Newman Raymond

Well, let's get it out of the way at the start. Newman Hall Raymond was not a pleasant person, certainly not by today's standards and possibly not even by those of his own era. He had been born in Nova Scotia in 1871, moved to the US at 15 and became a naturalized citizen in 1892. He was a hyper-patriotic, loudly judgmental, racist anti-Semite.

 He had become both an architect and an evangelistic preacher and in July 1918 he was given an immediate direct commission, as a major no less, into the construction division of the Army's Quartermaster Corps. If they planned to use his professional experience, however, they quickly grew to appreciate his skills at mass oratory. They sent him on a tour of the eastern US to give revival-style patriotic speeches to drum up support for the World War. Indeed, they even created a “Patriotic Promotion Section” for him to head up, to which he recruited a few like-minded orators. He was discharged in January 1919, having served a total of six months. His short service notwithstanding, he was known to refer to himself as “Major Raymond” when it suited him for the next twenty years.

 During the war he particularly specialized in mass meetings that mixed evangelistic Protestant services and patriotic oratory. The Bridgeport (CT) Times covered a large ten-day Methodist revival meeting on 16 September 1918 and reported that “Major Newman H Raymond, USA, spoke at a largely attended patriotic rally. Major Raymond is a virile and challenging speaker and stirred the people deeply”. No one at the time seems to have questioned the propriety of having an active military officer, presumably in uniform, address a religious revival meeting.

 He was also a fervent teetotaler and prohibitionist. His letters to the editor on the subject started in 1914 and the end of prohibition in 1933 stoked his indignation even further. Indeed, the 1936 candidate for president on the Prohibitionist party ticket, Dr Leigh Colvin, had served under Raymond in his Patriotic Promotion Section as a captain. Raymond attended his emotional rallies, including one in July 1936 where, according to the Washington Star, Colvin charged that drinking by young girls and women represented a “threat of race degeneracy”.

 The subject of race appears to have been another of Raymond's bugaboos. When he sold properties he included in each document of title a covenant that forever thereafter no person of the “black, yellow or Hebrew races” would be allowed to buy the property, or even rent it. The fact that tens of thousands of GIs died fighting the Nazi regime apparently carried little weight, for he continued those clauses into and even after the war. Their legality was short-lived, of course, for the US Supreme Court declared such covenants unenforceable in any federal or state court in 1948. Nonetheless, it does serve to illustrate Raymond's views.

It is easy to paint Newman Raymond as a buffoonish, if rather nasty, caricature of the times. There was truth to that, but he was actually a more complex fellow who had seen his share of sorrow during his life. He started his work life as a carpenter, married Anna E Webb of New Jersey in 1890, moved to Brooklyn, where she bore him ten children. Sadly, four of them died before adulthood. Nonetheless, by 1910 he had established himself as an architect and budding builder, living in a house in Brooklyn with a servant for the family and an office in mid-town Manhattan. He remained in Brooklyn after his brief Army duties, but the marriage crumbled and the two divorced

He re-married to Esther Ackerson, a native Brooklynite and fellow architect, in 1925 and several years later they moved to a temporary apartment on Connecticutt Avenue in DC, probably feeling that Manhattan and Brooklyn were already built-up. In late 1930 they moved to Alexandria and in June 1931 they formed a corporation, Raymond Inc, with Newman as president, son Horace as secretary, and Esther as assistant secretary and treasurer.

 By June 1931 they were proposing an apartment building at the corner of Mt Vernon and Bellefonte, and in October they changed their minds and proposed a service station at that location. Nothing came of either.

 In the meantime son 27-year old son Willis and wife Annie had moved to Alexandria, along with 24-year-old daughter Dorothy and her husband Armando DiGirolamo. Those two families set up housekeeping and a small construction firm in a now-gone house at the SW corner of Mt Vernon and Bellefonte. In 1933 Willis joined the Raymond firm and the DiGirolamos moved out.

