TAKOMA PARK HISTORIC DISTRICT                                  

 

The pretty depot presents a busy scene in the early evening, when the trains from the city arrive.  The platform is thronged, and there is an overflow out in the streets.  Waiting for some of the arrivals are carriages, for others horses, but the majority walk.  The Evening Star, 15 June 1889. 

 

NO MALARIA.  NO MOSQUITOES.  PURE AIR.   DELIGHTFUL SHADE.  A MOST ABUNDANT SUPPLY OF PURE WATER.  A GOOD INVESTMENT FOR HOMES OR PROFIT.  So developer Benjamin F. Gilbert advertised the villa lots of Takoma Park, the first railroad suburb of Washington City.  In the late fall of 1883 he bought 93 acres of rural land where the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad crossed the District/Maryland boundary.  Ida Summy, one of the first lot purchasers, suggested that the subdivision be called Takoma Park. “Takoma" was derived from a Native American word meaning “high up, near heaven” but spelled with a “k” to differentiate it from Tacoma, Washington.  “Park” was in the elegant tradition of the picturesque villa and the garden suburb.  

 

Although this site was neglected farmland densely overgrown with “stunted pines and scrub oak, intermixed with no end of briars and scrub oak,” Gilbert envisioned a delightful residential resort combining the advantages of country living with convenient commuting for businessmen, government workers, and other professionals.  These advantages had previously been available only to the wealthy who were able to afford both town and country residences. 

 

Takoma Park expanded rapidly in all directions, flourishing even through years of national financial depression and war.  Several early subdivisions, including Gilbert’s original purchase, extended across the District line into Montgomery and Prince Georges Counties, Maryland, reflecting the boundaries of early land patents and large rural parcels subdivided from them.  In spite of multiple jurisdictions, Takoma Park developed as a single cohesive community. There was a pioneering spirit of adventure and pride of self-sufficiency fostered by the new town’s isolation from the city.

 

Takoma Park's isolation disappeared in the twentieth century.  Beginning in 1903, the world headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church relocated to the area from Battle Creek, Michigan.  This group, advocating clean air, clean water, vegetarian diet, exercise, and other health and social reforms, bridged the idealistic ambiance of the early community and that which developed after World War II.   Residential neighborhoods gradually replaced the farms and country estates, and the Takoma Park community grew in both the City of Takoma Park, MD, and the neighborhood of Takoma, DC.[1] 

 

EARLY HISTORY


Takoma Park and Takoma DC are located on high rolling land just east of the northernmost corner of the District of Columbia.  A broad ridge runs through the area, descending steeply on the east through a varied landscape into the picturesque valley of Sligo Creek, a tributary of the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River.  To the west the land drains to nearby Rock Creek and the Potomac River at Georgetown.  This land abounds with healthful springs, and is historically known for its pure water and clean air.

 

Native American artifacts have been found near the springs and in the Sligo Creek valley, and an “Indian field” is noted as a landmark in the 1687 survey of the 1776-acre Girles Portion, the earliest land grant here.  Legend has it that Chief Powhatan -- (1550?-1618), father of the Indian princess Pocahontas-- returning wounded to Virginia from a battle in the north, paused here to convalesce at the springs. 

 

A number of early cross-country roads connected the Takoma area with the rest of Washington. Andrew Ellicott’s 1794 topographical map of the Territory of Columbia shows the Rock Creek Road from Georgetown at P Street to Rockville curving along the high ground east of Rock Creek.   In 1818-20, the Seventh Street Turnpike Road, now Georgia Avenue, was built following this high ground into the District.  It was the main market road of the District, linking the rich Maryland farmland with the Northern Liberties, O Street, and Central Markets along 7th Street, N. W.  The Girles Portion road, now Piney Branch Road, connected what is now the Takoma Park area to the 7th Street Road. 

 

The Girles Portion was among those vast Maryland tracts that the distinguished and prosperous Carroll family owned and managed as farmland, using the labor of African slaves.  When the District of Columbia was laid out in 1791-92, the boundary cut through this and other similar properties in what is now the upper Rock Creek Park, Takoma Park, and Silver Spring area of Washington and Maryland. 

