Alton Farm, The Noyes Estate
Crosby S. Noyes, whose country estate later became the site of Woodside Park, was born on a
farm in Minot, Maine on February 16, 1825. Until he was 14 years old he lived with his
grandfather, a prominent farmer and civic leader. Crosby Noyes left the farm and spent the
remainder of his youth in Lewiston, Maine working in a cotton mill and making and repairing
harnesses to earn money to pay for school. One unpublished family source says that he left home
because his birth had been the result of a liaison between his mother and a local preacher and he
was not fully accepted into the Noyes household. In any event, he had talent as a writer and wrote
columns for newspapers in Maine, and later for papers in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
In 1847 he came to Washington to seek his fortune. Being short of funds, he left the train in
Philadelphia and walked most of the remainder of the way. He landed in Washington with $1.62½
in his pocket. He worked in a bookstore and as a theater usher. He also wrote for the weekly
Washington News as well as the Saturday Evening Post. In 1853 he became a route agent for the
He went to Europe in 1855 and sent a series of dispatches back to a newspaper in Maine. Upon
his return in late 1855 he took a job as reporter for the Evening Star, which had begun publication
in 1852. By 1856 his salary had grown to $12 a week; Noyes felt economically secure enough to
marry Elizabeth Williams, daughter of a Maine clergyman. They had three sons and two
The Evening Star flourished during the Civil War. Noyes became assistant editor and was de
facto manager of the paper. In 1867 he was given a 48 hour option to purchase the paper for
$100,000. He managed to organize a small group in time and bought the Star. Noyes became
editor. The Star became the dominant newspaper in Washington. Although the newspaper
remained politically independent, it promoted the growth of the city and such projects as
reclamation of the Potomac mud flats, increase in park lands, and other civic improvements.
Noyes became active in the civic life of the city. Every July 4th in his later years he entertained the
Society of Oldest Inhabitants (maybe 100 people of Washington's social elite) at his Silver Spring
estate. He was active also in the City Club and the Gridiron Club.
In May 1882 Crosby S. Noyes purchased from Raymond W. Burche and his wife about 100 acres
of land and a house fronting on the Colesville and Ashton Road. The purchase price is not known,
but the county records show the assessed value of the land in 1882 to have been $4,000 ($40 an
acre), plus $2,500 for "improvements" (buildings).
It was not surprising that Noyes, now a prominent Washingtonian, would purchase an estate in
the Silver Spring area. Affluent Washingtonians had been establishing second residences for
summer use in the Silver Spring area since the 1840s.
In 1891, nine years after buying his estate, Crosby Noyes commissioned architect W.J. Marsh to
design and build a three-story Queen Anne style mansion. The new house, which he called
"Alton," was located exactly where the house at 1000 Mansion Drive now stands. It was
illustrated in the American Architect and Building News of January 7, 1895. The new house
increased the assessed value of the "improvements" by $7,000.
That Mr. Noyes would want a new house on his estate seems quite reasonable; he had bought the
place both as a country estate and summer home and as a farm, and since he had five children,
some of whom now had children of their own, he needed more space. In the years between 1899
and 1901 Mr. Noyes bought four additional adjoining tracts, including some that had belonged to
John C. Wilson. He ultimately extended his holdings up to and beyond the Grace Church property
to include land on both sides of what is now the 1500 and 1600 blocks of Dale Drive, paying $80
an acre. In 1922 there were 182 acres assessed at $215 (1997 equivalent: $2,042) per acre, plus
dwellings and other buildings assessed at $40,490 (1997 equivalent: $384,500).
Mr. and Mrs. Noyes lived at "Alton Farm" about seven months of the year, from April to
November; they had voting residence in Silver Spring. During the winter months they lived on
New Hampshire Avenue near Dupont Circle, where his farm employees delivered fresh milk and
other farm products daily.