 In addition to Newman and Esther, the firm now compromised sons Wesley as vice-president (he and wife Lillian having moved up from Florida), Willis as secretary, and Horace as assistant secretary. They immediately launched an infill campaign, buying up vacant lots mostly just south of Braddock Road, with some in the Del Ray area, and putting up houses. Their first sales came in mid-1932, two single-family houses in the Rosemont Park subdivision. In September 1934 they formed the Newesta Corp, a play on the names of the two main partners and thereafter the two firms split the operations, with Newesta performing the lion's share.

 The Newesta firm launched its Del Ray efforts in September 1934 with the purchase of two single lots for their single-story homes and a large chunk of the East Braddock subdivision from Hattie Duncan. With this Hattie opened the western portion of Duncan, between DeWitt and Mt Vernon, and the Raymonds put up six of their front-porch two-family houses. Not intended for sale, they opened for rental in 1935 and remained such for many years.

 If things were looking up for the Raymonds they were about to get dark again. Youngest son Newman Jr wanted to make his own way in the world and moved to Florida where, with only an 8th grade education, he worked as a deckhand and on odd construction jobs. When some of his new friends moved to New York City he followed and when they planned to rob a store he went along at the last minute “as a lark”. One of them shot and killed a responding patrolman and the four were sentenced to death. Newman Sr asked to accompany his son on his last walk, but was denied and he stood outside in the courtyard of Sing-Sing, along with Anna and Esther, as their 21-year-old son was electrocuted in January 1936.

In 1938 they demonstrated either exceptional prescience or good fortune by expanding their business to include apartment buildings. Buying up land at the eastern end of Duncan Avenue they took a gamble and built the Raymond Apartments. Others would follow suit to house the workers flowing into the area for jobs at the brand-new Pentagon, but Newman and Esther had a 2-3 year head start on them and had units ready and waiting. Divorced daughter Ruth moved down from NYC to directly manage the apartments.

Tragedy was not yet finished with Newman Raymond. Two daughters had come down to visit in early 1939, Helen Arnold from Brooklyn and Dorothy DiGirolamo of Westchester County. Newman and the women went out for a ride in Fauquier County on 9 February but the car hit a bridge abutment on US 50 and flipped over. Helen, with a fractured skull, quickly went into shock and passed away at age 41. She was the sixth, but not the last, of Newman's children to die during his lifetime.

The pace of construction slowed in the 1940s as available infill lots became more scarce. Instead, the Raymonds, in the form of Newesta, turned into a rental firm. They sold off almost all their non-apartment rental units except the front-porch types, which were transferred to Raymond Inc. in 1947, and thereafter concentrated on operating the Raymond Apartments, with Newman and Esther living and working in apartments 6 and 7 of 1807 DeWitt.

In one final slap at Newman son Horace, who had suffered from epilepsy, died of undetermined natural causes at home on East Bellefonte on 7 July 1953 at age 45, survived by wife Edna and both parents. For no less than the seventh time Newman saw one of his children die. Newman himself finally passed away of complications from chronic leukemia on 8 November 1953, age 84. The rental business continued, although Dorothy and Ruth had to sue to get $8,000 apiece due them, into the 1960s. In 1963 Raymond Inc. was finally dissolved after a chancery court decree and the properties conveyed to Wesley and Ruth as executors of Newman's estate.  The remaining two-family houses, nine of them, were finally sold to Fairlawn Mortgage & Investment in 19651. Esther, senile for the past eight years, finally passed away in Richmond of arteriosclerosis in November 1966 at age 89.

 In December of 1968 Newesta Inc was dissolved and the following May Wesley and Ruth Raymond, as executors of their parents' estate, sold the Raymond Apartments to to Carson Fifer. That ended the 35-year run of Raymond involvement in Del Ray area real estate.

1 Fairlawn sold the bulk of the two-family homes to Blossom Silverman in June 1965, she sold them to Joseph & Edith Lohman in June 1970, and the Lohmans finally split the package up, selling individual houses over the next few years.