 

Boundary stones were placed at one-mile intervals around the District of Columbia, with the northernmost stone located just west of the present 16th Street, approximately on an axis with the White House and Washington Monument.  The stones, crafted of Aquia Creek sandstone, are numbered clockwise, corner-to-corner of the ten-mile square.  The N.E. 1 stone was placed in The Girles Portion tract of Charles Carroll of Bellevue, near the Silver Spring.  It is missing, and its position marked by a plaque in the sidewalk at 7847 Eastern Avenue.  The N.E. 2 stone, now included in the Takoma Park (DC) Historic District at Maple Avenue, was placed just beyond the eastern boundary of The Girles Portion in Robert Beall of James’ 1772 patent, Robert’s Choice.

 

Charles Carroll of Bellevue owned the Girles Portion at the time the Federal City was laid out.  His brother, Daniel Carroll of Duddington, owned the largest tract of land within the proposed Federal City, including the Mall and Capitol Hill.  In 1811 the Carroll brothers entered into a partnership with Elie Williams under the name of Williams and Carrolls “to furnish in equal proportion money to be used in manufacturing paper, erecting mills, distilling grain into spirits, raising, buying and selling live stock; for the purposes of said business to buying situations for the necessary mills, woodlands to supply the same with fuel.” 

 

The Carroll brothers purchased 414 acres of land bordering Sligo Creek near Bellevue’s The Girles Portion tract in what would become Takoma Park.  Here they built a mill described as a “brick distillery and adjacent grist mill with brick dwelling.”  They also purchased the paper mill on Rock Creek near Bellevue’s Georgetown residence at 2715 Q Street. Although their business failed in 1815, the Sligo Creek mill buildings survived and later became part of Takoma Park.  Bellevue was socially prominent and a friend of Dolley Madison, assisting her in her flight from the burning city in 1814.

 

MID-19th CENTURY HISTORY

 

Before the Civil War, the general area that would become Takoma Park was increasingly developed as small farms and country estates.  One of the most notable of these was the Silver Spring farm of Francis Preston Blair, a member of the “Kitchen Cabinet” of President Andrew Jackson.  He came to Washington from Kentucky in 1830 as editor of the Globe, a pro-Jackson newspaper.   Blair made his home at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue across from the White House, and in 1835 acquired a large country property located near the Silver Spring.  With later additions, this was known as Falkland Manor. It included part of the Girles Portion and other originally Carroll lands, extending into what is today Takoma Park, MD, and Takoma, DC.  

 

After the defeat of President Van Buren, and his removal as editor of the Globe, Blair gave his Pennsylvania Avenue house to his son Montgomery and lived at his Silver Spring estate. Surrounded by his family, he entertained political friends from both the north and south, farmed the land, and developed extensive gardens and riding trails in what is now Takoma Park.  

In 1860 Blair served as delegate-at-large from Maryland to the convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln.  

 

Blair’s son Montgomery served in Lincoln’s cabinet as Postmaster General.  His son, General Francis Preston Blair, Jr., served under General Grant.  His daughter Elizabeth married Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee, who fought under Farragut in the New Orleans blockade.  Lee was a third cousin of Robert E. Lee and the Blairs were close friends of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his wife.  As the Confederate defeat appeared imminent, Lincoln sent Blair to Richmond on a diplomatic mission to arrange an end of hostilities. 

 

Elizabeth Blair Lee, in her Wartime Washington letters to her husband, poignantly describes wartime life along the strategically located Seventh Street Road (now Georgia Avenue), just beyond the defenses of Washington.   The 10th Massachusetts Regiment was stationed within DC on the estate of Thomas Carberry, mayor of Washington (1822) and president of the Metropolis Bank.  Fort Stevens was located on the west side of the road, and Fort Slocum to the southeast near the left fork of the Rock Creek Church Road. 

 

On June 27, 1863, Confederate Colonel J. E. B. Stuart crossed the Potomac near Seneca and encamped at Rockville before turning north to Gettysburg.  Scouting parties came into the area that later became Takoma Park.  The following year, near the end of the Civil War, a pivotal battle occurred at Fort Stevens, when the Confederates, led by Confederate General Jubal Early, attempted to invade the nation's capital.   Following the battle at Monocacy, Early and his troops advanced along the Seventh Street Road to attack the city. 

