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Why Is It Named Tenleytown?

Tenleytown was at one point called Tennallytown and Tenallytown. What's the origin of the neighborhood's name? Learn more.
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The etymological history of neighborhoods and towns in the area are popular topics of conversation for GoDCers. One area of great interest here in Tenleytown, or is that Tenallytown?

Tenleytown Metro
Tenleytown Metro

A little digging through the newspapers of the 19th century, and we came across a rather fascinating piece in The Washington Post. This was printed on November 15th, 1886.

The question of changing the orthography of Tennallytown, a postoffice in the District, to “Tenleytown,” has been before the Postoffice Department since the latter part of October. During that month Charles M. Tenley, 5 Myrtle street, addressed a letter to the Postmaster General on the subject, in which he requested that the name of a postoffice known as “Tennallytown” be altered to Tenleytown. Among other things he said: “From information obtained from my father (now deceased) I was led to believe that the place was settled by his ancestors and that the orthography of its name had been corrupted.” A visit to the place and interviews with its oldest inhabitants “corroborated his impressions.” A petition was circulated and twenty-nine citizens requested that the change be made.

On October 27, Fred W. Jones, lawyer at 472-8 Louisiana avenue, addressed the following letter to the Postmaster General in relation to the matter:

SIR: It is unimportant whether the name of the postoffice at “Tenallytown,” D.C., be changed to “Tenleytown” or not, but the reason given for such change by the petitioners is a perversion of historic truth. In all the records of deeds of property in that neighborhood, which I have seen (and they are many) the name is given “Tenally,” and the will of the last survivor of the family living there, dated March 2, 1822, and recorded in Will Book No. 3 at folio 224, is of “Sarah Tenally,” who devises her “half acre lot” to Sarah Robey,” in consideration of the many good offices performed” by her.

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A second letter from Mr. Jones was sent on October 29 to First Assistant Postmaster General A. E. Stevenson which runs as follows:

DEAR SIR: Responding to favor of yesterday from Mr. Haynie, confidential clerk, concerning “Tenallytown,” I would say I find no deed on record here to or from a “Tenley” from 1793 to 1830 (period of examination). As stated in my letter of the 27th, Sarah Tenally, by her will, March 2, 1822, devised her half-acre lot to Sarah Robey. This lot was deeded by Dr. John Weems to “Sarah Tenally,” August 10, 1795, for “five pounds and five shillings.” Dr. Weems was a scholar, and undoubtedly spelled the name correctly. In numerous deeds recorded here of property in that locality the name is invariably spelled “Tenallytown.” The instances are : “Road leading from Georgetown to Tenallytown,” about “half a mile from Tenallytown,” or “the turnpike near Tenallytown,” and “just above Tenallytown;” and I have but once encountered a deed in which it is spelled otherwise, and then it was spelled “Tenleytown,” evidently the work of an illiterate scribe.

Ha! What a zinger. It continues.

Mr. Hanie, of the Postoffice Department, has made a personal investigation of the records, and in liber B, No. 2, page 398, he finds a deed which reads, “Dr. John Weemes, of the Corporation of Georgetown, to Sarah tennally, for five pounds five shillings, conveys one-half acres of Mt. Airy, in Montgomery County, August 10, 1795.” The deed is indexed Jno. Weemes to Sarah Tenally,” evidently a clerical error, as one n is missing.

In the field notes of Lewis Carbery, dated October 6, 1834-5, page 3, Mr. Haynie finds the following: “Part of Terra Firma, sold by C. Smith to Mr. Nathaniel Mulligan, surveyed this 20th October, 1834. Beginning for the same at the end of 22 links on a course north 78 1/4 east from a marked whit oak, standing on the west side of the main road from Georgetown to Tennallytown,” etc. It is admitted that both Dr. Weems and Mr. Carbery, were scholarly men, who undoubtedly knew how to spell the name.

As for Sarah tennaly herself, who is supposed to hav ebeen a spinster, since she left no heirs, she always made a mark for her name.

There appears to have been another family, named Tenley, also illiterate since they signed with a mark. In 1828, in Will Book No. 23, page 342, there is record of Theodore Tenley, who bought of Thomas Jenkins, of Washington County. He sells property for $150 and signs with a mark. In 1830, book No. 30, page 242, there is record of Eliza Tenley to Henry Nayler, who sells $5 worth of real estate in Washington County.

From all of which we conclude that there was a Sarah Tennally, after whom the town was named, and that later a family of Tenleys appeared, the descendants of which now seek to have their name immortalized.

So, how about that? What a fascinating story. Let’s rename it Tennallytown!

Don’t forget to read our story on the renaming of Tenleytown.

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