Patricia Linskey-Nietfeld’s family has roots four generations deep in Georgetown, and she is very knowledgeable about their history. In this interview with John Verghese, she shares stories about her family’s long involvement in the Irish community in the city, as well as stories from her own childhood growing up at 1657 Wisconsin Avenue. She recalls the way many historic moments affected her own life in Georgetown, from the desegregation of DC public schools to the Kennedy election. Pat has a number of lighter-hearted memories to share as well, including the system Georgetown kids used to employ to sled all the way down Book Hill Park.
Patricia Linskey‑Nietfeld interview 3/26/13
John Verghese: This is John Verghese interviewing Pat Nietfeld for the Citizen Association of Georgetown oral history project. Ms. Nietfeld where and when were you born? Just to get a sense.
Patricia Linksey‑Nietfeld: OK, I was born at Old Georgetown Hospital, which is at 35th, I believe, and N Street, Northwest in 1945.
John: OK, and your parents were also from here, or they had moved here?
Patricia: My dad was born in Georgetown in 1917, at 1247 31st Street, and my grandfather was born in Georgetown in 1883 at 2816 N Street, and my great‑grandfather had moved to Georgetown in about 1880.
Patricia: So that’s how far back we go in Georgetown.
John: Many, many generations. Do you know where your great‑grandfather moved from?
Patricia: Yeah, he was born in Westport in County Mayo, Ireland, which is in the west of Ireland in 1842. And he emigrated to D.C. in 1866 through the port of New York. I have really no idea why he came to Washington, which really wasn’t a Mecca for Irish immigration.
Patricia: Except, I can only think that after the Civil War, Washington was becoming much more of a city.
Patricia: So maybe it was attractive to immigrants. My great‑grandfather, whose name was James Linksey. That’s spelled L‑I‑N‑S‑K‑E‑Y. As I said, he came in 1866, and he established a painting and decorating company called Linskey Painting and Decorating that operated until about, I would say 1970. Of course he was long dead. His sons and grandson took over the business. It seems to have flourished. I’m getting to Georgetown in a minute. He got here in 1866. His wife, who was also from Westport County Mayo, Ireland, immigrated in 1866. They were married in September of 1866 at St. Aloysius Parish, which is on North Capitol Street.
John: Did they immigrate together, or come individually?
Patricia: I believe they immigrated separately, but I’m sure they must have known each other, since they were from the same town in Ireland. I think he came first and then maybe brought her over or something like that. He established the painting business. It had its retail places on 19th Street, about 19th and Pennsylvania Avenue, then they had one 1747 Pennsylvania Avenue, finally at the 2100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue northwest. They never had a Georgetown retail shop, so to speak. As I said, I believe he moved to Georgetown in around 1880. Immediately before that they lived in Foggy Bottom, which now called the west end. Anyway, about 1880 he bought the two houses on N Street, 2816 N and 2818 N and moved there with his family. He had six children, the youngest of whom was my grandfather, who very confusingly, was also named James Linskey. Anyway, my grandfather was born in that house at 2816 N Street in 1883.
The family continued to actually live, or at least some of his children lived, in the house until 1950 when it actually was that his oldest child, Julia, died. Only two of his children married: the eldest son and the youngest son. The unmarried ones continued to live in the house at 2816 N Street until 1950 when his eldest daughter, his last surviving child, died. I vaguely remember visiting my great aunt Julia at that house until I was about five years old when she died. They’re typical houses. Of course, they’re still there today. Typical Victorian row houses. I’ve done a little study of when they were built.
They were built, I think, about 1876. They were part of the Alexander Shepherd subdivision of some lots. Alexander Shepherd, also known as Boss Shepherd, subdivided some lots there. This was a time when larger parcels of land were being broken up and fill‑in was being built. He built some houses there. 28, I believe he built 2816, 2818, 2820, 2822, of which my grandfather bought 2816, 2818. Typical, I would guess, Victorian era row house. Three floors, plus and English basement. Kitchen at the rear, in the English basement. Dining room at the front, in the English basement. Formal dining room at the back, on the first floor.
There was a dumbwaiter, I remember, that went between the kitchen and the formal dining room on the first floor, that I always tried to get permission to ride in, but they would never let me ride in it. I thought I was small enough at four so that if I got on, they could pull the rope and get me down, but it never worked out. There was a spiral staircase inside. The two houses were mirror images of each other. In the end, when my aunt Julia was living there in her last days, the house on the 2818 was rented out. After she died in 1950, the house passed to my dad, to his sister, and to their first cousin Edward Linskey. They continued to own the houses, both of them, and rented them out until about 1964, when they sold them both.
John: This whole time the houses were kept separate, right? The walls?
Patricia: Yeah, no, they never were joined.
John: Which house did you grow up in?
Patricia: I didn’t grow up in any of those. The youngest son of the immigrant from Ireland, James Linskey, he married a woman from Washington, not from Georgetown, though. She lived in what we know as the old southwest, before urban renewal. Once they were married, they lived in Georgetown. They lived first at 3140 and a half O Street, where their eldest child was born. Then they moved around to 1247 31st Street, which was where their youngest child was born, who was my dad, and I hate to tell you, another James Linskey, the third one.
John: James Linskey III.
Patricia: Yeah. He never went by the third because everybody had different middle names. Anyway, James Linskey III, if you will, was my dad. He was born at 1247 31st Street in 1917. When he was about four years old, I’m guessing, around 1921, the family moved to 1657 Wisconsin Avenue. This is on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue, north of Q Street and south of Reservoir Road. And so my dad grew up there. When he married he brought his wife, my mom, back there to live, and so that’s where I grew up…
John: Right on Wisconsin.
Patricia: …at 1657 Wisconsin Avenue.
John: OK. Do you know what business is there now, because that’s all built up?
