National Geographic : 1953 Apr
530 The National Geographic Magazine House fronts, particularly the small ones, give no hint that behind them are carefully tended yards, some of doll size, others of more comfortable proportions. I think more effort is lavished on these gardens than on any other plots of soil in the world. It is estimated the town has 5,000 gardens, as against six swimming pools (page 539). Relatively few gardens are of the large, formal class, with expertly trimmed hedges and pro- fessionally tended plants. The others are zeal- ous hobbies, and rewarding even when they don't fulfill spring's optimistic expectations. These garden-backyard combinations are like an extra room, and a favorite place for entertaining (page 538). Since available space is so often the arbiter, most groups are small. Only the big houses have gardens extensive enough for large parties. Except for working hours, many residents virtually live in their private outdoors a good part of the year. Spring comes early; autumn is usually long and mild. And in sultry, humid summer a shaded yard, however modest in size, is an inviting retreat. We cite Charles Dickens on our summer advantages. He found Georgetown preferable to Washington's burning heat and "insalu- brities." Interestingly enough, the author's great-granddaughter, Monica Dickens, herself a writer, resided here until last year. College Born with the Constitution Graceful spires crown the heights above Georgetown. Viscount Bryce, the brilliant British diplomat, wrote of the pleasure he found in admiring them in the sylvan setting he beheld from "modest little N Street," where he had his house. They are the towers of Georgetown University, the country's oldest Catholic institution of higher learning.* Like the United States, the school was born in 1789, the year the Constitution was inaugurated and Washington became the first President. It was brought to being by Arch- bishop John Carroll of Baltimore, an intimate of both Washington and Benjamin Franklin. A prospectus, issued before any students were enrolled, speaks for the spirit of the founder. In a faded copy I read: "The School will be open to Students of every Religious Profession. They, who in this respect differ from the Superintendent of the Academy, will be at liberty to frequent Places of Worship and Instruction appointed by their Parents." This policy has prevailed ever since. The college made its start with one small building, a few students, and a very limited library. It had an acre and a half of land, purchased from John Threlkeld, the tardy town councilman who was fined (page 520). For 1953 the university enrollment is 5,000, representing most States, many foreign coun- tries, and a variety of religions. A quarter- million books crowd its libraries. The campus has expanded to more than 100 acres and there are now 25 buildings. The President, the Very Reverend Edward Bernard Bunn, S.J., admin- isters, in addition to the college, eight graduate schools, astronomical and seismological ob- servatories, a medical center, and a chemo- medical research institute. Before visiting the heights I never suspected how the decision on the college site affected the present face of Washington. Among locations given consideration was an undeveloped rise of land called Jenkins Hill, three and a half miles away. The idea was discarded because the area was wild and "too far from the city"-Georgetown. L'Enfant later chose Jenkins Hill for the Capitol. "That has its postscript," a faculty mem- ber said with a smile. "We almost had the Capitol on campus, after all. "When Washington was burned in 1814, 'Old North' was the largest structure in the vicinity. It was offered to Congress for a temporary meeting place. To buoy national morale, however, Congress finally thought it best to get along in the least damaged buildings of the burned city." Old North, the second college building erected, is still in use. Presidents of the United States, from Wash- ington to Eisenhower, with occasional excep- tions, have honored the university by attending commencements, by special visits, or in other ways. Washington set the precedent in 1797 when he rode up from Mount Vernon to Old North and addressed the student body, which included two sons of one of his nephews. Where Eclipse Hunting Starts Lafayette was feted on his triumphal visit in 1824. The reception at the college so impressed him that he made special note of it in his speech to the National Assembly upon his return to France. Leading figures from other countries have been received at the university ever since. The astronomical observatory holds special interest for National Geographic Society mem- bers who followed the reports of their Society- sponsored eclipse expeditions to Russia in 1936, to the Pacific's Canton Island in 1937, to Brazil in 194 7, and to the Far East in 1948.t *See, in the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Washington Through the Years," by Gilbert H. Grosvenor, November, 1931; and "The Nation's Capi- tal," by James Bryce, June, 1913. t See, in the NA TIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Operation Eclipse: 1948 ," by William A. Kinney, March, 1949; "Eclipse Hunting in Brazil's Ranch- land," by F. Barrows Colton, September, 1947; and "Nature's Most Dramatic Spectacle,'' by S. A . Mitchell, September, 1937.