 

On July 11, 1864 the confederates set up headquarters at Blair’s Silver Spring home, burning his son Montgomery’s home.  The following day Early’s troops fanned out along the ridge in and around the future Takoma DC neighborhood.  Meanwhile, spectators, including President Abraham Lincoln, arrived, and the meager federal troops at Fort Stevens were bolstered by reinforcements from General Grant. On July 12, the armies fought, and by the end of the day the Confederates fled in a cloud of dust.  Not only was the battle notable for stopping Early's raid on Washington, but it was also became known as the only military action in which a President of the United States came under direct fire from an enemy force.

 

With a combined total casualty figure of over 900 killed or wounded during the conflict, 41 Union soldiers who fought and died in Fort Steven's defense were interred in a specially created cemetery dedicated by Abraham Lincoln, Battleground National Cemetery. Located at 6625 Georgia Avenue, NW, a few blocks north of Fort Stevens, it is now administered by the National Park Service and, at one acre in size, it is one of the smallest national cemeteries.  

 

LOCATION! LOCATION! LOCATION!

 

The garden suburb of Takoma Park flourished after the Civil War, as urban populations boomed and a concern for healthful living, the natural environment, and the picturesque landscape aesthetic was popularized.  Then, as now, efficient transportation linking suburb and city was essential to the viability of these new communities. 

 

In Washington the development of suburban housing [Uniontown (1854), Mount Pleasant (1865), Le Droit Park (1873)] was at first confined to locations close to the city along existing market roads and downtown streetcar lines.  The Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was chartered in 1865 and completed through Silver Spring into the District of Columbia in 1873.  The B&O promoted its new line by offering concessions to encourage development of commuting towns to allow suburban residents easy access to jobs in Washington.  Takoma Park was the first such community developed in the District of Columbia.

 

Real estate developer Benjamin Franklin Gilbert came to Washington from New York during the Civil War. He worked with Alexander Robey ("Boss) Shepherd, who dominated the rebuilding of the District in the 1870s.  Gilbert's projects included a row of houses on the north side of K Street between 9th and 10th Streets, N.W. and Grant Place between G, H, 9th and 10th Streets, N. W.  Losing heavily in the Panic of 1873, he retreated to New Jersey to rebuild his fortunes. 

 

When Gilbert returned in 1883, he found a rapidly expanding federal work force in Washington DC.  But the development of needed new residential sites was frustrated by incomplete plans to extend the city streets and services beyond Florida Avenue.  Gilbert finessed this problem by purchasing, for $6,500, lots 2 and 3 of the G. C. Grammar Estate with access to commuter rail transportation.   Grammar had purchased a pentagonal 213-acre site here, part of Robert’s Choice, in 1828. 

The District of Columbia boundary ran diagonally through it with the N. E. 2 boundary stone on Maple Avenue approximately in the center of the property.  The land included Spring No. 1, or Little Spring, located on the west side of the railroad tracks between Spring Place and Bull Place in Takoma, DC.

 


Gilbert began cautiously by subdividing the parcel into 15 blocks with 266 lots with a 50' frontage and depth of 200' to 300.'  Streets were 40' to 50' wide with 12' on either side for parking and sidewalks.  Houses were to be set back 40' from the sidewalk.  With plat in hand he approached friends and acquaintances, selling these 10,000 to 25,000 sq. ft. lots with flexible terms.  A marketing brochure claimed that the subdivision was 350' above the elevation of the Capitol and extolled the healthful qualities of the site “clean air, pure water, and no mosquitoes.”  

 

Gilbert recruited builders to live in the community and erect houses.  Several houses were under construction in 1884.  The home of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac I. Thomas at 201 Tulip Avenue in Takoma Park, MD, was the first to be completed.   In 1884 Mr. Thomas also opened a store on Oak (now Cedar) Street in Takoma DC near the railroad tracks.  Most of the early houses were expansive frame Stick, Shingle, and Queen Anne-style residences with wrap-around porches, open galleries, towers, complex rooflines, and much fine gingerbread and shingle detail.  

 

In 1886 the Takoma Park railroad station was built on Cedar Street in DC.   It was designed by Baldwin and Pennington, architects for all the stations along the Metropolitan Branch.

 

Gilbert’s 1886 brochure advertised water from the Takoma Park springs “on draught at the Drug Store of Harry Standiford, southwest corner of 9th and F Streets.”  He claimed 150 residents, with more waiting to move in when their houses were completed.  He extolled the gardening skills of the new residents, recommending:  “For the banker, the lawyer, the merchant and the clerk, no better, cheaper or more wholesome relief from the daily cares, toils and vexations of business can be found than that afforded by becoming a resident of TAKOMA PARK.  The benefits and profits derived from morning and evening hours of “fixing up” about the new home” were stressed. Terms could be arranged so a government clerk could afford a site for less than his current rent.

