Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Top of the Town": Neighborhood Celebrates Heritage Trail

Community members pose with "Top of the Town"  Heritage Trail Sign 5, Fort Reno, November 13, 2010.
What Washington neighborhood hosted the second Nixon-Kennedy presidential debate and introduced Kermit the Frog to the world?  Hint: It's the same neighborhood that boasts the highest elevation in the District of Columbia.

If you guessed Tenleytown, you are correct.  It's a neighborhood that's played an important role in three wars -- it's where women of the U.S. Navy broke the Japanese code during World War II -- and started as a tiny, rural village centered around John Tennally's tavern, centuries before the Dancing Crab restaurant was established and years before the area was chosen as part of the nation's capital.

"This neighborhood is a vital piece of the history of D.C., and its past and present continue to shape life here," said Cultural Tourism D.C.'s Executive Director Linda Harper.

Today, Cultural Tourism D.C. joined neighborhood residents for the official unveiling of "Top of the Town: Tenleytown Heritage Trail," the city's eleventh neighborhood trail and the first to be established in Ward 3.  The ceremony took place at Fort Reno Bandstand, the site where Union soldiers once camped to protect the nation's capital from Confederate invasion.

Fort Reno is one of nineteen sites -- specifically, number five on the trail -- on this self-guided, walking tour.  Those interested in taking the tour can start at any one of the nineteen locations.  Trail guides are available in both English and Spanish from merchants and institutions along the way as well as at

While representatives of Cultural Tourism D.C. hope the heritage trails will encourage visitors to our nation's capital to explore the city beyond the Mall, they also encourage locals to give them a try.

"When you live in a community, and you have your everyday life, you might take your neighborhood for granted.  You might even think you really know your neighborhood," Jane Freundel Levey, Cultural Tourism D.C.'s Director of Heritage Programs told me.  "But take a walk in your neighborhood, follow one of our heritage trails, and find out what you don't know about your community.  We encourage residents to take their families -- and friends -- on these trails, and we hope they really enjoy them."

Befitting the neighborhood's historic association with the media (you can learn more about that history at "Top of the Town" heritage trail site eighteen), NBC 4 reporter Chris Gordon and WAMU's Metro Connection producer Rebecca Sheir hosted the unveiling ceremony.

"What we've seen here today is civic activism, neighborhood participation, and it's really wonderful," Mr. Gordon said.

Ward 3 Council Member Mary Cheh also spoke at the ceremony.  More than an estimated 100 residents attended, including several families who have lived in the neighborhood for five or six generations.  Carolyn Long, Chair of the Tenleytown Heritage Trail Working Group, gave a history of the community, and several speakers reflected how the neighborhood has changed over the years.

"President Lincoln visited the camp at Fort Reno," Alexa Viets, a Program Manager with the National Park Service's Civil War Defenses of Washington, told the assembled crowd.  "In fact, he made several visits to the camp -- usually during election years.  See, some things never change!"

You can find a tour map and learn more about the "Top of the Town: Tenleytown Heritage Trail" here.

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