The Brookdale community started with several developers’ dreams, but the land had many uses before that. Brookdale is part of a large 1713 land grant called “Friendship.” Echoes of the land grant are in local place names: the Friendship Post Office Station on Wisconsin Avenue, NW; Friendship Boulevard to the east of Brookdale; and the Village of Friendship Heights just north of Willard Avenue. The area was primarily farmland, with a scattering of homes in the 1800s through the 1920s. And indigenous people are thought to have lived nearby.
Fort Bayard, Fort Simmons, and Battery Bailey were the outposts of Union soldiers used to protect the city of Washington during the Civil War.
Cooper Lightbown was a builder in Palm Beach, Florida, who, in 1918, rose to prominence primarily for his part in building Mar-a-Lago, the 117-room estate owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post. In 1938, Lightbown began to divide farmland on both sides of River Road into plots. Lightbown and his successor firm, Lightbown and Associates, created several house types for Brookdale, identified by roof form, number of stories, and number of bays on the house’s main block. As head of Cooper Lightbown and Sons, he built eighty percent or 126 of the 157 homes within the survey area. In the late 1930s, and after Mr. Lightbown’s death in 1941, houses were designed by Mr. Lightbown’s nephew, Charles Stanley Lightbown (known as Stanley).
Brookdale lies in the northern, or Stoddert, half of a 3,124 acre tract called Friendship, patented in 1713 to Thomas Addison and James Stoddert (grandfather of Benjamin Stoddert, first Secretary of the U.S. Navy, who inherited the property). The original tract ran from near Sibley Hospital to the Washington Cathedral and on up to Old Georgetown Road. By 1790, its northern half had been divided among five different families, with Brookdale lying in the 400 acre part belonging to John Threlkeld (sometime mayor of Georgetown). The southeast corner of the Threlkeld property was marked by a stone (inscription still visible) that can be seen in an alley near 41st and Fessenden Streets, NW. Almost as long in place as that stone, but in Brookdale, is the Northeast No. 6 milestone marker erected in 1792 as part of the survey of the boundaries of the territory of Columbia directed by Major Andrew Ellicott. In 1916, the DAR put up the iron fence that still surrounds this stone, which lies between Western Avenue and Park Place.
Park Place is part of an early 19th century road that gave access from the Shoemaker farms to River Road. The Shoemaker family cemetery can be visited via an alley behind Earlston Drive. In the Civil War defenses of Washington, Park Place was part of a connecting link between Fort Bayard and Fort Simmons. Fort Bayard, which extended from the present park into Brookdale, was where the left side of the line rested during the battle of Fort Stevens in July, 1864. Brookdale’s other old thoroughfare, River Road, was, along with lower Wisconsin Avenue, part of an ancient path to the Indian village of Canavest near Harpers Ferry. In the early 18th century, it was a “rolling” road used to transport tobacco barrels to the port of Georgetown. In 1755, it was widened to accommodate part of the army of General Braddock on its ill-fated expedition in the French and Indian wars.
Apart from Benjamin Stoddert and John Threlkeld, early landowners in Brookdale who held important public offices included Thomas Sim Lee (Governer of MD) and Nathan Loughborough (Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury). The latter bought the farm called “Milton” in 1808 [Montgomery County deeds show that the farm was purchased in 1820, 1822, and 1838] and built a house there on the site of a 17th century Indian trading post. This house, which has been designated a Maryland historic landmark, is located at the end of Allandale Road in Green Acres and can be seen from Little Falls Parkway.