Mr. Noyes apparently enjoyed using his estate for social purposes. The estate was a place of
weekend visits by many prominent Washingtonians, including President Theodore Roosevelt and
his family. "Alton Farm" was also used for events sponsored by large social organizations even
after Mr. Noyes' death. An early promotional brochure for Woodside Park lots included pictures
of some of these gatherings. One shows a huge crowd and identifies the event as the "tournament
and barbecue of the City Club." Another picture shows an even larger crowd and is labeled "One
of the rolling fields, Woodside Park: Almas Temple Shriners making merry." The photo was taken
in October 1922, when the Noyes estate hosted a convention of the Almas Temple Shrine which
attracted 4,000 people. According to the diary of a Woodside resident, the Shriners were
entertained by troops from Ft. Myers, tight-rope walking, a barbecue, races, a tug-of-war, and "a
balloon ascension by an acrobat who descends in a parachute."
The following excerpts from a talk by Newbold Noyes (a grandson) to the Columbia Historical
Society in 1939 give additional insights to Crosby Noyes, Alton Farm, and Sligo:
Another hobby in which my grandfather indulged himself was the development of his summer
residence, Alton Farm, Montgomery County where, beginning in 1882, he changed a wilderness of
briars into a productive agricultural estate. It delighted him to be a practical farmer in the sense that
he supervised planting and reaping on his land.
As farms go--for it was in every essential a practical farm--it was not really a very large place; but it
seemed larger to me then, and in later years, when it became my father's summer home, I never could
get over the impression almost all of us have had of how the oyster-shell driveways, the big black
walnut trees on the lawn, the stables and the barns, fields and pastures and the house itself had
shrunk outrageously and incredibly.
There were woods through which my grandfather had opened roads for riding or driving in a
phaeton [a light, open, four-wheeled carriage, usually drawn by two horses] or runabout or the pony
cart for us children. Lizzie Avenue one stretch was called, I remember, after my grandmother.
From a small boy's viewpoint, there was a splendid stream [in what is now the Alton Parkway valley],
along the banks of which cows grazed, and where one could wade and catch tadpoles and minnows.
There also were pigs and sheep, turkeys and pigeons and, of course, horses. All of the grandchildren
who shared in it always will remember our life there, I think.
Mr. Noyes also described how the grandchildren took candles to go upstairs to bed--"we children
were not allowed lamps"--and how Crosby Noyes managed to put out lamps:
My grandfather used to tell me stories in the evening before bedtime, in his study behind the library.
The room was lined with books. There was a green shaded reading lamp upon the desk beside which
he used to sit. He seemed tremendous to me in his specially upholstered lounge chair as I sat in a
small chair beside him. In fact, he was not a very large man. There was, however, no question as to
his almost superhuman qualities in my eyes, qualities embracing absolute virtuosity along many lines
of which he probably was not aware. For years after we last sat there in his study together I boasted
to all who would listen that Crosby Noyes was the loudest, most forceful and most virile sneezer in all
the world. It is the sober truth that when I was six or seven years old and he was some seventy years
of age he could and did extinguish the green-shaded lamp when he sneezed in the midst of our
story-telling. After such a cataclysmic explosion we would sit together in the darkness while he quietly
handkerchiefed his beard and then found matches that smelled of sulphur and I marveled in
reverential awe and adulation over the might and brawn and devastating prowess of this giant among
He also described transportation at Alton Farm, Mr. Noyes' love of horses, and incidentally his
love of his grandchildren:
He loved blooded horses and owned and drove handsome pairs in well equipped traps. But of this
side of his nature--his interest in horses--I remember best the shiny yellow "Wagonette," a sort of
amputated but glorified bus which one entered from the rear, and which each summer afternoon used
to meet him and my father and uncles when they came out from the office to Alton Farm. First, the
"wagonette," with me sitting proudly in the box beside George, the colored coachman, met them at
the B&O station in Silver Spring. Later, when the street cars were operated out Georgia Avenue, we
met them at the District line, where the cars finished their run. They would descend from train or car,
my grandfather first, his sons after him, call greetings to George and to me and climb into the
"wagonnette" in the same order. Occasionally I was allowed to hold the reins. Once George, while
we were waiting gave me a bite of a strange and tough-looking cake he carried in his pocket. It was
chewing tobacco, and I was very white and sick when our passengers arrived. I remember dimly
some properly stern words addressed by my grandfather to the terrified George, words that held
dire threats should his generosity be repeated. I recall a feeble assurance in George's behalf from me
that all was going to be satisfactory; that I wanted no more of his "cake" on any condition. At Sligo
my grandfather stopped the "wagonette" and bought me three of my favorite candies, licorice shoe
strings. My pallor and nausea had vanished as a result of this effective medication before we "joined
the ladies" on the big front porch.