Patricia: Yeah, it’s now Oliver Dunn, which is an antique interior decorating store. And, in fact, we continued to own the building until, in fact, last December 2012…
Patricia: …I finally sold it, and it had been in our family since 1907. Because my great‑aunt, Julia, the old lady who lived on N Street that I barely remember, she had actually bought the house in 1907, and her younger brother, James Linskey, my grandfather, bought it from her sometime in the twenties, I’m guessing, and moved his family there. Then my dad just continued to live there until he finally left. He was driven out of Georgetown he said by not finding a place to park [laughs]
John: OK. As I think a lot of people are.
Patricia: The typical Georgetown lament, but also by about the time he left, which was 1966 or so, that portion of Wisconsin Avenue had turned completely, virtually all…
Patricia: Into retail.
Patricia: But when I grew up there in like the late forties through the fifties into, through at least the early fifties, that portion of Wisconsin Avenue, especially the northern end of the 1600 block, was not retail.
John: [indecipherable 11:27]
Patricia: Yeah, I remember somewhere in the sixties stores coming in a few houses down from us, but when I was a kid in grade school it was residential, and, of course, it was residential when my dad lived there, completely residential. There was one store. It was actually across the street from us, and it later became the northern most store of the well‑known French Market when it was there. It was actually then, even though it wasn’t on a corner, you could probably call it a corner store. It was Mrs. Collins’ little market. C‑O‑L‑L‑I‑N‑S. But my dad, you know, even much later would refer to all these houses along Wisconsin Avenue by the names of the people who used to live in them, which, of course, meant nothing to me because they mostly didn’t live there anymore.
Patricia: And what generally happened to that stretch of Wisconsin Avenue, when I was a little kid, every house had a little scrap of front yard with grass, usually. I’m talking about a postage stamp front yard, but it did have a front yard. And between that front yard and the sidewalk there would be an iron fence, not a fancy iron fence, a fence about, oh, four feet high with a gate in it. So you’d go through the gate, then there’d be a very short walk to the steps of the house. And generally, when they were converted over to businesses, in some cases that front yard was taken out, and it was paved in, and a show window was put in the front of the house. Some of the houses sat back a little further and had more of a front yard, in which case a whole room, if you will, was built in front. That happened at 1663 Wisconsin Avenue, where even when I was little the Gerns family lived. They’d lived there for many years, and after they left their house actually had a porch in front of it and a somewhat larger front yard. All that was torn out and the whole front was built on that.
John: OK. I’m very impressed. You’ve really done your research.
Patricia: [laughs] Well, we’re kind of, oh, I don’t know, packrats on this stuff.
Patricia: Yeah, so it was kind of a much more residential area. Around on Reservoir Road, which was the cross street just to the north and east of Wisconsin Avenue, it really got even wilder. On the south side there are some brick houses that I remember being built, but before that there was some small frame houses then that had quite a little land behind them. And they even kept chickens, because I remember roosters would wake me up when I was a little kid.
Patricia: [laughs] And then those were torn down and filled in with connecting brick houses.
John: OK. Do you know anything about your mother and your mother’s side?
Patricia: Oh, yeah. My mother’s side lived all over D.C., mainly on what’s now called Capitol Hill or eastern Capital Hill, went to Eastern High School there.
John: OK, yeah. And was she also Irish?
Patricia: No. British Isles, Scotch, Scottish. Scots, I guess you should say.
John: And the one other thing I wanted to ask about was the St. Aloysius Parish…
Patricia: St. Aloysius, yeah.
John: Yeah. Was that a primarily Irish parish at the time?
Patricia: Yeah, I think it was. That time kind of North Capitol Street, north of what’s that Union Station, which wasn’t there then, was an area called Swamp Poodle.
John: OK. I’ve heard that name.
Patricia: Yeah, and it was kind of a rough Irish laborer area.
John: OK. So, OK, and Irish laborer.
Patricia: So that’s evidently where they started out, but all I can conclude is that Linskey Painting and Decorating became quite a thriving firm. It won a lot of contracts for the U.S. government, like the Treasury painting in the Treasury Department.
Patricia: The Court of Claims, which is now the Renwick Gallery…
John: Oh, yeah, right by…
Patricia: …hotels, painted Catholic churches, of course. I think it had a stranglehold on, got all the contracts for Catholic churches and the stuff.
John: OK. Wow, that’s very interesting. So your father also operated the business.
Patricia: No, my father did not go into it. His father was in it, but my father did not go into the business. His cousin, his first cousin, kept it going until the sixties.
John: OK. And were you in touch with your dad’s cousins at all?
Patricia: Oh, yeah. They lived in D.C., knew them all the time. In fact, my dad and his cousin, when Aunt Julia died, renovated those houses at 2816, 2818. They were both very handy men. They replaced all the floor. They did all the drywall work themselves, and then rented them out for 12, 15 years or so, until they sold them.
John: There was one thing I wanted to ask you. I forgot, so we’ll come back to that later. I just wanted to talk a little bit about what it was like in terms of the neighborhood when you were growing up. Was your family, apart from your extended family, was your dad and your mom in touch with neighbors.
Patricia: They knew the neighbors up and down the street, but that was about it. Their closest contacts were with other Irish families that had lived in Georgetown for a long time. Surprisingly, or I guess to some people, there were quite a number of Irish families here and there. Many of them seemed somehow to be related to my great grandmother and great grandfather. I think they all kind of followed them over here. [laughs] Because some of them were from the same town in Ireland, and they married. My great grandfather’s sister married a Patrick Stanton. They were both from Westport, County Mayo. They all moved to D.C. They got married back in Ireland. He was a baker, and they came first to Annapolis where he baked for the Naval Academy. Then they moved to D.C. They lived in Foggy Bottom. They moved into Georgetown. He had a stall at the Western Market, which used to be on K Street at about 23rd Street, kind of equivalent to the Eastern Market. But it was torn down maybe in the late 50s, another one of these big red brick market type things. They were in Georgetown.