 

On June 15, 1889, The Evening Star reported that Takoma Park (meaning both Maryland and DC) had expanded to include over 1000 acres with “fifteen miles of streets and avenues, gravel-laid and smooth, shaded by trees and brightened by nature’s prettiest flowers.”  There was electricity in the houses and streets and a hotel and extension of the Brightwood Street Railroad were contemplated.    Nineteen trains stopped at the new Takoma Park station on weekdays. 

 

GROWING PAINS

 

In 1890 Takoma Park, MD, was incorporated as a town by the Maryland General Assembly with an elected mayor and council.  Although Takoma Park, MD, and Takoma DC were divided by the Maryland-District line and governed by different laws, both sides were unified by their shared community identity.  B.F.Gilbert, who was elected the first mayor of Takoma Park, had considered multiple jurisdictions as an advantage, securing all possible legislative advantages for the new town. 

 

In 1892 William Watkins, a coal merchant, opened the 30-room Watkins Hotel at 4th and Cedar Streets, N. W. in Takoma DC. Around the same time, Gilbert began construction of the 160-room North Takoma Hotel on the site of the present Montgomery College in Takoma Park, MD; a sprawling four-story frame building with an entrance tower, varied gable ends and dormers, landscaped grounds, an extensive wrap-around porch, the hotel had its own railroad station.  The Panic of 1893 found Gilbert over-extended in Takoma Park real estate, a financial calamity from which he never recovered.  On December 29, 1893, fire in the commercial area near the train station destroyed the Watkins Hotel, Favorite’s Store, and Birch’s Store and Hall.

 

The Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department was soon organized to serve both Maryland and District jurisdictions.  A Howe Model 4 hand pumper was purchased, followed by a ladder truck in 1896.  Takoma Hall was constructed on the site of the burned Watkins Hotel by Takoma Lodge No. 24, I.O.O.F.  It served also at times as a town meeting hall, school, and church.  The Takoma Club was organized in the adjacent brick building in 1899, providing recreational activities such as bowling and billiards and a library of 1200 volumes.  Publication of the Favorite news sheet began in January, 1892, followed by the Takoma Park Tidings in 1896. 

 

Gilbert had sold Springs Number 1 and 2 in 1891 to the Takoma Park Springs Company with the stipulation that these properties remain in public use.  In 1898, after a court fight to keep the springs open, the community began construction of an independent water and sewage system. 


 

The Brightwood Electric Railway had begun service into downtown Washington along Georgia Avenue and, in 1893, it ran a streetcar spur to 4th and Butternut Streets, N. W.  In 1898 the Baltimore and Washington Transit Company extended this line to Heather and Elm Avenues in Prince Georges County.  The Capital Traction ran its 14th Street line to Kennedy Street, with a spur to 3rd Street and up to Aspen, over to Laurel Street and Eastern Avenue.  The routes made it easier for more people to live in these areas and commute to their jobs in downtown DC.

 

The original train crossing on Cedar Street was at grade, which resulted in an increasing number of accidents as automobile traffic increased.  In 1912, an underpass was constructed, which lowered the street level on both sides of the tracks. Later, many of the stately homes that once flanked Cedar and Carroll on the east side of the tracks were demolished or their fronts radically altered, with new storefronts abutting the street.

 

CITIZEN ACTIVISM AND INSTITUTIONAL GROWTH

 

From the start, citizens of Takoma Park, MD, and Takoma DC took an active role in shaping their neighborhoods.  With no public schools yet available in the community, a small private school and kindergarten was started in 1885 by Margaret McKelden in her home at 6917 Maple Street. 

 

The Takoma Park Citizens Association was organized in 1888 at gatherings in the railroad station at Cedar street while community residents waited for the morning trains to take them into Washington.  It was one of the first organizations in the District and nearby Maryland to admit women as members along with the men.  As Walter Irey, its president in 1935, wrote in The Takoma Enterprise, the Association was also unique in its inter-state character. He noted that members often had "strong differences of opinion," such as when they successfully eliminated the grade crossing near the train station, in the interests of school children and others who passed that way.

