The Origins of Tunlaw Road


Charles Homiller, one of several prosperous “master butchers” of this neighborhood, lived near Wisconsin and Calvert, but also had a house near what is now Tunlaw Road and Fulton Street. In 1861 he entertained Union officers in his house, and much of the Signal Camp of Instruction was on his land.

After the war Homiller had begun to improve the road called Back Street, which divided his property from that of Benjamin F. Hunt, who owned the property that is now the Russian embassy. When Hunt objected to Homiller’s undercutting the hill at the rear of Mount Alto, the Georgetown Common Council ruled that work could continue, but with limitations on excavation.

(Georgetown Courier, March 13 and 20, 1869; Georgetown Ordinances, March, 1869. At a meeting of Levy Court in 1867, Lewis Kengla, whose property was in Washington County, north of Beatty and Hawkins’ Addition to Georgetown, protested construction of an unspecified  road on the Heights, but whether this is related to Homiller’s roadbuilding is unknown: Georgetown Courier September 7, 1867)

Homiller’s road-building project seems to have been the source of the fill subsequently used in raising street levels in other parts of the city. “Earth from Red Hill [was] laid down in various Georgetown streets.” (Georgetown Courier, August 13, 1870, February 18, 1871)

In 1879 a jury of local freeholders were summoned to condemn a street in Georgetown “to be known as Tunlaw Street, connecting Back Street to High, to make an outlet for the new Tunlaw Road, which is to be located where there is a narrow lane adjoining the Homiller estate”. The jurors included Messrs. Barnes, Weaver, Kengla, and Voight––but not Homiller and Hunt, whose interests had conflicted a decade earlier. (“District Affairs”, Star, August 8, 1879; National Republican, August 16, 1879)


“A jury of freeholders in Georgetown, consisting of Messrs. Joseph Weaver, Theodore Barnes, Wm. F. Kengla, Henry Kengla, Wm. King, Wm. Voigt, Col John A. Joyce, Jos. Waters, Jno. J. Beall, James Goddard, Edward Hartley and Arthur Cropley, summoned Tuesday by the District Commissioners for the purpose of condemning a street in Georgetown, to be known as Tunlaw street, connecting Back street and High streets, so as to make an outlet for the new Tunlaw road, met at the office of the District Commissioners this morning, in pursuance to the summons, and were sworn in by Secretary Tindall and furnished with the law to govern their action. The proposed street is to be 50 feet wide, and located where there is now a narrow lane, adjoining the Homiller estate, and under the ordinance the property damaged by such condemnation is to be compensated from the property benefitted. The results of the action of the jury is to be reported to the Commissioners.” (“Tunlaw Street”, Evening Star, August 8, 1879, p.1)


“The new Tunlaw road is being put in beautiful condition under the direction of Mr. Jas. E. Nourse, the supervisor, and when completed will make a beautiful drive.”  Some in the neighborhood did not wait for the last touches to be put on the job: “Sunday Mr. J. Klengla [Kengla], while riding with his family on the Tunlaw road, met with a narrow escape in consequence of his harness breaking. Fortunately no one was injured.”  (The Evening Critic, September 14, 1882; National Republican, June 6, 1882 )


The earliest map of Tunlaw Road; at its northern end is the soapstone quarry on the property of J. H. Kengla is on what is now the campus of American University, east of Rockwood Parkway. “Localities in Which Aboriginal Relics Were Found In and Near the District of Columbia,” (detail) Louis A. Kengla, 1882. (DC Public Library)


The short connection between Back and High Street that was being renamed Tunlaw Street had been called Homiller’s Lane, and was a little south of the block of Calvert Street between Tunlaw Road and Wisconsin Avenue. As sometimes happens, the old designation was not entirely replaced by the new one––Homiller Road appears in 1908 assessments––and in the years before 1930 the name Schneider’s––or Snyder’s––Lane seems to have been used interchangeably with Tunlaw Street.

At the western end of Tunlaw Street, a left turn put you on Back Street; a right turn put you on the new Tunlaw Road, by which you could trace the division between Charles Homiller’s property, and that of Benjamin F. Hunt, cross the small stream at 3850 Tunlaw, turn north toward the road’s namesake, Tunlaw Farm––now Wesley Heights––and reach what is now Nebraska Avenue.

Tunlaw Road lost its northern segment to the state of New Mexico (Washington Times, April 26, 1905; July 2, 1905, p.6); but it made up some of the difference at the other end, when the remaining piece of Back Street was renamed Tunlaw Road.


“Kengla Homestead Sold.–– International Realty and Development Company Had Busy Week.––The International Realty and Development Company reports many sales during the past week in their subdivision opposite the United States naval observatory. The company is arranging for the building of a number of homes this fall and the extensive improvement of the streets running through the property.

James S. English has purchased the Kengla homestead on this tract, with two lots fronting 75 feet on Tunlaw road, and expects to commence this week to remodel the building. After extensive improvements are completed Mr. English will make this his home.

An important deal, whereby Lewis E. Breuninger purchased from Phillip T. Hall 300 feet frontage, extending from Tunlaw road, opposite Observatory Heights, to Wisconsin avenue, was consummated, the consideration being $40,000. Mr. Breuninger has had the property surveyed, with a view to building several houses in the fall.” (Washington Post, September 26, 1909, p.RC3)



Who Named Tunlaw Farm?


It is clear that Tunlaw Road derived its name from the farm at its northern end. One question remains: who thought up the palindromic name? The answer was once well-known.

The Georgetown Courier often ran editorials that were indistinguishable from advertising. Here, extolling the virtues of the “Tunlaw Club Cigar”, the editor goes on to explain its name: “A delightful spot on the Heights, the property of one of our well-known merchants, has been rendered famous by the versatile genius of the leading spirit of the Club, who christened it Tunlaw, where many pleasant hours have been passed by the members, and the introduction of this excellent brand of Cigars will doubtless prove quite acceptable as commemorative of the place.” (Georgetown Courier, August 8, 1868)

A few years later the writer was more specific, and we learn that the owner of the delightful spot was Adolphus Pickrell, and the versatile genius who christened it was his son-in-law, Thomas L. Hume. “For the information of those who are ignorant of the location of this peculiarly named country seat it may be as well to state that “Tunlaw Farm” is the country home of Mr. Pickerell, of Georgetown, and Mr. Thomas L. Hume, of Washington.” (Washington Star, July 5, 1873)

These citations of the origins of Tunlaw have the virtue of being contemporary to the events.  Since then there have been writers who have felt free to improvise when the particulars eluded them.  “When Glover owned the property [that is now Glover Park] there were many walnut trees scattered over the are, and where Tunlaw Road now runs was a semi-country lane. To be exotic, it was decided to honor the walnut trees in the road name––but turn it around so that only a select few would get it!” (“Our Town––Glover Park Residential Section Was Once ‘Yard’ of Glover Home on Massachusetts Avenue.” Washington Post, October 31, 1939. See also: “The Rambler”,  Star, February 7, 1957)




 Carlton Fletcher

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