My great grandmother’s sisters lived in Georgetown. She was also, remember, from the same town in Ireland. Her sisters, who were born in the same town in Ireland, they moved over here. There were a sprinkling of other Irish families. The Aherns lived on Q Street right next to, well, I know it as the Texaco station, but it’s that gas station on the southwest corner that burned, that they’re gradually getting back to a gas station.
There’s a little frame house just to the west of that station, and then a larger brick house. The Aherns owned both of them. They always rented out the frame house and lived in the brick house. The Seymours lived down on O Street. So it was more with the Irish people. We always kind of knew that there were big houses in Georgetown and that some well known people lived in some of them, but we didn’t have any connections with them at all.
John: Was your family particularly religious at all? Did you go to church or anything.
Patricia: Yeah, we went to church. The great‑grandparents on N Street always continued to go to St. Stephen’s on Pennsylvania Avenue.
John: Is that your church.
Patricia: It’s still there, but not the old church. They tore it down, like everything, in the 60s and replaced it with kind of a modern one that has a big arch in the front with stained glass. Before it was a red brick, more maybe gothic, you might say. I don’t know what. You know, an older church. I do remember that one. That’s where the great‑grandparents went. My grandfather and my dad and us all used to go to Holy Trinity.
John: And that was a predominantly Irish Catholic parish?
Patricia: It had quite a few Irish Catholic members. I don’t really know it’s demographics completely, but that’s where the Irish Catholics mainly in Georgetown went.
John: In terms of the Irish‑ness of the family, were there a lot of Irish traditions growing up?
Patricia: Oh, yeah. This great aunt, Julia, was president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Ancient Order of Hibernians and all this stuff, and was much involved in all their things, including trying to get a sculpture which does exist outside of St. Matthew’s Cathedral off of Connecticut Avenue. There’s a monument there to the nuns of the battlefield. If you look that up, yes, there it is. That was donated by the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They invested in all sorts of Irish stuff. I have where they bought shares to [indecipherable 22:32] , Irish Free Press, which was the newspaper in Ireland. My great‑grandfather named two of his sons after Irish patriots, at least their middle names. One was Michael Parnell. So he was named after Charles Parnell, who was an Irish member of Parliament. He named my grandfather James Davitt Linskey.
Nobody ever heard of James Davitt, but James Davitt lived in the county Mayo, Ireland, and was a big promoter of what was called the Land League in Ireland, which was supposed to break up these English estates and give land to the peasants so to speak. They kept up those contacts. They also kept up contacts with their relatives who didn’t immigrate. In fact, we still keep up the contacts. I’ve gone to visit distant cousins in Westport. Though they never went back to visit, they kept up a stream of letters, most of which I have. So they kept the contacts.
John: Just one more question about something you said.
John: You said that your dad moved from Georgetown. Just out of curiosity, where did he end up moving to?
Patricia: Right here.
John: In this house?
Patricia: He moved to the wilds of the Palisades. But the house had a garage and you could park here.
John: Which I suppose was why you left in the first place.
John: Would you mind if we talked a little bit? You said that you went to public schools your whole way through.
Patricia: Yeah. And so did my dad, and so did his sisters. It’s probably more interesting to start with my dad.
John: Yeah, that’s fine.
Patricia: He went to what’s now called Hyde‑Addison. There were actually three schools down there then. There was the Hyde, the Addison, and the Curtis. The Curtis has now been torn down.
John: Where was that? Do you know?
Patricia: It was adjacent to the Hyde and the Addison. They were, like, three of them. I think the Curtis was also on, what would it be, P Street? The Hyde’s on O Street, right?
John: Yeah, I think that’s right.
Patricia: Addison’s on P. The Curtis was also, I think, on P. They all sort of shared a playground that was between the two, between the three. As much as I can figure it out, kind of like the younger grades went to the Curtis, at that time, at least when his older sisters went there, the school went through eighth grade. There was no junior high or middle school. You went through eighth grade to an elementary school and then went to high school. I think it sort of split up on grades. I know my dad went to the Curtis and then probably went to the Addison. By the time he came along, they were just establishing junior highs. So for junior high school he went to what’s now Hardy Middle School, but was then Gordon Junior High, which had just opened.
John: Then for high school…
Patricia: High school, the D.C. public schools seemed to have specialized high schools then. The neighborhood high school would have been Western High School, which would have been just a sort of no specialization, just a regular academic high school I guess you might say. But none of my dad nor his sisters went there. His sisters went to business high school, which specialized in, I guess, business stuff. My dad went to McKinley Technical High School, which has been reestablished as a technical high school. But it was fairly new, I think, when he went.
John: Do you know if it was in the same location?
Patricia: Yep, same location, by the train tracks out there off of New York Avenue. So that’s where he went. I don’t know why, living at the same place, I grew up at the same house my dad did. He went to Hyde‑Addison‑Curtis, which was still there when I was going to elementary school in 1950. But for some reason I went to Jackson Elementary School, which is across from Rock Creek Park on R Street between 31st, 30th?
John: Do you know if that’s still there?
Patricia: It’s still there, not as a school. It’s now the Jackson Art Center. I suppose it may still belong to the D.C. public schools, but it’s rented out to artists for studios. They, a couple of times a year, have open houses of their studios. It’s now called the Jackson Art Center. It’s right across from Montrose Park, east of Dumbarton Oaks.
John: So it’s still in Georgetown. It’s not across the park, is it?
Patricia: No, it’s in Georgetown.
John: You know what? I know the building you’re talking about.
Patricia: Yeah, red brick. I went to school there, but some of the friends of my age who lived further down in the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, closer to Q Street, they went to Hyde. Don’t ask me. I don’t know if there was some kind of dividing line or how come I ended up going to Jackson as did a kid a couple of houses down from us. We all went to Jackson. But my friend who lived closer to Q Street, but on the same side of Wisconsin Avenue, had to cross Wisconsin Avenue, went to Hyde. So who knows? At that time Fillmore was also, which is on 35th Street near Hardy, that also pulled kids from some part of Georgetown. There were three white, because at this time they were segregated schools, three white elementary schools feeding Georgetown. Of course I went to Jackson through the sixth grade. Then for seventh, eight, and ninth I went to Gordon Junior High School, just like my dad. In fact we had the same art teacher. The old lady was still there. But for high school, I did go to Western High School.
