Thirty Year Old Remembrances of Old Georgetown

When GM was researching his article last week about Wisconsin and P St., he found this article from the Post published 30 years ago. And it recalls even further back. Enjoy:

Jessie Nimnom Burruss, a semiretired D.C. government worker, has lived in Washington all her life. She grew up in a quiet Georgetown neighborhood, and now lives near Cleveland Park. She still visits Georgetown regularly, attending St. John’s Episcopal Church on O Street. The District Weekly welcomes such reminiscences.

I never boasted about where I grew up until I was well into middle age. By then it was smart to say casually, “Oh, yes, I was born in Georgetown-in the old Forrest-Marbury House on M Street.” But in the 1920s and ’30s, Georgetown was the wrong side of the tracks.

My father owned a delicatessen near 34th and M streets. Many of his customers worked for the streetcar company. The cavernous, three-story car barn at 36th and M streets was a wonderful place where my friends and I, who called ourselves The Georgetown Rats, often played.

I loved the streetcars. Often I stood at Wisconsin Avenue near P Street watching them come up the avenue. As they approached, two men who sat on fruit crates on the sidewalk would stroll into the street. One would go down into a hole and when a streetcar stopped over the hole, he would remove the underground plow. The second man would attach the overhead trolley to a power line, and the street car would continue along Wisconsin Avenue.

Car fare in 1930 was 10 cents.

When I was a young girl, my mother would send me on errands to the Connecticut Pie Co. at Wisconsin Avenue and O Street to buy a “crippled” pie, discounted because of its broken crust, to the Wise Brothers’ Dairy on N Street near Wisconsin Avenue for milk and cream, and to the Georgetown Gaslight Co. at Wisconsinand Dumbarton avenues to pay our gas bill.

I would often pause at the window of the Fussell-Young Ice Cream Co. to watch the ice cream machine. Several of us would stop in O’Donnell‘s Drug Store at Wisconsin and M to sit at the long soda fountain and order exotic cherry, vanilla and chocolate colas. On the way home, one of us might have to stop at the Sanitary Store (later the Safeway or the Piggly Wiggly).

Today, when I visit the Georgetown Public Library, I recall the abandoned reservoir that occupied that site. There my classmates and I ate our lunches on warm days before attending classes in the Manual Arts Building at 33rd Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

Racial segregation was very much a part of our lives. We accepted it because no one ever questioned the situation. It made no sense to me that the children on my block should have to walk several blocks to school while the black children came from closer to our schools to attend the Wormley School across the street from where we lived. But when, after school, we played on the Wormley School grounds, no one seemed troubled that we used the same play equipment and drank from the same water fountain.

While I was still very young, my parents and I moved from the flat I had been born in at 3350 M Street to one of the bow-windowed flats above the row of stores in the 3400 block of M Street-opposite Key Bridge. I recall standing at the window and watching men build the bridge. Then, when I was 6, my father bought a house for $2,500 on Prospect Avenue.

In those days, Prospect Avenue between Rocky Hill (35th Street) and 36th Street was a deliciously scary area for youngsters. The Georgetown Hospital morgue stood on one corner and, on another, a large boarded-up house (Quality Hill). Farther up the street were a deserted school and a “haunted house” (later to become the Forrestal House).

E.D.E.N. Southworth, a prolific writer of 19th-century romances, had lived in a cottage at 3600 Prospect Ave. My Girl Scout troop was invited by the American Pen Women to take part in a tree planting ceremony at Prospect Cottage to honor Mrs. Southworth’s memory. The tree is still on the property.

I found it exciting to be sent to buy an “extra” edition of the paper. I remember extras on the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney prize fights, and in 1923 the death of President Warren G. Harding.

We spent our summers at Georgetown playground, where there was swimming for girls and boys was on alternate days. Lockers and space were so limited that we swam in shifts. Occasionally on the boys’ day for swimming, my girlfriends and I swam in a tiny pool in the woods behind Georgetown College. I was scared to death we’d be caught.

In the summer we skated along M Street, and then on Pennsylvania Avenue all the way to Peace Monument in front of the Capitol. There we skated around the Monument a couple of times and then back to Georgetown.

I recall the Saturday nights when Georgetown families strolled along M Street watching the country folks who came across the bridge from Virginia to buy work clothes and groceries, to get haircuts and to see movies at the M Street Theater.

I remember the photograph of myself taken on M Street in the middle of the day-with not an automobile in sight. Behind me can be seen the open air summer theater at Bank Alley and a huge sign reading “Drink Coca-Cola-5 cents.”

Today when I walk into St. John’s Episcopal Church on O Street, I recall Sunday school classes there and wonder if, as a child, I attended with a pious heart, or was it the Christmas party, the Easter celebration and the wonderful end-of-school picnic that kept me faithful?

Sometimes my parents surprised me with a Sunday afternoon trolley ride to Bethesda and, once in a while, we went as far as Rockville, where I was treated to an ice cream cone before we boarded the trolley for the ride back to Georgetown.

In the spring we walked along the C&O Canal towpath to pick large bunches of violets, sharing the towpath with the mules and horses pulling the barges. In our teens, when we could afford it, we would cross Key Bridge to the Dixie Pig Barbecue among the dumpy little one-story buildings in Rosslyn, where, for 20 cents, we could buy a barbecue sandwich and a soft drink.

How old am I? Well, I recall as a very young child having Robert Todd Lincoln, son of Abraham, pointed out to me near his home at 30th and N streets NW.


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