The following notes were supplied by another grandchild, Ruth Noyes Sheldon:
The house, three stories high, had a country club type sixteen foot wide veranda encircling part of the
building. The tremendous hallway with a huge fireplace and ceiling of giant height was flanked by a
30' x 40' living room on one side, a library and study on the other. Beyond the hall was the dining
room which could easily seat 20 or 30 people--and did so for many Sunday dinners when the older
children were allowed to eat at the big table. Back of the dining room were the pantries, kitchen and
The spring house was a unique feature of the grounds near the main building--a large low room below
ground level. Long shallow troughs of water, perpetually cooled by the spring, held containers of
milk, butter, cheese and eggs.
A tall windmill and 'ram' pump brought the water supply to the house--the high water tower which
was a landmark for many years was a quarter of a mile away. There was also a bowling alley (2 alleys
wide), a stable for the horses, two ponies and a donkey, and a big barn with a loft full of hay for the
The water tower is visible in the picture of the Almas Temple Shriners mentioned above. It had
been built in 1895 and was a tall cylinder maybe 12 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall with a
conical, pointed top. A spiral staircase wrapped around the cylinder and lead to what appears to
have been an observation walkway just below the
conical top. The "water supply" was the stream flowing down the valley where Alton Parkway is
today. The "huge" steel water tower was about 105 feet from Fairview Road in the side yard of
what is now 9012 Fairview Road, next to the property line of 9014 Fairview Road. It was razed
in 1935 to clear the lots for construction of houses. According to William Griffith, who grew up
on an adjoining property and who says he smoked corn silk there as a youth, the pump was in a
small "spring house" which is probably now buried to the left of the driveway of 9009 Alton
Parkway under a raised group of azaleas. This "spring house" was apparently buried when the
area was extensively regraded during the installation of storm sewers along Alton Parkway
between Highland Drive and Noyes Drive in 1951. The bowling alley looked like a long narrow
one-story house with a covered porch across the entire front and shutters on the windows and
was located behind the mansion, probably about where Fairview Road is today. A large
greenhouse stood near the bowling alley, between it and the mansion.
A newspaper story written in 1922 described the farm as follows:
The farm comprises 185 acres. It is in the triangle formed by the Brookeville pike and Colesville and
Ashton turnpike, and has an extensive frontage on each of them. It extends from Silver Spring all the
way to Woodside Episcopal Church on the Brookeville pike.
The house commands a splendid view of the surrounding country and is situated in a grove of
venerable trees, which have been added to from time to time until today many specimens contribute
to enrich grounds surrounding the home and make it one of the show places on the outskirts of
Among the attractive features of the grounds are the tennis court, enclosed in a rose arbor and
provided with a picturesque rustic seat with clusters of rose vines and a thatched-roof summer house,
which provides a charming place from which to watch the progress of the game; the bowling alley,
green houses, kennels and stable; close-clipped grass lanes for walkways and the spring-fed stream
which winds through what is known as the park of the farm, and where moss-covered stone
abutments mark the ruins of the old hydraulic ram which at one time provided the water power for
This park is connected with the house by a dogwood lane of rare beauty in the early spring months.