John: Did you walk to school? Were most of your friends from school?
Patricia: I walked to school all the time. My mom never drove. Living in Georgetown when I grew up in the 50s, just about everything we needed was in Georgetown and you could walk to it.
John: But your family owned a car?
Patricia: Yeah, we owned a car, yeah, always. My dad was a car nut. Always owned just one, but he was always sure to have one. We walked to the grocery store, which was where Safeway is now, eventually, but two incarnations back of what it was. At that time it was out on the street, then they tore that one down, put one with a big parking lot in front, and moved it back. Now, they’ve moved it back to the street. There were also other stores. Down on the 1500 block of Wisconsin Avenue, was the co‑op. Which was a grocery store, a co‑operative grocery store, smaller than a Safeway. Of course, Neems Market was always there, further down at P and Wisconsin, I guess P.
John: How did the co‑op work? You had to be a member?
Patricia: Yeah. You had to be a member.
John: Was your family always a member?
Patricia: No, they weren’t. They mainly went to the Safeway. My mom would walk there. There was a Peoples Drugstore at, let me see if I can find an address for that. There’s something called, “Cuates Restaurant” in there now, it’s the building just south of the gas station that burned down. It had a soda fountain, like most stores did then. There were cleaners all over the place. I fondly remember as a kid, the bookstore, called Sables, or Sabills? I never really knew what it might have been really called, it was on P Street, on the west side of Wisconsin. On the south side of P Street, there was a shoe repair store, at 1434 Wisconsin Avenue. Moving on, to things of more interest to my dad, there were two hardware stores that we used to walk to. One was Weavers, on Wisconsin Avenue, well‑known Weavers, I think they still are on the upper floors of that building there, far down Wisconsin, just north of them on the west side. There was also, Meenehan’s Hardware at about 3213 M Street. For auto repair stuff there was a Pep Boys. They’re still around, but not in Georgetown, on the south side of M Street, east of Wisconsin. West on Wisconsin on the south side of M Street was Southern Distributors, which sold auto parts and stuff. It’s now, Dean and DeLuca, but it used to sell auto parts.
There were all sorts of hair salons that were less fancy than those there now. I also fondly remember now, let me see if I can get the address here, 1629 Wisconsin Avenue, when I was a kid, this shows how retail kind of came up Wisconsin Avenue towards us. At 1629, was a record shop called, Learmots, L‑E‑A‑R‑M‑O‑T‑S, where I could go buy records, LPs. This was before 45’s.
John: Could we talk a little more about schools. That’s very interesting to me. Do you have any siblings?
John: No. You had no siblings, OK. You must have lived through desegregation, right?
John: You must have been going to school during Brown versus Board, and everything?
John: What do you remember about that?
Patricia: I remember, because it was really something different, the first black kid, African‑Amercian kid, to come to Jackson school, in my grade.
John: OK. How old were you at the time?
Patricia: It was second grade, so I must have been, second or third grade, so I probably was about eight, nine. Not that we picked on him, or anything, but he was different. I also remember, we had a guy from France, and I even remember his name too. It was just different people.
John: What were their names?
Patricia: The African‑American boy was named Reginald Beeson.
John: Reginald Beeson, do you know how to spell Beeson?
Patricia: Not really, probably, B‑E‑E‑S‑O‑N.
John: Yeah. That’s probably a pretty good guess.
Patricia: I don’t remember the french guys last name. His first name, we were told to call him, Jean, because we probably couldn’t pronounce Jean, so it was J‑E‑A‑N was his first name. It was interesting going to school, at that time in Georgetown, especially in elementary school, you’d get more of the neighborhood kids, would go to the public elementary schools at the time. We had an eclectic mix of people, sort of like us, who lived in Georgetown forever, and were solidly middle‑class. You’d get people, who were the children of Foreign Service Officers, and they’d be here two years. Then they’d go off, and be posted somewhere else. Sometimes, they’d come back, and you got to see them again. It was hard to form friendships with these folks, but I did have one good friend whose dad was with the state department. Who, much to my eagerness, went off to live in Moscow in the 50’s, and then came back.
John: Wow. OK.
Patricia: In junior high, between elementary school and junior high, some of the local kids then switched over to private school, but some still continued through junior high. The vast exodus, you might say, of local kids to private schools, happened really between junior high and high school.
John: These private schools these kids were going to were?
Patricia: They might go to St. Albans, National Cathedral, Marret. They would be all over the place.
John: It’s sort of the same now‑a‑days. These two kids that really stand out in your mind, Jean, and Reginald Beason, do you remember at all if they were excluded?
Patricia: No, as far as I remember, they just became part of the class. I know Reginald Beeson was a friendly, but quiet, kid. Who probably felt like he stuck out. He was in my reading group, which was fine. By the time I got to fifth grade, which was the last grade in elementary school, we had quite a number of African‑American kids.
John: Were they all from Georgetown?
Patricia: I don’t really know. Some of them probably came from just east of the park, in DuPont Circle area. I believe some of the white kids came from that area also. They went on with me through Gordon junior high school, and through high school.
John: You don’t remember any stigma?
Patricia: I really don’t. Now, I don’t remember my parents talking about it. I’m sure it was a subject of conversation, but at least they were smart enough not to…
John: Bring it up.
Patricia: …bring it up to me, or talk about it in my presence. There always were a number of African‑American people who lived in Georgetown.
