897 by Western High School, which became Duke Ellington High School for the Arts in 1977. (For additional information, see the history of Burleith, and John Cox Notes)


At one time the land northwest of the intersection of 35th and Reservoir Road NW may have served as a burial ground. Here, in 1798, Col. William Deakins, Jr., a soldier of the Revolutionary War and a member of the Maryland convention to ratify the Federal Constitution, was laid to rest. With fellow Georgetowner Benjamin Stoddert, Deakins had been President Washington’s confidential agent in the ferocious real estate speculation connected with the founding of the national capital.

In 1822 the land was deeded by John Threlkeld to his son-in-law, Georgetown importer and banker John Cox, who built a house there called The Cedars. Cox served as mayor of Georgetown from 1823 to 1845. The Cedars burned in 1847, and Cox died two years later.

His son, Richard Smith Cox, rebuilt The Cedars and sold it to W.D.C. Murdock. William David Clark Murdock (1806-1886) was Addison Murdock’s only son, and heir to his considerable real estate holdings. Murdock started selling off land in Whitehaven in 1843, and in 1865 he divided part of Friendship into lots. Dogged by creditors, he died amid “pecuniary embarrassments.”



View of “The Cedars”from the north, circa 1880.



View of “The Cedars” from the east, circa 1880. 



Healy Hall, Georgetown University, seen from “The Cedars”, circa 1880.  (All photographs courtesy of a descendant.)



In 1873 The Cedars was bought by George Earle, Assistant Postmaster General in the Grant Administration. His daughters, known as “The Misses Earle”, ran a female seminary in one wing of the house. There was a spring of cool water, called “Bear Wallow Spring”, on the grounds, which, by 1889, was coming out of a pump.

The Cedars was razed some time after 1890, and construction of Western High School on the site started in 1897. When the school opened it was a model in every respect; the school lunch room served its students meals with linen, silver, china, napkins and finger bowls.

The environs of the school were not considered quite so elegant. “Affairs in Georgetown – Carpet Beating Objectionable. The prevalence of diphtheria, scarlet fever and other contagious diseases in the northwest section of the town is attributed by some of the residents to the practice of beating carpets on the vacant lots north and west of the high school, on what is known as the Burleith subdivision. Carpets from all sections of the city seem to be brought to this place every spring and fall and dusted by colored men.”


Western High School, circa 1920. (Smithsonian Institution Archives)







Abstract of Title to “BURLEITH” in Frederic W. Huidekoper, 1887, ms. 127, Historical Society of Washington

Threlkeld and Cox files, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library

Columbia Historical Society, Vol.21, p.142

District of Columbia Probate Records, compiled by Wesley Pippenger, p.15


DC Liber WB6 (1822) ff 340

DC Liber JAS101 (1855) f.449/357


Washington Federalist, Georgetown, D.C., November 8, 1802

National Intelligencer, January 17, 1818

Georgetown Courier, January 22, 1869, November 11, 1871

Georgetown Courier, September 13, 1873

The Rambler, Star, September 21, 1889

Proctor, Star, February 8, 1942, p.B4


Wilhelmus Bogart Bryan, The History of the National Capital, Vol.1, p.223

Washington, City and Capital, 1937, pp.369, 745-6

Western High School History, 1940

Bob Arnebeck, Through a Fiery Trial


Edgar Farr Russell, A Short History of Burleith, 1955

Ann Lange, “A Brief History of Burleith”, Burleith Newsletter, 1985, September-October 1998:



Photographs courtesy of a descendant.




 Carlton Fletcher

 The citation and acknowledgement of my research is greatly appreciated.

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