The home itself is a structure of some twenty rooms, the most impressive feature of which is the
spacious porch from which the country for miles southward may be viewed.
An early ad for Woodside Park also gave additional description for Alton Farm. The ad called the
Noyes estate "one of the show places of the nation's capital. The grounds of this splendid
estate--with a wealth of rare trees and shrubbery, tennis court inclosed in a rose arbor, dogwood
lane, park with spring-fed stream winding through it, and many landscape features--are considered
the most beautiful around Washington."
In the early 1900s Mr. Noyes had wire fences erected along Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road
to protect his property. There were iron gates at the entrances of the "farm roads" (now Noyes
Drive and Highland Drive) from Georgia Avenue, with "Alton Farm" on the gates. Also, at the
entrance from Colesville Road (now Mansion Drive) two pairs of stone pillars were erected in
1905. ALTON was carved in letters three inches high in the capstone of one pillar of each set and
FARM was carved on the other. There was also an iron-work gate, and an iron fence connecting
the pillars. No one seems to know what significance, if any, "Alton" had. One person remembers
Mr. Noyes saying it meant "much improved." Literally, it means "old village" or "old manor."
The fences and gates were not meant to separate Mr. Noyes from his neighbors. Indeed Mr.
Noyes invited them onto the property. He held clambakes and dances for them. The Sligo School
held its annual picnic in a "beautiful grove" on Alton Farm. Other picnics, bonfires, walks, and
events were enjoyed at all seasons. Area children also played on the property when they were not
specifically invited; several report that they climbed over the fences or gates to enjoy use of the
"Noyes Estate," with never any unpleasant consequences. They particularly enjoyed swimming in
the creek where Alton Parkway is now.
One young lady who rode a horse recalls encountering President Theodore Roosevelt, also on a
horse, at what is now Georgia Avenue and Highland Drive. The President was playing one of his
favorite games, trying to shake his pursuing secret service men. He inquired as to where the dirt
road (now Highland Drive) went, and galloped off down that way when told it led to Colesville
Road. His secret service pursuers went on out Georgia Avenue looking for him.
The family vegetable garden, including berries and grapes, covered five acres or more extending
toward Spring Street near Colesville Road. There was an apple orchard of some 60 to 70 trees in
back of the house and along what is now Fairview Road. Principal field crops were corn and
wheat, with these fields on the Georgia Avenue side of the farm. The pasture was in the other
direction, north from the barn to around Highland Drive.
Crosby S. Noyes died at the age of 83 on February 21, 1908. President Theodore Roosevelt said
"He was one of the two or three leading citizens and most distinguished men of Washington." A
memorial meeting for Mr. Noyes was held in April 1908 in the National Theater.
Under the terms of Mr. Noyes' will, his real estate was to be held in trust for his surviving children
and the children of any of his children who had died. They would receive the property on the
death of his widow, Elizabeth S. Noyes.
The Noyes family continued to operate the farm. They hired William P. Wilson, of the
neighboring Wilson Farm and one of the sons of John C. Wilson, as manager. He worked with
Marshall White, a black resident of Silver Spring. The mansion continued to be used as the
summer home of Mr. Noyes' widow and then of his son Frank. Elizabeth S. Noyes died on
November 9, 1914.
The heirs wasted no time after the death of their mother before investigating the possible sale of
Alton Farm. Within a month after her death, Theodore W. Noyes hired Benjamin F. Leighton, the
real estate developer who had developed Woodside, to report on the feasibility of dividing the
estate and selling it for real estate development. On December 11, 1914, Mr. Leighton reported
Dear Mr. Noyes: -
At your request, I visited the Alton Farm, on December 9th, in company with James H. Parsons,
builder and contractor.
A division of the property into four equal parts, is not, in my opinion, feasible or practicable. It
cannot be divided in that way without detriment to the parties in interest. The property would be less
valuable after, than before such division.