 

In 1901, the members of the association convinced the District government to build a classical style elementary school on Piney Branch Road and Cedar Street.  Both DC and Maryland students attended the school until the early 1950's.  Irey noted that the Association had a "lion's share" in getting the DC Board of Education to acquire the land for the Northern Senior High School (later named Coolidge High School), and in 1935, the association lobbied Congress for appropriations to fund the high school and provide for an addition to Paul Junior High School.  And they inaugurated the movement for free textbooks for high school children in DC. 

 

Concerned about having sufficient recreational facilities and parkland, the Association also convinced District officials to acquire and develop land for a new park on two squares bounded by Third, Fifth, Van Buren and Whittier streets. They later successfully lobbied for additional land for the Takoma Recreation Center with baseball fields, tennis courts and swimming pools.

 

One of the Association's members, Angus A. Lamond, convinced his friend Andrew Carnegie to donate $40,000 to construct the Takoma Park Library at Fifth and Cedar Streets NW.  Another member of the Association persuaded the Congressional committees to agree to the acceptance of Carnegie's gift and to appropriate funds for the maintenance of the building, books and personnel.  Constructed in 1911, it was the first branch library in the District of Columbia.

 

The sense of a united community continued through shared institutions, services, and organizations. The Takoma Park Historical Society was founded in 1912, followed in 1913 by the Takoma Park Civic Study Club, renamed in 1928 the Takoma Park Women’s Club.   In 1916 the Takoma Horticultural Club was organized to promote community beautification.  Its membership included many U. S. Department of Agriculture scientists who lived in Takoma.  The group offered lectures on horticultural subjects, held flower shows, promoted cooperative purchase of plants and seeds, and planted trees and shrubs throughout the community. 

 

In 1923, the Takoma Theatre Corporation was formed and later the Takoma Theatre opened at 4th & Butternut Streets, N. W.   It was a movie theatre, the first by architect John Jacob Zink, who went on to design the Senator Theater in Baltimore, the Uptown Theatre in Cleveland Park, and many others. 

 

Jurisdictional differences gradually became more pronounced during the twentieth century.  The Community League of Takoma Park, Maryland, was organized in 1922 and in 1924 the Citizens Association of Takoma Park, D. C. was organized.  As this change in focus progressed, however, the community retained its historical identity, both jurisdictions celebrating their 50th anniversary together in 1933, their 75th anniversary in 1958, and their 100th anniversary in 1983.

 

 Many organizations remain cross-jurisdictional. The Takoma Horticultural Club continues to be active in both DC and Maryland.   In 1978, the first Takoma Park Folk Festival was held in Maryland, and its first revenues were donated to a community group trying to revive the Takoma Theatre in DC.  In 1979, Historic Takoma, Inc., was formed to serve as an advocacy and educational preservation organization, with members in both Takoma DC and Takoma Park.  And in 1981, the Takoma Park-Silver Spring (TPSS) Food Cooperative opened, a joint effort of Maryland and DC residents.

 

On the Maryland side of the line, jurisdictional issues created tension and confusion for city residents split between Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.  After years of petitions, and defeated ballot measures to place all of Takoma Park, MD within a single jurisdiction, state legislation allowed Montgomery County, following a vote by all citizens involved, to absorb the Prince George’s portion of the City, in 1997.   

 

RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS

 

Churches also played at important role in Takoma Park life from the beginning. They were a center of social life in the new community, sponsoring plays, musicals, concerts, and other entertainments.

 

The first Church in Takoma Park was the Union Chapel, constructed in 1888  at the corner of Maple and Tulip Avenue.  It was sold to the newly organized Takoma Park Presbyterian Church in 1893, who built a new edifice next to it in 1923. (The original Union Chapel was demolished in 1950 to make room for construction of an educational wing for the church.)

 

In October 1887, the Rev. James O. Dorsey settled in Takoma Park, and by 1888, Mrs. Laura S. Thornton gave local Episcopalians land on the northwest corner of Piney Branch Road and Dahlia Street in Takoma DC to build a church. The first Trinity Church, a wood chapel painted red with a distinctive open bell tower, was completed in 1893 at a cost of $1,500 by George Parkings.  Beginning in 1936, Philip H. Frohman, the architect of National Cathedral, began a campus of rubble-stone buildings consisting of the church, rectory, and Sunday school.  Trinity's 60-foot-tall entrance tower was the gift of parishioner Catherine Vassar Johnson and its interior fitments were commissioned from leading national ecclesiastical decorators.

