In 1790, Washington locals began calling the neighborhood “Tennally’s Town” after area tavern owner John Tennally. Over time, the spelling has evolved and by the 19th century the area was commonly known by its current name, although the spelling Tennallytown continued to be used for some time in certain capacities, including streetcars through the 1920s.
Fort Reno, one of the forts that formed a ring around Washington D.C. during the American Civil War to protect the capital against invasions, was situated in the area that is now Tenleytown. It proved to be the crucial lookout point for preventing a siege of Washington (indeed, it is the highest natural point in the District of Columbia).
In the post-Civil War era, Fort Reno was a free black community that was almost entirely wiped out when the federal government decided to condemn most of its housing to build Deal Middle School, Wilson High School, a park, and a water tower. The Jesse Lee Reno school building, which housed an African-American school during the Jim Crow era, is one of the few remaining traces of this history.
Within the park boundaries lies the highest natural point in the District of Columbia, 429 feet above sea level. Fort Reno also hosts community gardens, free rock concerts in the summer, sledding in the winter, and tennis courts, playing fields, and dog-walkers year round. Wilson HS baseball now uses the ball field for its home games.
Tenleytown was transformed on October 2, 1941 when Sears Roebuck opened its department store on Wisconsin Avenue at Albemarle Street. At the time the store was notable for its size and for its 300 car rooftop parking lot. In the 1990s, Sears abandoned its retail operation at the location and the building was used by Hechinger hardware until its decline in the late 1990s. In the 2000s, the building was converted to a development complex called Cityline at Tenley, with luxury condos (The Cityline) on the top levels, a Best Buy and a Container Store at street level, and an Ace Hardware underground, located within the parking garage that serves the building’s stores.
In 2010, the Top of the Town: Tenleytown Heritage Trail opened. The path starts from the metro station and passes by neighborhood landmarks such as American University, the Civil War’s Fort Reno, and the studios of WRC-TV, Washington’s NBC station.