Then & Now: A rumination on Heurich’s dairy farm

BY RANDY FLETCHER — As I wait for the light to turn green at the corner of Belcrest Road and Route 410, I wonder what it felt like to be here, at this very spot, before what I see now was standing. What would the ground feel like beneath my feet? What would the air smell like? Crisp apples? Honey? Wheat?

Rewind: 1916

The lovely, two-story clapboard house with wrap-around porch and striped awnings stands to the right, a quiet oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the growing city. The owner, a wealthy brewer with a towering Gilded-Age mansion in the city, comes to this shaded summer retreat with his family to get the prescribed rest and country fresh air they need.

Driving up the road, I can see them in the distance, standing like sentinels watching over this land — eight tall structures made of concrete. Their purpose is mysterious, these strong vessels made to endure. “Missiles” was a rumor at one point, but seeing the surrounding land, it seems apparent that they hold feed for the cows that graze here. These concrete silos were not built to contain weapons of destruction, but rather to preserve precious grain.

The barn, a strangely unusual concrete structure, looks like it was made to stand forever. Fireproof. Fool proof. The ceilings, made of concrete and iron, soar above without apparent support — an advance in constructive science. Architects from all over the land come to marvel at the success of this undertaking.

We’re driving past the barn now, and the immense herd is coming into view: gleaming, gorgeously healthy creatures. They are Holsteins and Durham and the famous Angler stock that roam these pastures. As we approach the narrow bridge crossing the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River, we can see some of the cattle cooling themselves in the crystalline waters. The sire of the herd, “Design Again,” will one day fetch $3,700.  

The owner has taken great care of and has given personal attention to every detail of this farm. As with his brewing company, “purity” is his watchword. Bellevue — “beautiful view” — is the name of this dairy farm.

According to the owner, Bellevue milk is the purest and cleanest in the land. Healthy cows deliver healthful milk. The milk is pumped using the most sanitary and modern equipment. Two hundred gallons a day are processed, and bottled. Sold for ten cents a quart, but deemed to be worth much more, it is then delivered by the Bellevue wagons to the city for distribution to Washington’s most exacting citizens.

The farm stood for years as a testament to agricultural ingenuity. But soon the city encroached upon the countryside, and the dairy farm was sold, the buildings razed.

Fast Forward

Suddenly, it’s today. I can no longer see the farm and summer retreat. The strong silos and barn of concrete are gone, replaced by concrete of a different sort. Massive buildings and paved roadways have replaced the agricultural buildings. The springs have dried up or have been forced elsewhere. Thousands of people visit the mall where once stood a home for quiet, rest and fresh air.

The light turns green. It’s beautiful outside, and I have the windows rolled down. I can hear music all around me: Latin, rhythm and blues, top 40 hits. I don’t hear the sound of cowbells, nor do I know if the Bellevue herd wore them. Instead of cows slowly roaming the fields, herds of vehicles quickly pass through, unaware of what once was.

All that remains of the dairy farm is a pond shaped like a 9 and the name of a German immigrant who brought beer to Washington, DC. The name of a man who arrived with little money and no title, but who, at one time, owned more land and employed more people than anyone else in the city, other than the federal government. Even the massive brewery that he built in the District is gone, replaced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. What remains of the farm is the name of a field at DeMatha High School and a park, both called Heurich — after a man named Christian Heurich.  

Addendum

Bellevue, a 376-acre estate in West Hyattsville, was once the summer home of the late Washington brewer, Christian Heurich, and a first-class dairy farm. Heurich immigrated from Germany to the United States in 1866. In 1872, he founded Christian Heurich Brewing Company in Washington, DC. The brewery was first located at Dupont Circle, and then, in 1895, was relocated to a much larger site between what is now the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge and the Kennedy Center. The brewery closed in 1956 and was torn down in 1961. The Heurichs lived in a mansion, sometimes called the Brewmaster’s Castle, at Dupont Circle. Heurich’s breweries suffered several fires, which led him to build his brewery, his house and the dairy farm structures to withstand fire. His Washington residence is now a museum (Heurich House Museum), and is open to the public. Christian Heurich died at the age of 102 in 1945.

The Hyattsville Preservation Association seeks to engage residents in the preservation and promotion of the many historic homes and buildings in our city: www.preservehyattsville.org. Information in “Rewind: 1916” portion taken from an Evening Star article, February 24, 1901.