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The British Got Our Tunlaw Tree!

Updated: Sep 5, 2023

Many people quickly recognize that Tunlaw Road in Glover Park is “walnut” spelled backwards. Such a word is not technically a palindrome or an anagram, but sometimes is called an emordnilap or heteropalindrome, or an anadrome. What is the origin of this street name? Some lore exists, though the entire truth might have been lost to history.

In the Reconstruction era of the late 1800’s a 150 acre farm sat just outside Georgetown along a country lane, in what is now Wesley Heights. This farm eventually was named Tunlaw Farm and was purchased by Adolphus Pickrell in 1868. Pickrell ran the farm with his son-in-law Thomas Hume, who took over in 1879 when his father-in-law died at the young age of 58. They sold their produce and dairy products in Georgetown – advertising regularly in the Evening Star - and held annual cattle auctions on the farm.

The farm had two special attractions – a grand mansion, and an unusually large black walnut tree. A creative reporter, writing in 1916 for the Washington Times, described this tree as the largest one in the region, 125 feet high, and 21 feet in circumference with a bough spread of 150 feet. He claimed that the tree was 900 years old and might have been a sapling during the time of William the Conqueror when he invaded England in the 11th century. The tree did exist, as documented in the National Republican on October 8th, 1875 in which a reporter covered the presentation of a decorative gold-adorned silver bowl presented to Thomas Hume by his wealthy friends. The punch bowl was 200 ounces of solid silver, last seen publicly on display at the DC store of H. Semken, though we might need Indiana Jones to recover it now. Welded onto the side was a large medallion of gold which represented the giant walnut tree. The case was of black walnut lined with blue satin.

Mr. Hume was not just a farmer – he knew how to schmooze with the rich and powerful, who were frequent guests at Tunlaw Farm. This is where the lore of the Tunlaw name comes in. The creative Washington Times writer reported that President Ulysses S. Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman (at that time the Commanding General of the United States Army) were regular guests at the farm (which is factual). One day, they, along with a number of Congressmen, were sitting under the grand walnut at the still-unnamed farm in 1875 when the issue of the name came up, and one clever unidentified guest suggested walnut spelled backwards, and so it came to be. Some suggest the remark came from President Grant himself, but there is no such evidence. History suggests (though not confirmed) that the farm was named prior to this picnic of the rich and famous, though that would be boring and wouldn’t sell newspapers, or blogs. Thomas Hume’s grandson, George Hume, claimed that Mr. Hume built Tunlaw Road from what is now Wisconsin Avenue to his farm. It is true that he did need a horse-and-buggy route to get his produce to Georgetown. Part of that road now is named New Mexico Avenue north of Glover Park up to American University, which was the upper border of the farm. George, who was a loyal southerner (the Evening Star called them “a family of rebels” in 1957), adamantly claimed that Grant never was entertained at the farm when he was a general.

Well, this fairy tale doesn’t have a particularly happy ending. The grand mansion of Tunlaw Farm burned to the ground in 1889, then the property was sold to Thomas Waggaman, and after his death it was auctioned to a land syndicate. This syndicate cut down the walnut to sell to Great Britain in 1916 to make gunstock to aid the Allies in France during WWI. The price? $120, or $920 with eight other smaller walnuts in the package. Apparently England was entirely out of proper old hardwood trees necessary for gunstock. It is rumored that the British tree agent approached Charles Glover as well, to get more walnut trees from his property (in what is now Glover Park) but he gave the agent the cold shoulder.

In other news, as reported by the Washington Times on the same day (see newspaper clip below):

Mildred Pfeffer, a cabaret singer, was singing at a hotel in St. Louis and handing out paper chickens when guests at the AAA Club convention lifted her up on a table. She continued to sing and dance and was promptly seized by two detectives and escorted out of the hotel for immodest behavior. She claimed innocence and hired an attorney.

James Brewer, captain of the steamship Wilomena, was arrested by federal marshals for allowing Patrick Gallagher and Michael McGrath to escape his ship. These two Irish stowaways fleeing military duty were “ordered deported as undesirable aliens by the immigration commissioner.” Captain Brewer pleaded not guilty and was released on $1,000 bail pending trial.


Do you know someone who would love to live in Glover Park and become part of the Tunlaw lore? 2306 Tunlaw Road is coming on the market on Tuesday 9/5 for $1,100,000. Click here to review the property details, photos, floor plan and a cool 3D virtual walk through.

Chris Jones



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