 

In 1903 the Seventh Day Adventists initiated the process of buying land and moving their headquarters from Battle Creek Michigan to Takoma Park.  They designed an organizational campus that included the Washington Training College and Sanitarium in Montgomery County and a headquarters building and publishing plant on Eastern Avenue in DC. The church in Takoma Park was organized in 1904, in Takoma Hall, at 317 Cedar Street.  The first permanent  church, built at Carroll and Willow Avenues, was dedicated on in 1913.  An even more substantial church was constructed  in 1953; the architect was Rnald A. Senseman, the builder was Herbert H. Hubbard.

 

Like B.F. Gilbert, who encouraged them to come to Takoma,  the Adventists appreciated the political advantages of dual jurisdiction, combining the bucolic splendors of the Sligo stream valley with an official address in the nation’s capital.  The Washington Training College evolved into the Washington Missionary College and the present Columbia Union College. The Washington Sanitarium, became the present Washington Adventist Hospital.  

 

The Adventists had a profound influence on the community for more than eight decades.  Because they observe their Sabbath on Saturdays and because they dominated the Takoma Park City Council, businesses in Takoma Park were closed on Saturdays. Because of their adherence to healthy, meatless foods, many vegetarian stores and restaurants were established in Takoma Park, and sales of alcohol were not allowed.  The General Conference moved its headquarters to a new complex in northern Silver Spring, MD in 1989 and the Review and Harold Publishing Company to Hagerstown, MD in 1994.   The hospital remains, however, in Takoma Park, MD.

 

In June 1919, the Takoma Park Baptist Church was organized at the home of Georgie R. Frazer, 664 Highland Avenue, near the elementary school in Takoma, DC.    For two years the congregation of 34 members met at  his home. On November 15, 1921, William Earl La Rue from Rochester, New York, began his long pastorate. The  parsonage was erected in 1922, and its rubble-stone church at Piney Branch Road and Aspen in DC, designed by Washington architect Appleton P. Clark, Jr., dedicated on April 13, 1924.

 

COMMERCIAL FACILITIES

 

The first businesses in Takoma were clustered around the railroad station on Cedar Street in Takoma, DC.  In 1884, Issac Thomas opened the first store, which provided groceries and other necessities. He sold the store in 1886 to George Favorite, who established telephone-telegraph communication facilities inside the post office. Other shops were built along Cedar, including Burrow's Drug Store and Warren's Stationery Store. 

 

The other major shopping street in Takoma, DC, was Fourth Street NW, between Butternut and Cedar.  The developer of most of this area was H. L. Thornton, a successful real estate developer who lived at 500 Butternut Street NW.  Thornton was built many houses in Takoma Park. Between 1916 and 1926, he also built ten stores on the West side of Fourth in the 6900 block and around the corner on Butternut.  The Thornton family still owns these stores.  In 1919, a laundry was built at 802 Blair Road, between Aspen and Butternut, and in 1921 the Takoma Park Ice and Ice Cream Company constructed an ice plant at 326 Cedar.  The Takoma Theatre, built in 1923, in addition to showing movies had a store in it featuring cigars, sodas, ice cream and candies.

 

The 1935 issue of The Takoma Enterprise contains advertisements for a variety of businesses in Takoma.  Along Fourth Street there was a contracting and building company at 6900, The Pioneer Press (publisher of The Takoma Enterprise) at 6908, a tailor at 6910, and a restaurant (the "Park Inn Lunch) at 6916.   Along Cedar Street there was a sheet metal works at 302, a bowling alley at 317, and Feldman's department store at 335-337, the Youngblood hardware store at 341, and the Mattingly Brothers Pharmacists, with no address-- but Mattingly's Drugstore was located on Cedar Street across from the train station. It burned down in 1977.

 

GROWING AND CHANGING

 

In the first quarter of the 20th century, Takoma Park continued to grow on both sides of the District line, as the last of the country estate properties were subdivided and developed.  The early picturesque villas with wrap-around porches, towers, and richly carved interior woodwork were followed by Arts and Crafts, Bungalow, and then Classical and Colonial Revival style residences. Porches and balconies gradually assumed a classical appearance with columns and balustrades.  Pebble-dash stucco, white-painted clapboard, and brick replaced earth-toned shingles, patterned siding, and colored glass. 

