Last updated: February 14, 2022
Early Life and Education
Francis Griffith Newlands was born in Natchez, Mississippi, on August 28, 1846. His parents were James and Jessie Newlands, who had both immigrated from Scotland. James Newlands, a doctor trained at Edinburgh, died in 1851. The five children in the Newlands family would be raised in Illinois and Washington, DC.
Francis attended Yale for one year in 1867 but returned to Washington City to complete his advanced degree. He graduated from Columbian College in 1869. At the time, Columbian College occupied a 46-acre campus on the hill where Meridian Hill Park now sits. Today, Columbian College is known as George Washington University Law School.
Life in the American West and Family
After being admitted to the bar, Newlands moved to San Francisco, California. In 1874, Newlands married Clara Adelaid Sharon, daughter of Nevada senator William Sharon. The newlyweds moved into the Palace Hotel, San Francisco. In addition, he helped his father-in-law reopen the Bank of California. Francis and Clara had three children and, for a time, the whole family lived in the hotel. Clara, a socialite and heiress, eventually convinced Francis that--elegant as the Palace was--a hotel was no place to raise a family. They moved shortly before Clara died giving birth to their fourth child in 1882. Upon her death, Newlands inherited the Sharon estate making him a millionaire.
Newlands travelled frequently for business. In 1888, he departed New York and went to England. While there he met and married Edith McAllister who was 14 years younger. When they returned to the United States, they moved to Nevada. The family relocated in the 1890s at least part time to Washington, DC, where Edith McCallister Newlands gave birth to two boys who didn't live long past infancy.
Developing Northwest Washington, DCNewlands formed the Chevy Chase Land Company to begin buying up land in northwestern Washington, DC, and Montgomery County, MD. The farmland in the area was no longer arable, so land was being used for other purposes. As a result, he was able to design a "streetcar suburb" for Washington. In addition to buying 1700 acres to develop the community, Newlands also chartered the Rock Creek Railway to operate a streetcar line to the new community. The railway opened in 1892 and operated on tracks that had been laid on roads built by The Chevy Chase Land Company. The company had constructed two bridges and five miles of road to connect the capital city to the new suburb.
A small tributary of Rock Creek was dammed to create Chevy Chase Lake, which supplied water to an electric generating plant. This plant provided electricity to the community and to the railcars. An amusement park that operated on the lake served as a way to draw prospective buyers to the area. Visitors would pay to take the streetcars to the amusement park, which kept money coming in.
In addition to roads and the amusement park, Newlands made sure the new community had schools, churches, clubs, water, and sewage systems. He designed tree-lined streets and opened a hotel in the area. Groceries and other items were brought by railcar from Washington City for the residents of the community.
Newlands began to replicate the success of The Chevy Chase Land Company in another location -- Burlingame, California--in 1893. The property had been inherited through his first wife's estate. The Burlingame community started out with a country club and a few 'cottages' before the addition of a train station in 1894.
Community StandardsNewlands and The Chevy Chase Land Company set prices in the new community so high that affluent citizens (primarily White) could afford it at the time. The covenants created forbade the buliding of homes under certain amounts. Between the cost of the land and the building of the homes on the lots, only society members with access to wealth were able to move to the new neighborhood. Immigrants, Jews, and people of color were not welcome at the amusement park or on the rail lines either.
Political CareerNewlands' political career kicked off in 1893, when he represented the state of Nevada. He served for 10 years, during which he created the "Newlands Resolution," The resolution was responsible for creating a new territory out of the Republic of Hawaii in 1898. In addition, he helped pass the Reclamation Act of 1902. This act helped to create the Bureau of Reclamation.
In 1903, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. He was a proponent of conservation and supported the protection of national forests under the U.S. Forest Service and pushed for the creation of the National Park Service in 1916 to help manage national park lands.
Newlands was also an outspoken White supremacist and promoted those beliefs. He actively sought to repeal the 15th Amendment, which had given African-American men the right to vote. In a 1909 journal article published in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Newlands argued that the country should develop policies to return all Black people to Africa or the Caribbean. He went on to argue that immigrants from Asian countries would take over the West Coast and used stereotypical langauge and beliefs to describe them. He advocated that the United States should be a "homeland for whites." A 1912 New York Times article quoted him as saying, "“I believe this should be a white man’s country and that we should frankly express our determination that it shall be." In addition to promoting the repeal of the 15th Amendment, Newlands proposed a "White Plank" which would restrict immigration to Whites only.
Newlands died in Washington, DC, on December 24, 1917, of heart failure.
MemorializationIn 1932, Congress authorized the construction of a fountain in Chevy Chase Circle. Funds were provided by Edith McCallister Newlands and, in 1938, the fountain was dedicated as a memorial to Senator Newlands.
Some people believe the fountain has become a symbol of racial discrimination and injustice, and that Newlands' name should be removed from the fountain.