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
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,
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
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
at P Street
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.
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
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
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
residence at 2715 Q Street.
Although their business failed in 1815, the Sligo
Creek mill buildings survived and later became part of Takoma Park.
was socially prominent and a friend of Dolley
Madison, assisting her in her flight from the burning city in 1814.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.)
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
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
The Washington Sanitarium, became the present Washington Adventist
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.
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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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