by Catherine Toups Atkinson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last month a quiet bidding war took place in Chevy Chase DC. On the market was a house that represented a bygone era — the oldest standing farmhouse, circa 1862.
Retroactively woven into the modern street grid, the wood frame house at 3326 Quesada St. NW has presumably been eyewitness to invading Confederate soldiers. To freemen toiling in their nearby market gardens. To General Pershing’s daily horse jaunts. To the first rumblings of Model Ts along Rock Creek Ford Road. To husbands sauntering over to the Purple Iris speakeasy. In short, from Presidents Lincoln to Biden — and all that occurred between, including the rise of the average house price from $300 to $1.3 million.
The winning bidder was a developer with a cash offer — likely more than the $1.1 million asking price (closing is now set for May 28th). The buyer is reportedly planning to restore it. Skeptics shake their heads, knowing that the condition of the house is poor, the cost of renovation is high, and the tendency is for buyers to say what sellers want to hear. Although the Historic Preservation Office has identified this property as potentially eligible for designation as a DC Landmark, the property has never been listed and is thus not protected by the DC Historic Preservation law. As it stands, there is nothing preventing it from being unceremoniously razed.
While historical preservation advocates hold their collective breath to await the outcome, it is prudent to do some research. Here is what we know about that piece of property:
Archival research indicates that the original owner of the property was Richard S. Jones and that he built a house by at least 1862 on the site. Jones and his wife farmed the surrounding acreage and raised a family that would continue to live on and farm the land into the 20th century. Although altered, the present house at 3326 Quesada St. may include the central core of that mid-19th century house.
The only known photograph believed to be the “original” Jones farmhouse looks quite different from the one currently standing. However, it is possible that the original farmhouse is contained within the current structure and was renovated and updated over the decades to appear as it does today.
Where did this 1862 date originate?
The pre-1862 date of construction of the house is based upon a notice that Richard S. Jones placed in the Evening Star on April 14, 1862 for a lost cow that had wandered onto his property. The notice stated that the owner could call upon “the farm occupied by Richard S. Jones.” Further archival evidence indicates an even earlier date of construction for the house: When Richard Jones’ son, Horace S. Jones, died in 1910, his obituary noted that Horace “was born in the home in which his death occurred” Which would put the date of construction at 1847. However, it is uncertain if the house at 3326 Quesada St. is this original mid-19th century one, or another house, built later in the 19th century. Further archival research and an architectural analysis should provide additional clues to the actual date of construction of the house.
But let’s go back to the history of the property and its owners. Richard S. Jones was born in 1819 and died in 1886 and was identified in census information as a laborer, then a farmer and a police officer. In 1843, at age 24, he married 33-year-old Sophia O’Neale Jones (1810-1893). They had three children:
- Mary Virginia Jones (1844-1918)
- Horace S. Jones (1846-1910)
- Margaret A. Jones (1850-1864)
According to the 1850 census, R.S. Jones lived with his wife Sophia and their three children including Horace, who was five at that time, and two young African Americans, John and Frank Eglan, 10 and 3 years old. Neither child is in the slave census of 1850, nor is Richard S. Jones listed as an enslaver. So, that relationship is a mystery.
In the 1860 census, Richard was listed as a farmer and lived with his wife, three children and no boarders or others. On April 14, 1862, he placed an ad in the Washington Evening Star saying he had found a “small black buffalo cow with a calf at her side. The owner of the cow and calf are requested to come and prove property and pay charges and take her away,” he wrote, noting the cow’s owner could report to “Pierce’s Mill” for directions to his farm.
The 1870 census listed Richard Jones as a police officer and his son Horace, 24, as a farmer. The family all still lived together, along with two boarders, identified as farmhands. In 1876, a newspaper report stated Officer Jones helped neighbors extinguish a fire in “Bradley’s woods.”
The 1880 census described the same household as the 1870 census. By this time, Horace was around 34 and his father, Richard, was about 61. In May 1881, the Washington Post reported that an operation had been performed to successfully remove a “2¼ lb tumor” from the left thigh of “county policeman Richard S. Jones.”
An 1882 newspaper ad refers to Richard Jones’s property as being located with some specificity as near the intersection of two farm roads, Broad Branch and Rock Creek Ford roads. (Broad Branch Road still exists today, but Rock Creek Ford Road, formerly Milk House Ford Road, was partially subsumed by the modern Rittenhouse Street in the late 1910s-1920s).
In 1886 R. S. Jones died at age 67. That same year his son Horace married Fannie Miller. Transfers of property occur that year from R.S. Jones to Horace described as “parts of ‘New Seat’ and he also acquired more land along Rock Creek Ford Road.
