Where We Live: Elizabeth Street Story

by Karen Briscoe
May 12, 2017
Every house has a story – it tells of the lives of the people who have inhabited it. Elizabeth Street has a special story and rich history with origins over one hundred years ago. It is on rare occasion that a home comes along that captures one’s heart like 542 Elizabeth Street. Adjacent to parkland, the setting is peaceful and inspiring. The falls on the Potomac River named the community Great Falls and that is where our story begins.

In the heat of the summer and at times of recreation, residents of nearby Washington, DC would escape the city to the coolness of the country. One particularly favorite location was Great Falls along the Potomac River. The Great Falls Amusement Park opened in 1906. It was such a popular destination that a trolley line was installed as transportation from Georgetown. Advertisements proclaimed it was “10 degrees cooler.” The last stop was in the park and the line later merged with the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad.

As it was the last stop of the day, the workers for the line “dead-headed” there creating the need for them to have a place to board overnight. Theodore King of Washington DC recognized the opportunity and thus was born the first subdivision for the area east of Riverbend Road. King acquired the land from J.T. Jackson; the egress road of Jackson Lane arose from his surname which was customary at the time. Elizabeth Street was named after his beloved wife. Many of the owners and residents of the community through the years have been descendants of the Jackson and King families. Stop by yourself and you will find the stone steps where access was provided from the park into the community.

Being a city man, King subdivided the parcel into urban-sized narrow lots of 25’ by 120’ and built six houses reminiscent of the era: bungalows similar to that of the Sears and Roebuck Co. catalog homes, craftsman-style homes and simple stick-built homes with a touch of Victorian architecture. All have porches to capture the cool-air moments that were afforded by living near The Falls. Only four of the six remain. 542 Elizabeth Street is at the end of the lane and is unique, as it alone offers vistas of parkland on the southern border and is adjacent on the eastern side of the property. The parkland has its own story.

The land that is now Great Falls National Park and Riverbend Fairfax County Park was owned at the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries by the Great Falls Manufacturing Company. It was later reorganized to provide hydroelectric power then sold to Potomac Electric and Power Company, better known as PEPCO. Some of the residents of the community were employees of PEPCO. In 1930 when Congress established the George Washington Memorial Parkway, a provision was included to protect and preserve the historic Patowmack Canal and the surrounding natural scenery. The canal, a pet project of our first president, used locks to raise and lower boats. It was the first in the United States to use that system of transportation. Generations before and to come are blessed by those who recognized the treasure that is now our park system.

In the 1930’s, Albert G. Schmitz and his wife Isabella operated the popular restaurant in the park known as the Great Falls Inn. Visitors would want to stay overnight and so he acquired many of the houses on Jackson Lane and Elizabeth Street and rented them out to guests. A story was told by one of longtime residents of the community, Claude Jackson. Franklin D. Roosevelt was one of the visitors when Claude worked as a ticket taker at the park. Claude asked the President to pay the nickel entrance fee. FDR inquired if he knew who he was and Claude responded: “Yes sir, but it’s still gonna cost you a nickel.”

The first carousel at the amusement park was dismantled and sold. Some say Claude sold the horses to pay for dental work. The Great Falls Historical Society website states that it was because the owner “did not want to work for the county” when in 1952 Fairfax County acquired 16 acres to become it’s first park land. Another carousel operated from 1954 until 1972, when Hurricane Agnes came through and destroyed much of the park in her wake.

Information for this story of 542 Elizabeth Street was obtained from these sources: the current owner, Patricia Deveneau who interviewed and recalled stories from longtime residents and owners; the Great Falls Historical Society website; Land Above the Falls by Deborah Cannan published by the Great Falls Historical Society in 1992, Karen Washburn of Great Falls, National Park Service, Ancestry.com and other such sites.

This home, 542 Elizabeth Street, is ready for the next chapter in its long life. The charming farmhouse has had numerous additions and renovations through the years. It includes a carriage house and a one car garage on .42 acres. The home is listed for $797,500 and features a setting and story that is priceless.

Karen Briscoe and Lizzy Conroy and their team of agents at HBC Group at Keller Williams would be delighted to assist with your real estate needs, whether selling or buying a home. The group of active and experienced Realtors® in the Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland and Washington, DC marketplace consider it our mission to improve and impact lives. Please contact via the means most convenient for you: www.HBCGroupKW.com, 703-734-0192, Homes@HBCGroupKW.com.

Karen Briscoe is Principal of the Huckaby Briscoe Conroy Group (HBC) and author of "Real Estate Success in 5 Minutes a Day". She is an Associate Broker in Virginia, a Certified Luxury Home Market Specialist, and a member of the Women’s Council of Realtors. Karen began her real estate career developing residential lots with the Trammel Crow Company in Dallas, and in commercial real estate with The Staubach Company in the Washington, DC Metro area. Karen has a Masters Degree from Southern Methodist University and her BA from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri – her hometown.
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