Early Views of Upper Georgetown


The earliest photograph of Glover Park; the photographer would have been standing in what is now the 3800 block of Calvert Street, NW, looking south toward Georgetown. Holy Rood Cemetery is at the upper left, separated by a sunlit fence from Tunlaw Road. The cedars on the horizon mark the present site of Duke Ellington High School. The soldiers are in the U.S. Signal Corps, founded here in 1861.

(Photo: Miller’s Photographic History of the Civil War (1911), Vol. 8, p.306)




“Prospect of Georgetown from the Tenleytown Road”,  Rebecca Wistar Morris Nourse  (1793-1885), watercolor,  circa 1820.  Collection of the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.


The painting, which appears to present the view south from a point near the present intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Davis Street NW, is the earliest view of what is now Glover Park.

The towering banks of earth seen on either side of the road may be connected to Grace Dunlop Ecker’s reference to changes in topography “beyond the northern limits of the Town, just opposite where Mount Alto Hospital now stands, high on a hill which has been dug away”.  (Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait Of Old Georgetown, 1933, p.23)

Having “the Wisconsin avenue hill cut down” was at the behest of the Cathedral Heights Citizens Association. “The committee on legislation was directed to urge the District Commissioners to… provide for the removal of the hill on Tenleytown road between 37th street and Massachusetts avenue. In the discussion of the project Prof. Hill said that at some points the present grade is between 7 and 8 percent, and, owing to the difficulty in hauling building material up this steep grade, the cost of building residences in this locality is greatly in excess of what it would be if the grade were lessened. Several of the members complained bitterly that owing to this heavy grade they were obliged to pay 50 cents per ton additional for the delivery of fuel, and many merchants refuse to deliver goods in the locality in consequence.” (“Better Car Service––Cathedral Heights Citizens Declare For It”, Evening Star, October 24, 1902, p.16; “Cathedral Heights”, Washington Herald, September 18, 1910, part 3, p.4)

Material from this same site had been finding its way into municipal street grading projects for years. “Earth from Red Hill [was] laid down in various Georgetown streets.” (Georgetown Courier, February 18, 1871, August 13, 1870)



The houses seen in the middle ground may be those of Lewis Kengla, Jacob Custard, and Michael Homiller. The earth bank at the left obscures the houses of Michael Weaver, Murray Barker, and Peter Coulter.


Beyond the houses and enclosures is the tree-crowned hill destined to become the Trinity Church Upper Grave Yard––later renamed Holy Rood––in 1832. The nine trees silhouetted against the Potomac River to its right may be those that will give their name to The Cedars, home of Georgetown mayor John Cox, at Reservoir Road and 35th Street NW. At the far right a building of Georgetown College can be seen: Old North, built in 1795, was the main campus building until the construction of Healy Hall.

Rebecca Wistar Morris (1793-1885) married Major Charles Josephus Nourse (1786-1851) in 1816. The couple lived at The Highlands (3825 Wisconsin Avenue, now Sidwell Friends School).



View of the Morris Adler House and Georgetown Heights, circa 1850, by William H. Dougal. The photograph (from the original, in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Charles) is courtesy of the Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.


The painter is looking north from 3259 R Street. Exposed earth banks are visible along Wisconsin Avenue and 35th Street, and at the highest point of Wisconsin Avenue, a cut similar to that in Nourse’s earler view can be seen.

To its right is prominent landmark popularly assumed to have been an aid to navigation, 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.” This tree was called the Signal Oak when it was cut down in to clear the path for Massachusetts Avenue in 1916.  (Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait Of Old Georgetown, 1933, p.23; Records of the Columbia Historical Society, 9:209)



In this detail of the Dougal painting, the three exposed earth banks are the present intersection of  Whitehaven Parkway, 35th Street, and Wisconsin Avenue. 



What is now Wisconsin Avenue, lined by trees, makes its way to a cut at the top of Red Hill.  At the crest of the hill, and east of the turnpike, the Signal Oak at Weston.



William Henry Dougal, born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1822, came to Washington as a young man, where he engraved plates for the Narrative of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, published between 1844 and 1874. He went to San Francisco during the gold rush in 1849, where he operated a grocery and livery store for one year before returning to Washington.

