Woods and Trees

Names of groves, and of landmark trees, encountered in old newspapers and other records.


Barber’s Woods

The western slope of what is now the Naval Observatory. Only considerable landowners (such as Mrs. Barber) could afford to leave valuable trees uncut. Such groves were used, by permission of the owner, for the observance of Independence Day: “The Presbyterian Sunday School will have their picnic at Barber’s Woods.” (Georgetown Courier, July 4, 1874)


College Woods

“The pic-nic of the Catholic Total Abstinence Society will be held in one of the most delightful groves in this vicinity, on Hickory Nut Hill, in the College Woods.” This park, with its meandering walking paths, can be seen on old maps on either side of College Run, south of Reservoir Road. It was called Georgetown University Park in “Roadside Sketches”. (Washington Star, July 3, 1866; Star, “Roadside Sketches”, July 25, August 8, 1891)


Cox’s Woods

“The Oldest Inhabitants Association will celebrate the 4th of July at Cox’s Woods, on the New Cut Road, an opportunity to do so having been extended by the proprietor, Col. R.S. Cox.” (Georgetown Courier, May 16, 1874)

Affairs in West Washington – The M Street barbers defeated the 32nd Street barbers yesterday in a game of ball at Cox’s Woods.” (Washington Star, July 5, 1888)

West Washington was for a while used in place of Georgetown, and 32nd Street is now Wisconsin Avenue. The fact that baseball could be played at Cox’s Woods makes it clear that the name also applied to adjacent meadows. Nor is the location in doubt: “There is a rumor that three hundred dwelling houses are to be erected on the subdivision known as Burleith…formerly known as Cox’s Woods.” The rumor was true, but premature by about two decades. (Washington Star, February 1, 1900, 5:6)


Snyder’s Woods

North of St. Luke’s Church at about Edmunds and 36th there was a house called Greenwood, with some 84 acres of orchards and cow pastures. At the beginning of the Civil War this was the home of an old German immigrant named Conrad Schwarz, a retired draftsman and engraver in the Navy Department. Schwarz, who had no natural heirs, devised his estate to his physician, Dr. Snyder, of Georgetown College. Less than six months passed before the new country place proved fatal to the heir: Dr. Snyder slipped from a ladder while pruning a fruit-tree. (Washington Star, August 4, 1863)

In later years, the doctor’s widow permitted the use of part of Greenwood for celebrations of the 4th of July, “The Methodist Protestant Sunday school will have their picnic at Snyder’s Woods.” (Georgetown Courier, July 4, 1874)


Dolly Barber Tree

The “huge poplar on the south side of New Cut road west of Foundry branch”––now Reservoir Road, near 44th Street––was what was called a bounded tree, i.e., one that marked the surveyed boundary of a tract of land. The tree was already a landmark in 1780, and survived until 1899, when it blew down in a storm. It’s name referred to a connection between John Murdock and Dorothy Barber: after Colonel Murdock’s 1788 will devised one hundred acres near the intersection of Reservoir Road Foxhall Road to Dorothy Barber, her son, John Addison Barber, became John Addison Murdock. (Evening Star, August 3, 1899, p.3; “Report of the Surveyor”, Washington Post, August 22, 1901, p.10; “Growth of the Suburbs”, Washington Post, December 10, 1905, p.L7)


Signal Oak

One of the signal stations at the Signal Camp of Instruction (where the Russian Embassy is today) was on the opposite side of the road, at Weston, and was called Causten Station, in honor of Manuel C. Causten, one of the first Union prisoners of war. The station may have taken advantage of a prominent tree on the property. It was called the “signal oak” when it was cut down in 1916 to clear the path for Massachusetts Avenue. (Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 9:209)

This is almost certainly the same prominent tree which was later imagined to have been an aid to navigation. “Opposite where Mount Alto Hospital now stands, high on a hill which has been dug away, stood in those days a tremendous oak tree which was used by the pilots coming up the river to guide them on their way. For a hundred years it stood, known as Sailors’ Oak, but like so many other things, has had to go in the interest of progress.” Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait Of Old Georgetown, 1933)


The Tunlaw Tree

The prominent walnut tree that gave rise to the name Tunlaw Farm––now Wesley Heights––was cut down in 1916, and sold  to an agent of the British government, to be turned into gunstocks for the British army. The land syndicate that owned Wesley Heights received $120 for it (and it was noted that the banker Charles Glover, at Westover, east of the Tunlaw tree, disdained a similar offer for his walnut trees). The celebrated tree was reported––with no more reliability than was expected of such accounts––to have stood about 300 yards south of the main building of American University (Hurst Hall), and to be 900 years old!  (Capital Loses Walnut Needed at the Front––Famous Old Tunlaw Tree, Near American University, Will Be Used for Gunstocks for British Army “Somewhere in France”, Washington Times, March 23, 1916, p.5)




 Carlton Fletcher

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