 

In 1908, the Watkins was the first apartment house built in Takoma, a stout, red-brick, three-story building with six large apartments. It was built by William Watkins to house his six daughters.  A number of garden apartments were later built around Takoma, such as the Art Deco-style Whittier Gardens, clustered near Blair Road on Aspen and Whittier Streets NW. Built in 1939, they were designed by George T. Santmyers.

 

Symmetry and proportion, hipped and flat roofs also made their appearance on single-family homes.  Simple chestnut and oak moldings replaced intricately carved mahogany and walnut in the interiors.  Although newly subdivided lots were smaller, the characteristic interest in landscape and gardens remained.  The new style was followed in the institutional and commercial buildings built in the 20th century. In the 1940s many of the old homes were subdivided into apartments to accommodate World War II-related population growth. 

 

In the 1950's, as schools became desegregated and neighborhoods more integrated, many white residents began moving out of the District.  Unscrupulous real estate agents used a practice known as "block busting" to frightened white owners into selling homes for low prices, which the agents resold at significantly higher prices to incoming Blacks.  In 1958 an organization, Neighbors Inc, was formed by residents of both races to foster stable, integrated neighborhoods.  Members included residents of Takoma, Manor Park, Brightwood and Shepherd Park. They held social functions to get to know each other. They gained national attention as they fought successfully to get newspapers to stop using racial designations in classified advertising. And they helped to get DC's housing law changed to eliminate the discriminatory practices of the major real estate firms.

 

Starting in 1964 the entire community joined together to fight the proposed ten-lane North Central Freeway project.  It would have cut a huge swath, taking hundreds of homes and displacing thousands of residents in Takoma Park, MD, Takoma DC, Brookland, and Michigan Park.  People living along its path formed a coalition with national and local groups. Their rallying cry was, "No White men's roads through Black men's homes."  Their unwavering no-compromise opposition was finally successful in 1970.  Funds for the freeway were diverted into construction of the Red Line of the Metrorail. 

 

Planning for the Metrorail raised new concerns.  The original plan for the Takoma Station, to be located in DC, called for the area around the Metro station to be rezoned for high-density residential and commercial development.  It called for widening streets to handle more traffic and for construction of a 500-car parking lot. Area residents worked together again to oppose these drastic changes.

 

A new organization, Plan Takoma, helped develop alternatives, including a public park and buffer area, retention of residential and low-density commercial zoning, a limit on parking to 100 non-rush hour spaces, and no change in the width of the streets. In 1977, before the Metrorail Station opened, Plan Takoma was reactivated, leading to additional planning around the station.  By the time the station opened in 1978, the community welcomed its arrival, bringing Takoma full circle to its origins as a rail commuting town. 

 

Over the years, many of the fine old homes and buildings in Takoma were lost, some destroyed from natural causes, others razed for new developments.  One of the most devastating losses occurred on August 17, 1967, when fire destroyed the Takoma Park railroad station, the most beloved symbol of Takoma's historic heritage.

 

The Cady-Lee Mansion at 7064 Eastern Avenue (Southeast corner at the intersection of Piney Branch Road) was saved from the fate of its neighbors that were lost for construction of modern apartment buildings in the early 1970's.  Citizens successfully rallied to save this magnificent house, built in 1887 and designed by noted architect Leon Dessez.  It was subsequently designated on the District's Inventory of Historic Sites in 1974 and on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  Adjacent Takoma Park Historic Districts were created and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in both Washington, DC (1983) and Maryland (1973). 

 

Takoma DC today retains its historical character, rich in cultural diversity, social and civic activism, small businesses, tree lined streets, sidewalks and parks, and variety of housing from small and moderately-sized bungalows to stately homes, big four-square houses, and art deco apartments.  Attracted by the unique ambiance, families of economically, racially, and ethnically diverse backgrounds have made their home in Takoma -- an active community with its small-town charm intact, nestled in the northwest corner of the nation's capital.

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Written by Tanya Beauchamp of Takoma Park, MD, for the District Historic Preservation Office, With edits and additions by Loretta Neumann, a founder and former vice president of Historic Takoma.
 
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[1].  In recognition of their different political jurisdictions, today the two communities are generally referred to as Takoma Park, MD and Takoma, DC (without the "park").  For purposes of clarity, the distinction will continue in this publication.