Dougal married Mary Virginia Adler, daughter of Morris Adler and Malvina Lutz Adler in 1851. Dougal’s father-in-law, who owned the land, built the house at 3259 R Street for the young couple. (See Morris Adler)




William H. Dougal, 1868  (William Oland Bourne Papers, New-York Historical Society)





A 2005 auction of works by Washington, D.C. engraver William H. Dougal at Cowan’s Auctions, Inc. included an artist’s proofbook with 200 engravings, 14 pencil sketches relating to Washington, New York and West Virginia, 12 separate engravings from books, and two watercolor portraits of William H. and Mary Virginia Dougal, ca. 1850.



Notes and Sources


“Across High Street (Wisconsin Avenue), the house sitting high on the bank was for many years the home of Mr. William Dougal and his family of one son and four lovely daughters. His wife was Miss Adler, and this house was built on part of her father’s property.”

(Grace Dunlop Ecker, A Portrait of Old George Town, p. 125)


“Two paintings by the elder William Dougal hang at 3259 R Street (and black and white photographs of them are at the Peabody Room of the Georgetown Branch of the D.C. Public Library).”  Dougal House, 3259 R Street, Northwest, Washington, District of Columbia, Historic American Buildings Survey:  http://cdn.loc.gov/master/pnp/habshaer/dc/dc0900/dc0982/data/dc0982data.pdf

In 1959, Marion Oates Leiter (later Mrs. Robert H. Charles) purchased the Dougal house at 3259 R Street. It is possible that the two Dougal paintings may have been acquired along with the Dougal house.


Mathilde Williams notes, Peabody Room, Georgetown Branch Library.


William H. Dougal (1822-1895) apprenticed at 15 to New York engravers Sherman and Smith. By 1844, he was living in Washington, D.C. and working on his own. His first important commission was to produce illustrations for the reports on the Wilkes Expedition, which made the important discovery that Antarctica is a continent and mapped many islands in the South Pacific.

The artists who provided many of the images that Dougal engraved included Titian Ramsay Peale, the son of famed artist and naturalist Charles Wilson Peale. The reports were published in an initial run of only 100 copies, but Wilkes then purchased the rights to them and printed them an additional 13 times by 1858.

Shortly after his work on the Wilkes Expedition reports, Dougal moved west, and opened a grocery store in California. His west coast life was short-lived as he returned to Washington in 1850 where he soon married. Back in Washington, Dougal continued his engraving, often working on government publications, as well as for banks and publishers.

In 1949, Frank M. Stange published an important book on the life and work of Dougal, entitled Off to California: The Letters, Log and Sketches of William H. Dougal, Gold Rush Artist. The monograph contains Dougal’s 1849 diary he kept on his 1849 voyage from New York to San Francisco aboard the Galindo, as well as letters home to his family, and several sketches he made en route.

The artist’s proof book containing nearly 200 proof engravings in a large variety of sizes, types, and subjects, such as vignettes, book illustrations, bank and stock notes, and broadsides, and many incorporating patriotic symbols, American Indians, steamboats, locomotives, architecture, biological and horticultural studies, and portraits of famous Americans such as Daniel Webster. Also included are fine landscapes, some certainly intended to be sold as decorative prints, and others as book illustrations. One such print, executed to illustrate an edition of Longfellow’s poems, retains the original sketch on which the engraving is based. Most are tipped in a folio volume bound in quarter leather and marbled boards.

The second volume, also a folio in quarter leather and marbled boards, contains 14 pencil sketches by Dougal, most are titled and initialed. Included are sketches of the Potomac River and Rock Creek, some with chalk details, and some include figures and boats. Another fine sketch is of Grace Church in New York, and another is of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, one of America’s earliest spa resorts known for its mineral springs.

Accompanying the artist’s sketch and proof books are a pair of watercolor portraits of he and his wife, ca 1845. He is wearing a black suit, and she is wearing a black dress, trimmed in lace, as well as gold jewelry and a tortoise shell hair comb. In old, gold-painted frames; 11.25″ x 9″.

(“Archive of Works by Washington, D.C. engraver William H. Dougal (1822-1895)”, Cowan’s Auctions, Inc., 2005)





Carlton Fletcher

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