I was influenced largely, as to my findings of the values of the buildings by the suggestions and
opinions of Mr. Parsons. In general, the mode of valuation was for Mr. Parsons to estimate the cost of
each building, new, at present prices, and then allow for deterioration or present condition. The
result of this computation was as follows:
Main Dwelling house and dairy, $30,000.
Greenhouses, complete, 300.
Bowling Alley, 700.
Carriage house and stable, 2,500.
Corn house, 500.
Barn, and connecting shed, 5,500.
Shed back of corn house, 800.
New hen house, 300.
Old hen house, 100.
Gardener's house, 1,800.
Wood shed, 100.
Boys carpenter shop, 50.
Pump house, pump, etc., 500.
Water tower, 2,000.
Two houses, 4 rooms each, 2 sheds and well, on
2 acre tract, abutting on Spring Street,
$800 each, 1,600.
Six room house, with porch room, on rear of
same lot, 750.
House and stable on Brookeville and Washington Pike,
known as Thompson property, 3,500.
Total Valuation Buildings, $51,000.
68 acre tract and 14½ acre tract, fronting on
Washington and Brookeville Pike, total,
82½ acres, at $500 per acre, $41,250.
99½ acres, on Colesville Pike, at $400 per acre, 39,800.
2 acre tract, fronting on Spring Street,
at $750 per acre 1,500.
Total Land Valuation $82,350.
TOTAL BUILDINGS AND LAND $133,350
The two tracts of land fronting on the Washington and Brookeville Pike, containing something over
82 acres, will, for convenience, be called "Parcel 1"; the tract fronting on the Colesville Pike, as
"Parcel 2"; and the 2 acre tract, abutting on Spring street, as "Parcel 3". Parcel 1 fronts on a road
with a car line, is near to schools and churches; is generally level, and well adapted for subdivision
purposes for people of small income, in keeping with the general character of the neighborhood. The
buildings upon the property [i.e., the "Thompson house and stable," later known as the Hopkins
house at 1319 Noyes Drive] are not such, either in kind or location, as to interfere with the proper
and economical subdivision of the land. A lot suitable in size for the improvements could be carved
out of the subdivision, and the house and lot so individualized, could be readily sold or rented. Tract
2 [the main farm, the mansion, the barn, greenhouse, bowling alley, water tower, the gardener's
house (near the rear or the present 1021 Woodside Parkway), etc.] presents a more difficult problem.
The buildings are extensive and expensive, and require for their setting a relatively large piece of
ground; otherwise the buildings will be dwarfed and their market value impaired. Indeed No. 2 is
none too large to go with the buildings as a whole.
If this is not thought desirable, a survey should be had, and enough land laid off to include all of the
buildings, sewer and water system. This would take about half of the front on the pike, and run back
to such distance as to accomplish the purpose indicated. The market value of these buildings,
especially of the dwelling house and out-buildings, is not more than fifty per cent of what it would cost
to construct them, if so much. The house was re-modeled and added to at different times, to suit the
convenience and taste of the owner, and necessarily has no unity of design. It has a great many
rooms, and it would, in my judgment, be a matter of great difficulty to find a purchaser for this part
of the property, at a price anything like the cost value of the property. In this connection there is
another point of weight that has influenced my judgment. All of the land eastwardly from Rock Creek
is being settled by those who, for want of a better name, are called the common people; people with
moderate means. The purchaser with money enough to buy this property, would naturally follow the
trend of his class, and go elsewhere to purchase; and while the value fixed for the dwelling house, as
noted above, is $30,000, this amount was named largely in deference to Mr. Parsons' opinion. He
thought it would cost $50,000 to reproduce the buildings, new, and $20,000 was allowed for
deterioration. The selling value of the house is probably not more than $20,000 or $25,000. A
purchaser with that amount of money would probably wish to build on his own plans, a house suited
to his needs, rather than to buy one in which alterations would have to be made, or much of it remain
Parcel 2, as a whole, is not well suited for subdivision. There is considerable broken and low ground
upon it. The part of it fronting on the pike, and running back until the uneven and low ground is
reached [the Alton Parkway valley], would subdivide well; the middle and rear parts would have to
be subdivided into acreage lots to fit the topography of the land, and would be more difficult to
handle to get the best results from it. For this reason, and because it is more distant from the car line,
schools and churches, it is less valuable, per acre, than tract 1.