Horace’s marriage coincided with his burgeoning role as a community activist during a time of rapid change in this part of “Washington County” north of the city’s Florida Avenue boundary. The Chevy Chase Land Company — known as the “California syndicate” when it secretly bought up farmland along Connecticut Avenue — had started implementing plans for its suburban development and brought an electric streetcar up Connecticut Avenue. Horace was one of the founding members of the Citizens’ Northwest Suburban Association to lobby for public infrastructure — roads, sewer, water, electricity, and garbage collection. Horace was the chairman of the committee on roads. (Decades later, Horace’s civic contributions would be memorialized by the community’s endorsement of naming a new elementary school after him. District Commissioners, however, would name the school Lafayette).
Horace and Fannie would have three daughters but no sons. The sons-in-law would take over the Jones land when he died. The daughters were:
- Alva (1887-1973), who marries Henry Myers (he dies in March 1930). They built a house in 1916 at 3306 Rittenhouse St.
- Verda (1889-1943), who marries Clyde Garrett but divorces him sometime after 1940. They built a house in 1917 at 3300 Rittenhouse St. that remained in the family until the 1980s.
- Lucille (c.1894-1974), who marries J. Francis Moore in 1919. According to newspaper accounts, they first lived at 3300 Rittenhouse St. after their marriage, and according to neighbors she gave birth to at least one of her two sons at 3326 Quesada St. However, from at least 1928 until 2005, the Moore family home was at 3342 Quesada St., and Mason Moore, a bachelor, lived there throughout his life. He is fondly remembered by many longtime neighbors. His family home, described as “a simple design” was razed by the new owners and a new house was built on the lot in 2006.
Horace’s mother, Sophia, died at age 87 in 1941. Her funeral was to be held “from her late residence, Broad Branch road, D.C.” She is interred at Rock Creek Cemetery with her husband.
The Jones Farm in the 20th Century
In the 1900 census, Horace, 53, was listed as head of house. He lived on his property with his wife, Fannie, his three daughters, a sister, two servants, and a boarder.
On June 29, 1910, Horace died of “paralysis” at his home on “Rock Creek Ford road and Rittenhouse street, near Chevy Chase.” His obituary in the Evening Star lauded him as an “active member of two citizens’ associations and much interested in promoting public welfare.” It is in this obituary where we learn Horace was born and died in the same house. His widow apparently continued to live in the family home until at least 1919, when their youngest daughter, Lucille, married, because there is a newspaper account of her hosting a wedding supper buffet at the family home. But by 1931 she had decamped to an apartment on Connecticut Avenue.
Where Exactly Was the Family Home?
A 1903 Baist map clearly shows at least two structures on the western 10.5-acre Jones tract. The northernmost one lines up to where Quesada Street would eventually be cut through. The second one was in the middle of what we know today as Lafayette Park. It was directly backing a six-acre tract of land that had been owned by African Americans since at least the 1840s. They were truck farmers and laborers and among the tiny fraction of Black landowners in the District of Columbia.
Part of the Jones farm and most of the Black-owned land, would be acquired in 1928 by the National Capital Parks and Planning Commission at the urging of a specially appointed citizens group chaired by J. Francis Moore, the husband of Lucille Jones Moore. The community had been clamoring for a new school to relieve crowding at E.V. Brown School as Chevy Chase expanded. The plan to evict the Black landowners and use their property had the backing of powerful developers within the Chevy Chase Land Company and the Chevy Chase Citizens’ Association. The property for the school and park would total 12 acres.
The park service used the right of eminent domain to evict the Black families who reportedly did not want to leave. However, considering the Jones’ heirs were petitioning for the land acquisition, it would be more likely that their property sales price would have been negotiated. The Black families were reportedly paid “market rate.” It is not known what the Jones’ family received for their property — nor was it ever suggested in the newspaper articles if this was a conflict of interest for the chairman of the committee to also be a property owner. Some speculate that the Jones family donated the land, but if so, no article reported it.
In 1916, six years after her husband’s death, Fannie Jones subdivided the 10-acre parcel of the farm east of 33rd Street into Square 2021 (north and south sides of Quesada Street) with residential building lots that would be developed with single-family dwellings over the next 20 years. Around that time, the two eldest daughters and their husbands built houses at 3300 and 3306 Rittenhouse Street. The house at 3300 Rittenhouse St. served as the Clyde Garrett family home until it was sold out of the family by his grandson in 1988.
According to Connie Povich, who was raised on 33rd Street NW and now owns 3308 and 3306 Rittenhouse St., the double lot between the two sisters was intended for their youngest sister, Lucille. “But she didn’t want to live between the two sisters,” she said, recalling the story from years ago. Instead, Lucille Jones and her husband built a house on Jones property at 3342 Quesada St., which remained in the family until Lucille’s son died in 2005.
