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Discovering the History of Petworth – From Two Country Estates to Subdivision

Uncover the fascinating story of Petworth in Washington D.C., from two separate country estates owned by Marshall Brown and Colonel John Tayloe III to a large subdivision. Learn more about this amazing history!
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Calling all hipsters! Do you know why it’s called Petworth? We’ll go out on a limb and guess that most of you do not (because we didn’t until we dug up a little history).

Petworth in 1907
Petworth in 1907

Back in the day (i.e., mid-19th century before the Organic Act of 1871), the site that we now know as Petworth was the site of two separate country estates in Washington County. In Northwest D.C., the county was everything north of what we know as Florida Avenue today, so basically where Meridian Hill Park is, north to the Maryland border.

The two estates were owned by Marshall Brown and Colonel John Tayloe III. Tayloe eventually acquired the Brown estate and incorporated it into his estates, named Petworth.

The estate was originally comprised of over 200 acres of farm land adjoining what would become the U.S. Soldiers Home. The land passed to John’s son (one of 15 children), Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, who also built the famous Tayloe House on Lafayette Square.

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Twenty years after Benjamin’s death, the property was sold, in March of 1887 by a syndicate of real estate developers. Below is the announcement in the Washington Post from March 4th, 1887.

The country seat of the late Benjamin Ogle Tayloe, known as Petworth, has recently been purchased by a syndicate represented by B. H. Warden, of Springfield, Ohio; B. H. Warner and M. M. Parker, from two of the Taylor heirs, George B. Warren and John W. Paine, of Troy N. Y. The tract hich adjoins the Soldiers’ Home, contains 205 acres, located east of the Seventh street road and north of the Rock Creek Church road. The property will be extensively improved and subdivided, after which it will be placed on the market in residence lots.

The combined acreage of the Brown and Tayloe estates were filed as a plat with the D.C. Surveyor in 1889, which at the time, was the largest property ever put on record in the District, being one-fifth the size of the entire Old City of Washington. In May of that year, Andrew Gleason, a local developer, was contracted to grade and open the streets of the new subdivision at a total cost of $40,000.

Also, you may recognize John Tayloe III as being the guy who built the famous (and allegedly haunted) home at 18th and New York Avenue, NW … the Octagon House.

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