Patricia: We really didn’t know any of them. It was a segregated city. There were certain blocks that were, or certain areas, that were African‑American people. And their churches, which still exist to this day. In fact, I sort of have a funny, in a way, story. After I went off to graduate school in New Mexico, and I got married. I lived in New Mexico for many, many years, and my husband was from Wyoming, and our daughter was born out in New Mexico. Really, my family then became, very much, a westerner family. We used to come back to visit, bring back my daughter to visit her grandparents in this house here on Greenplace. Once, riding around with my dad in his car, he was driving, we happened to be going out P Street, in Georgetown, eastern part of P Street. My daughter who was maybe four, was in the car, three, four, and my dad said, “Look what they’ve done to the black people’s houses.” He was showing me, that this row of houses on the north side of P Street, sort of overlooking Rock Creek Park in Georgetown, had all been renovated, and painted up, and gentrified, if you will. He was saying to me, “Look what they’ve done to the black people’s houses.”
No, what he actually said was, and this is what makes it funny, he said, “Look what they’ve done to the colored people’s houses.” Because that’s what he generally referred to African‑Americans, as colored people, “Look what they’ve done to the colored people’s houses.” My daughter got this wide eyed look, and she said, “What color were they?” [laughter] Because, she never heard black, African‑American people referred to as colored people. So she thought there might be some color of people that had escaped her, like purple, or green, or something. She was wondering, “What color were they?”
John: That’s very funny.
Patricia: That really was kind of funny.
John: Just a couple other historical things. You must have been here during the Kennedy election? During the Kennedy campaign?
John: Among the Irish community, do you remember the [crosstalk] .
Patricia: Oh, yeah. That was a great big thing. Everybody was staunchly democratic. Everybody was really behind John F. Kennedy, as the first, well not only Irish, but Catholic President. My dad said, at one time there had been an earlier run by a person who was catholic for president…
John: Back in the 1920’s, Al Smith.
Patricia: Al Smith. My dad remembers he had an Al Smith bumper sticker on the back of his little red wagon in the 1920’s. [laughs] Yeah, it was a big deal.
John: Kennedy lived in DC, during part of the campaign, didn’t he?
Patricia: Yeah. He actually lived in that house on N Street, which was right next to a house that had been Dr. Reade’s house, which was right on the corner of 31st, and N there, the northwest corner. I think Kennedy’s was the second house in. Anyway, Dr. Reade had married… let me see if I can get this right. My great‑grandfathers sister married Dan Stanton, the baker, and her daughter married this Reade, who is Dr. Reade who had the house at 31st and N. No longer by the time the Kennedy’s lived there. We knew where he lived, and all that stuff. The Ahearns that I mentioned, that lived on Q Street. The brother of that family, Pat Ahearn, ran a newspaper stand down on M Street that Jack Kennedy used to go to, to buy newspapers.
John: That’s cool, so he was around?
Patricia: He was around, yeah.
John: Were you here for the assassination? Do you remember?
Patricia: Yep. I was going to George Washington University. I was a freshman. We were waiting outside for math class in the afternoon when the announcement came. They let us off from class. The whole town basically shut down for a week, or so. My whole family went to the funeral procession. Well stood on the street, on Connecticut Avenue, when the funeral procession went from the White House to St. Mathew’s. We stood there across from the Mayflower hotel, and watched all these kings and queens, I mean, Prince Phillip, and the whole mess go by. Konrad Adenauer, and the whole crew was walking up Connecticut Avenue.
John: Everyone has their own story about that moment. It’s so interesting. Then the other thing is, do you remember when RFK was killed?
Patricia: Yep. I wasn’t in DC, but that time I was on the train. I went to college, and ended up getting a PHD in anthropology, so what I was doing was going to an archeological field school in Arizona. Since I had never been out west I decided I want to take the train, rather than fly. This is 1968, right?
John: Yeah. Summer of ’68?
Patricia: Yeah. I had taken the train from DC to New Orleans. You had to switch trains in New Orleans, and you also had to stay overnight. The train left New Orleans at noon the next day to go west. I stayed overnight in New Orleans. I got up real early, because it was my only chance to walk around the French Quarter. It was me and all the vegetable delivery guys at 6 AM at the French Quarter, but I wanted to see it. I went in the big cathedral there on Jackson Square, St. Louis Cathedral. They happened to be having a mass going on. How I found out that Robert had been shot was that they prayed for him in the mass, and announced it. Otherwise I didn’t know. He was shot, but wasn’t dead. I got on the train, well, nobody had transistor radios, or cell phones, or anything, so by the time I got to El Paso, I saw flags at half staff and I knew he had died. That was kind of weird. Doesn’t have anything to do with DC.
John: If you were leaving in that part of ’68, were you here for the riots?
Patricia: Yes, I was here. I still was going to school at George Washington. At the time I went to this field school, so I stayed in DC until 1970. That’s when I left for good, you might say. Until 30 years later I had to come back. Yeah, I was here in 1968. I was going to school, but I was also working part‑time at the National Science Foundation, which at that time was down on G Street, just west of the White House…East of George Washington University, but west of the White House. I had a car, and since I was still going to GW, I could park at GW. When the riots started a couple of the secretaries, at the National Science Foundation, lived over in Virginia, and didn’t know how to get there, so I offered to take them home to Virginia, because the buses were all screwed up. I took them home to Virginia, and I remember coming back to DC over Key Bridge, might have been Memorial Bridge. I remember seeing smoke rising.
I know at that time my family lived here, but was renting out at 1657. Because once they moved out, in about 1966, they renovated that house at 1657 into a store. They converted it into a store, with an apartment above. Put quite a bit of money into it, converting it into a retail place. It was rented out at the time, but we still owned it. My dad was concerned that something would happen there, but nothing ever did.
As far as I know Georgetown was, more or less, untouched. It was interesting, because when I was a small girl, we used to go over to 14th street to do shopping. 14th and, I don’t know, U I suppose. There was some shoe store over there that had held some attraction to somebody. We used to go over there. Well we never went after the riots.