Tract 3 is burdened with the character of its improvements. That is, the land, as land, and considered
separately from the improvements, would be worth two or three hundred dollars per acre more than
the price named for it. The buildings are not of the kind, nor located in such a way, as to add value to
the land, but rather to the contrary.
Hoping the suggestions here made may be of some value in the solution of your problem, I am,
(signed) B.F. LEIGHTON.
The Noyes heirs apparently did not like the advice they got from Mr. Leighton. At least they did
not act on it. Instead, they waited almost eight years before they sold the estate. In 1922 there
were wide-spread rumors that Alton Farm had been sold for development. Joyce E. Nalewajk
reported in her history of the Woodside neighborhood that on May 17th William Wilson, who
should have been in a position to know as farm manager, told neighbors across what is now
Georgia Avenue in Woodside that the farm had been sold to a syndicate which planned to
The Evening Star reported on July 1, 1922, that the farm had been sold to Thomas E. Jarrell and
J. Walter O'Boyle. The next day the Washington Post also reported the sale to Jarrell and
O'Boyle. The price was reported to be "in the neighborhood of $200,000." Plans for how the
property would be developed were not disclosed, but Jarrell and O'Boyle may have planned to
build a golf course; the Washington Post reported in late September that a golf club was being
laid out on the Noyes estate.
The sale to Jarrell and O'Boyle was never finalized. Instead Jarrell and O'Boyle transferred their
agreement to buy the farm to the newly formed Woodside Development Company of Charles W.
Hopkins and M.K. Armstrong, which announced that it had purchased the farm in ads in the
Washington Post of November 12, 1922 and the Evening Star of November 18, 1922. The sale
was actually closed on November 14, 1922.
The Woodside Development Corporation's vision of how the estate should be developed was
quite different from Mr. Leighton's. The Corporation proposed a subdivision of the highest order,
not one for the "common man." The Washington Post described the Development Corporation's
plans as follows:
New Lines to Be Followed
The Woodside Corporation will undertake an extensive development of this property under lines new
to Washington. The entire estate, with the exception of the home place and grounds will be
sub-divided into a residential park of acre plots facing winding drives which follow the contours of
These driveways will be Tarvia [a trademarked viscid road surfacing and bonding material made
from coal tar] surfaced and the engineer in charge of planning, James H. Starkey, is projecting them
so as to conserve the natural beauty spots and landscape features of the estate.
One of the features of the plan will be the development of a picturesque park which will entirely cross
the farm and through which will wind a stream providing an abundant supply of sparkling water for
a community swimming pool which will be constructed in the tract and which is certain to be one of
the most popular spots in the community during the summer.
In Effect a Recreation Park
Rustic bridges will be thrown over this stream and winding walkways, shrubbery and flowers will
combine to make this recreation park one of the charming spots in this 185 acre residential park.
The beautiful trees and shrubbery of the farm which have been so greatly admired by the people of
Washington who have visited the farm will make this property a highly desired residential property.
These plots will be sold, protected by proper building restrictions, such as segregation of the business
section, cost of homes, building lines, etc., so as to insure the proper upbuilding of the section.
Large Sites to be Offered
Large sites will be offered for sale on monthly terms, making it possible for persons of moderate
means who desire to live in the suburbs with sufficient ground around them to have a garden,
chickens, and fruit.
The Hopkins Land Company and Thomas E. Jarrell will act as sales agents for the Woodside
Crosby S. Noyes's Alton Farm would soon become Woodside Park.