In 1922, the 10-acre parcel on the west side of 33rd Street that included the family farm would also be subdivided, excluding those lots associated with the already built house at 3300 Rittenhouse St. The owners on this plat are listed as the Myers, Garrett and Moore families (the three daughters and their husbands) with Clyde D. Garrett listed as the trustee.
Developing Quesada Street
Development of Chevy Chase as a suburb five miles from downtown DC had progressed considerably by the early 1920s, when Quesada Street was cut through between Broad Branch Road and 33rd Street. The Jones farmhouse at 3326 Quesada St. stood just south of the new-cut Quesada Street where it still sits askew on its lot. This skewed angle indicates that the house preceded construction of the street. Once the street was in, the Jones’s heirs renovated the family farmhouse, and also began construction of three houses to the east of it in the 3300 block of Quesada Street.
The renovation appears to have been done with an intent to sell the property. A Nov. 22, 1924 display ad lists 3326 Quesada St. “being offered for the first time to the home-seeking public The newly renovated home, pictured looking architecturally identical to the house today, was called “truly a complete and modern home.” The ad further touted: “It required more than 100 years to grow the mammoth trees on this property.”
For whatever reason, the house did not sell until 1941. Instead, it appears it was rented out for the next 15 years. The three new “kit” houses built by the Jones heirs on the 3300 block of Quesada Street were also marketed for sale. The one at 3312 Quesada St. was noted as being “ultra modern,” for its hot water heat, oak floors throughout, electric lighting, and Frigidaire refrigeration. The asking price was $14,500. An owner of one of those three kits houses had this to say about them in 2016:
“I have a confirmed Sears Roebuck kit house called The Maywood located at 3306 Quesada Street, NW. Our side of the block of Quesada — alley to alley backing up to Lafayette Park — had three Sears houses quickly built after the farm land was (developed) … to establish a level of quality for the future houses. I have a photograph—that Keene Taylor kindly allowed me to copy years ago—that shows the three Sears houses and the farmhouse and some additional land where houses are today, but nothing else. Mine must’ve been the final house to be built because the photo shows one more shutter needing to be installed. This was in 1926—The Maywood is a 1925 model.”
As the Jones farm began transforming from rural to suburban land use, Horace’s widow Fannie Jones lived with her sister at Sulgrave Manor apartments on Connecticut Avenue. In 1941, Fannie Jones died, at age 80 and she is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery with her husband.
Jones Farmhouse Sold
In 1942, the Jones estate sold 3326 Quesada St. to Helen Lingenfelter Gray, an attorney for the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and her husband John Chipman Gray. A decade later, the Grays sold it to Diana P. and Howard A. Cook.
Within a year, in May 1953, the Cooks put the house on the market for $26,300. A Washington Post ad described it as “Built years ago when Washington D.C. was in its youth. This lovely Connecticut (Avenue) farm house was out in the country. Today this spacious 4-bedroom, 2-bath home with its high ceilings and extra large dining room, open rear porch facing an old oak shaded lawn is within walking distance to Chevy Chase Circle.”
That November it sold to abstract artist Kenneth Noland (1924-2010) and his wife Cornelia Langer Noland. Noland, who helped establish the Washington Color School movement, was a minimalist and best known for his geometric shapes and bright concentric circles. In his six-decade career his work was displayed in the Guggenheim Museum, the Hirshhorn, and the Tate in London, among other high profile galleries.
Cornelia Langer Noland was also an artist and the daughter of North Dakota Republican Senator “Wild Bill” William Langer. By 1960, the couple had separated and Mrs. Noland sold the house in 1963 to Chevy Chase DC native Helen Schrider Higgins and her husband Eugene.
Mrs. Higgins — a potter and sculptor who raised nine children in the house and rang an old ship’s bell to call her children in from Lafayette playground — shared memories of living there in a May 2015 oral history with Joan Janshego of Historic Chevy Chase DC. Mrs. Higgins recalled that the house could be seen on maps as long ago as 1874.
She said she had coincidentally studied under Noland at Catholic University, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s in art. “I recall that in 1954, our design class met here when it was Ken Noland’s house to listen to jazz music. No way did I know that a decade later it would be our home.”
She said she and her husband were attracted to the house because of its natural light and the abundance of four bedrooms to accommodate her growing family. She set up her potter’s wheel on the back porch.
“I was told Ken spread his large canvases on the floor of the dining room to paint them. Our dining room has wonderful light, one of the things that drew me to this house.” Now 91 and living with her daughter, she wistfully said in her oral history that she hoped her house would be preserved by its future owners. In fact, is was her parting statement recorded in the oral history: “I hope it will be preserved at the time at which my family and I have to let it go, and that it is not torn down like the Mason Moore house,” she said.