John: What do you remember, when you were in junior high, and high school, what sort of freedom did you have? What did you and your friends do for fun?
Patricia: I can say it was mostly Georgetown based. My mom didn’t drive, so she didn’t shuffle us around, and everything. We had a Girl Scout troop that met at Christ Church, at O and 31st, I believe. We met in their Parish hall called, [indecipherable 49:00] hall, which is on O Street. Still there, of course. The Christ Church, it was an Episcopal church, it wasn’t an Irish‑catholic troop by no means. It was based on kids that went to the public schools. I think our troop leader went to that church, and they were good enough to allow us to use her area. I went quite a bit to what we knew as Georgetown Playground, but is now called Volta Park on Q Street.
John: Was the swimming pool there?
Patricia: The swimming pool was there, so we did go swimming there. The tennis courts were there, so I played a lot of tennis on those tennis courts. They also had, I’m sure much to the horror of the people living across from those tennis courts on Q Street, a wooden backboard on the fence on the tennis courts. If there was nobody to play with, you could whap against this wooden backboard. That must have been horribly irritating. You know, wonk, wonk, wonk [laughs] all day long. My friends and I used to go there quite a bit. We would go sledding in Montrose Park. The backside of Montrose Park adjoins the backside of Dumbarton Oaks. If you really got going good down this one hill, you could go down what we called Lovers Lane, and get almost to Rock Creek itself on a sled, if the snow was just right. But that was rare. It was also kind of scary.
John: I think I know where you’re talking about. The passage is still there.
Patricia: We went a lot to Montrose Park for sledding. I played a lot on what’s now called Book Hill Park.
John: Yeah, by the library. The library was there?
Patricia: The library was there. In fact, I usually went to the library to do homework, to do papers and stuff. The library was there. The park part, on the top, the more fancy part of that park, the steps were still there that go up from Reservoir Road. They wind up to the top of the hill.
John: That must have been right by your house, right?
Patricia: Yeah. Just up the street from my house. We played a lot on that hill. There are also steps left over from when there actually was a reservoir on top. I’ll talk about that in a minute, because my dad remembers the reservoir. There were steps that went up. There’s a big stone wall there along Wisconsin Avenue. Just inside that wall are steps that go up, cement steps, actually. They were kind of overgrown, but you could whack your way through there and play on them. I hate to admit it, but we used to push leaves off the wall on top of people, being devilish and bad. We played a lot there at Book Hill Park. My dad remembers when the reservoir was actually on top. At that time, I don’t believe the reservoir was still active, but it was still there. He remembers it had a promenade. It’s hard to explain, but it was a big cast iron dome over the top of the water. Surrounding it was a promenade or a walk, with lights that I suppose maybe started out as gas lights that had big cast iron dolphins on them. It’s was kind of fancied up.
John: But it was a working reservoir?
Patricia: It originally had been. When my dad was little I’m not sure whether it still was, but it was still there.
John: And the water was still there?
Patricia: And the water was still there. Because he said he and his friends figured out a way to get some door open and they could throw rocks down and hear it plunk down into the water, down inside this great, big cast‑iron dome, which sounds kind of freaky. But it wasn’t an open stretch of water, it was covered up with this cast‑iron dome. So he evidently played at what’s now Book Hill Park, too.
John: As well.
Patricia: And he remembered…
John: As did I when I was a little kid.
Patricia: OK. He remembers sledding down the hill, at Book Hill Park. There’s a small, maybe two‑and‑half foot high wall at the bottom now. That wasn’t there then so the hill just went down. But they could start, they would put a kid at Wisconsin Avenue and they would put another kid down on at Q Street. What they would do is they’d come down the hill from Book Hill Park, they’d cross Wisconsin Avenue on the sled, they’d go down 33rd Street comes into Wisconsin right there.
John: Yeah, got it.
Patricia: They’d keep going down 33rd Street, across Q. They had the kid to watch out for traffic, you know? They’d put a kid at each intersection. I think they kind of petered out south of Q Street, and then they used to catch a ride with the dairyman, or somebody with his horse and wagon. Usually it was a horse. Would pull them back up, so they didn’t have to walk back up, and then they could go down again.
John: That’s a long run.
Patricia: Yeah, that’s a long run, so I’m really not so sure. Maybe if the snow was hard you could get that far.
John: In the end, I guess the traffic must have been a lot less.
Patricia: Yeah, there was a lot less traffic. The traffic there always was a trolley, though, that ran up Wisconsin Avenue.
John: Running on tracks.
Patricia: Running on tracks.
Patricia: It came west on M Street, turned up Wisconsin Avenue, and it went up to Friendship Heights, where now the Friendship Heights Metro station is. There’s kind of a bus turnaround thing there. The trolley did a turnaround there.
Patricia: And then from there, also from Georgetown, running up the same tracks would be, my dad remembered, a much larger trolley car that would go all the way to Rockville.
John: Wow, OK.
Patricia: That one wasn’t there when I was a kid, but the other one was. It had a trolley. By the time it got to the 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue, it was running on overhead wires. There used to be what they called the plow pit, further down on Wisconsin. I remember this, certainly below Q probably, between P and Q, or around P, where the trolley switched from underground electricity to overhead. They had to unhook. The plow pit meant the plow, which was what they called the… My ignorance is showing. It’s where the trolley connected to the electricity underneath. There was a guy down there who disconnected the arm of the trolley that ran in the slot down there underneath, and got to the electricity, they put that up and then they raised another arm to hit the overhead wire so that the trolley would get electricity from the overhead wires. It went north. Wisconsin Avenue, north of P Street had all these overhead wires for the trolley in the middle. Also, another facet of living on Wisconsin Avenue in the 50’s was it was the main truck route through D.C., but they kept trucks out until after 6:00 PM.
After 6:00 PM, all these trucks would come across Key Bridge, out M Street and start pulling the hill up Wisconsin Avenue to go to Rockville, of course, going through a million gears and making all sorts of racket. They all had these exhaust things. It wasn’t out the back. There was an exhaust that went up by the cab, believe it or not, and hung over and spewed out exhaust right at you on the street. It was kind of noisy living on Wisconsin Avenue, very noisy with trucks and with the trolleys. It was also interesting, because the trucks would sometimes break down, and they occasionally had curious things in them. I remember once, this is really bizarre, a truck broke down between Q and P on Wisconsin that had a hippopotamus in it.
John: No kidding?
Patricia: No kidding. It wasn’t one of these huge trucks. Don’t ask me. The hippopotamus maybe was going to the zoo somehow. While they were stuck there, they opened half of the back and the hippopotamus had its head sticking out. A kid of four remembered the hippopotamus.
John: I bet.
Patricia: Also, trucks would occasionally lose their brakes coming down Wisconsin Avenue.
John: Going down south, the other way?
Patricia: Yeah, going south. Coming down the hill. I remember one lost its brakes in the 1600 block. He had remembered, I guess he’d done this route a long time, that just across from 1657 there was a vacant lot, as indeed there was when I was a little kid. Right across, just north of what became the French Market, but it was then Mrs. Collins’ store, was a vacant lot where you could see right through to 32nd Street. There was big tree in it. This guy had lost his brakes, he thought, “I’ll just put this truck in that lot. That’s about the best I can do. Maybe the tree’ll stop me,” who knows what. Except, by then, unfortunately, it had been build across with the store that’s still there, Jennifer Convertibles. Much to his horror, Jennifer Convertibles was there, so instead he put the truck up on the sidewalk and scraped down the front of Jennifer Convertibles and managed to stop it.
John: At least he didn’t go barreling all the way down.
Patricia: No, that was scary. He knew that it’s basically downhill from there. He had to stop that truck somehow. He managed to get it up on the sidewalk. Another thing, growing up, there were a lot more corner stores than there are now. I’ve talked about Mrs. Collins’ store across Wisconsin Avenue in what became the northernmost part of the French Market, which ended up with, I think, three houses there. Anyway, that was Mrs. Collins’. At the southwest corner of 32nd and Reservoir Road was a corner store that was handy to hit on my way back and forth to elementary school.
Patricia: Let’s see, where else were there? There was a corner store at the corner of 33rd and Q on the southwest corner that’s now a house. A lot of stores got their fronts kind of converted to a house, they’re not stores anymore.
Patricia: So on that same block that has Volta Park now, OK, corner store there. There was a corner store over, must be 34th Street, and I think it still is a store on the southeast corner of 34th and Volta, it might be. It’s weird. I never quite learned the names of the streets in Georgetown. I lived there until I was twenty‑something, but, you know, I didn’t talk about them like, “What street is that? Oh, yeah, over there, you know, the corner store, yeah.” Of course, Morton’s Pharmacy, that really wasn’t a corner store, but that was there. And we used to walk to all of these from our house especially in the summer, because you’d go to one of them for this kind of ice cream cone, and then another corner store would have snowballs, you know the cup of shaved ice with sweetening in it, and then another one would have something else.
So it was kind of weird. That was kind of the entertainment at night was to walk to one of these corner stores and buy some kind of ice cream or snowball‑type thing. We’d also occasionally walk down to the little tavern down at Wisconsin and, here’s where I’m losing it, Dumbarton, I’m not quite sure, on the west side of the street? What is it at? Wisconsin and what? I’m not quite sure. On the west side of the street. Well, anyway, where the little tavern was it’s now a restaurant still.
Patricia: Wisconsin and N, northwest corner of Wisconsin and N. OK, that was a little tavern. Where the CVS is, which before was a People’s drug, but before that it was the Connecticut Pie Company, northwest corner of Wisconsin and O, or east corner of Wisconsin and O. Yeah, and the little tavern was the northeast corner of Wisconsin and N. Anyway, northeast corner of Wisconsin and O was the Connecticut Pie Company. I think by the time I came along it was no longer a pie company, but I remember the building, but my dad remembers they always used to go down there and buy their pies.
John: Bought their pies, OK.
Patricia: And, of course, my dad remembers when there was the iceman who had a horse and a wagon and would come around selling ice, because people had ice-boxes rather than refrigerators. The junk man kind of came around with his horse and wagon, too. I don’t remember any horses and wagons. They were long gone by the time I got there, but I do remember the scissor grinder would come around. He walked on foot with a big A‑frame thing in his back that had a grinding wheel so he’d sharpen knives and scissors and stuff. Oh, it was interesting. My dad, as I said, went to school at the Hyde‑Addison Curtis Complex. The Curtis School interestedly at that time had the Peabody Room. It’s since moved up to the Georgetown library. So the Curtis School had the Peabody collection. But, anyway, also going to that school when he was really young were canal boat kids, because the canal was still running as a commercial canal. Not very much. We’re talking like the twenties here, early twenties. But the canal, some of the canal boats would over winter in Georgetown so their kids lived on the canal boats and would come up to Curtis High Addison School, which was the closest school.
So he remembers that. He remembers, it must have been one of his youngest memories, because he used to tell me quite fondly about the fire station on the south side of Wisconsin Avenue next to where the City Tavern is now. It’s sort of part of the Georgetown Park complex, but if you look at this building just west of the City Tavern, it does have kind of big arches. It was a firehouse, and it had a horse‑drawn fire engine in there, and he remembered as a kid the highlight was to see those horses tear out of that station with the fire engine behind them.
John: I bet.
Patricia: So that was one of his fondest memories.
John: So anything else you want to share just as we sort of close it up?
Patricia: OK, let me keep looking here. What have I forgotten? Well, my dad also remembers before Key Bridge was there, there was the Aqueduct Bridge, and he remembers them tearing down Francis Scott Key’s mansion and promising when they built Key Bridge that there would be, you know, “We’re going to number all the stones, and we can rebuild it.” But, of course, they never did so that kind of made him mad.
John: That was very well known among the neighborhood that it was Francis Scott Key’s house? There was not enough pride?
Patricia: Yeah, well, I don’t know if was a matter of pride. It was kind of derelict, I think, but at one time I think it kind of sold souvenirs as Key Mansion or something. Byou know, kind of, but there was a sign on it for awhile, I don’t remember it all. Of course, Key Bridge was there when I was there. But I do remember the car barn there when it actually served the…
John: Was a car barn.
Patricia: When trolleys ran in one of those big doors there and came out the other one and turned around. What else? Let me see. You asked what I did as a kid. I used to ride my bicycle all over Georgetown. We used to go down to M Street on the bike to go to Woolworth’s, which is now where Urban Outfitters is. That was the Woolworth’s, the five and dime. Of course, it had a soda fountain, too, but it sold all sorts of stuff. I got to go loose. I got to run all over Georgetown as, you know, a kid of eight or nine even at night to go to Girl Scouts by myself. I used to walk by myself from 1657 down to Christ Church to go to Girl Scouts by myself. I used to walk by myself from 1657 down to Christ Church to go to girl scouts. It was very…
John: A different time.
Patricia: A different time, yeah. I’m not sure I would let my kid out at night to walk seven blocks to girl scouts. At that time, Georgetown, it had businesses, but they were kind of homegrown. There were none of the GAPs or Benetton or any of those. They were all more or less local businesses. In fact, my dad remembers, when he was a young man that M Street, the only time it got really busy was on Friday and Saturday night, because that’s when people from Virginia came into Georgetown to shop.
John: So it was still a bit of a shopping center?
Patricia: Yeah, M Street was. The bank there, which I knew as Riggs Bank, was called the Farmers and Mechanics Branch, which always seemed kind of weird to me. I said, “Why is it called Farmers and Mechanics?” My dad said, “That’s because the farmers and mechanics,” which didn’t necessarily mean car mechanics, it just laborers, etc, “would come from Arlington, across Aqueduct Bridge, and that’s where they did their banking and their shopping.” I don’t remember it. I never went clothes shopping in Georgetown. There really wasn’t much. But when my dad grew up there were like clothing stores, and things. They basically did all their shopping in Georgetown. Some of the stores hung around that are still there, like the Christ Child Opportunity shop was there when I was a kid. Little Caledonia that many people remember was there when I was a kid, so some of them were.
I guess some of the highlights of my life as a little kid were the big fires in Georgetown. The first one I remember was on 32nd Street when a frame house, which I went and looked at the address. When it burned we just walked around the corner and watched. It was at 1687 32nd Street, that was not far.
John: Do you remember how old you were? What year that was?
Patricia: I would guess probably about 1952, 1953, 1954. I don’t know, something in there.
John: Somewhere around then?
Patricia: Yeah, and then Weaver’s Hardware. I know other people have talked about Weaver’s Hardware building burning. I was much older then, so sometime in the ’60s maybe.
Patricia: We stood across the street in the parking lot of the Riggs Bank, still is the parking lot there, and watched that burn.
John: What’s the address of that? Where was that?
Patricia: It’s on the west side of Wisconsin Avenue.
John: Where Abercrombie and Fitch is now?
Patricia: Yeah, in fact Abercrombie and Fitch might be in it, on the bottom floor. Weaver’s still sells, not retail, but to…
Patricia: Yeah, wholesale on the upper floors. They sell upscale fixtures and stuff. We watched that one burn. We all got our photos taken by the police who thought maybe the arsonist was wanting to watch it. And then the other neat fire was Gallagher’s Lumberyard, which was south of M street. I would say sort of where Georgetown harbor is, kind of around in there somewhere.
Patricia: Probably north of K, or Water Street they call it now I think. That one was an amazing fire.
John: I bet, a lumber yard.
Patricia: Yeah, it was. That was probably like 1967 maybe, that late.
John: What was that area south of N Street like when you were growing up? What was the waterfront like?
Patricia: It was very much industrial.
John: Totally different from it is now
Patricia: Totally industrial. I always remember it with the Whitehurst Freeway there. Of course, my dad remembers them building the Whitehurst Freeway. It was always very industrialized. I still remember when the rendering plant was there, Hopfenmeyer’s, which was, I guess, east of Wisconsin. I’m not sure where it was. It rendered grease and stuff into lard and soap and it stunk. Going to visit my great aunt living there on N Street, if the wind was right in the summer, you could smell Hopfenmeyer’s. Everybody yelled and screamed about it. The flour-mill down there said, “The objectionable odors you may encounter in this area do not emanate from this building.” It wasn’t the flour-mill, they wanted to make sure they knew that. You could get everything you wanted in Georgetown. Maybe I ought to end with one more funny story. There were several hardware stores. My dad, being a technical type person, was always Mr. do‑it‑yourself. Hardware stores and paint stores were very important to him. He was used to going down to Gallagher’s and Weaver’s and Meenehan’s and the lumber yard, but going to Weaver’s and buying a pound of this kind of nail or that kind of screw. You bought them by the pound. You got them in a little paper bag.
Later, he moved on out here, but he was working at the house there on Wisconsin Avenue, which we rented out. He wanted a pound of nails. He and I were there. He said, “I’ve seen, I think there’s a hardware store yet again in D.C., and I’m going to go down there and see if I can get a pound of nails.” I said, “Dad, what hardware store is that? I don’t remember any hardware stores down there in Georgetown.”
He said, “I saw it. I rode by and it was called Restoration Hardware.” I said, “Dad, I don’t think you’re going to get a pound of nails at a Restoration Hardware.” I managed to convince him it wasn’t quite that kind of hardware store. But that’s what he remembers Georgetown being like, not Restoration Hardware…it’s being Weaver’s Hardware, where you could buy a pound of nails.
John: Thank you very much, Mrs. Linksey. You’ve been great.
Patricia: I’m sure…