Legend and Lore: A History of Hyattsville, Part 1
BY KIMBERLY SCHMIDT — In this special two-part edition of Legend & Lore, we take a look at what happened here up to 1886, when Hyattsville was incorporated. Check back next month, when the timeline will take us up to the present day.
1608—John Smith sails up the 40-foot deep Anacostia River. He remarks in his diary on the verdant rich soil, the crystal-clear waters and the abundant diversity of fish, game, birds and wildlife.
Pre-1728—Two properties were marked out at the fork of the Eastern Branch (now the Anacostia), “Black Ask” and “New Dumfreeze.” These eventually became early Hyattsville.
1728—John Beall lays out a settlement at the river’s fork and, demonstrating remarkable creativity, named his village … Beall Town. (Wonder what he named his kids?)
1783—The first American stagecoach route passes through our area.
1812—The Baltimore-Washington Turnpike is funded by Congress. It runs through our town, connecting the two cities.
1814—General Ross marches his British forces through the area, meeting American forces at Bladensburg. The Americans, deciding it was time to take a bath, go for a swim in the Anacostia’s then-sparkling waters. Cleanliness, it turns out, is not enough to beat back Ross’s men, and the unkempt Brits go on to pillage and burn Washington, D.C.
1835—The Washington Line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is completed and runs parallel to the B-W Turnpike, helping to turn what eventually became Hyattsville from a bucolic country village into a bustling center for trade and commerce.
1837—Samuel F. B. Morse invents the telegraph. He ran the lines along the railroad right-of-way that came through what is now Hyattsville. The historic first message, “What hath God wrought,” was transmitted over these lines.
1845—Christopher Hyatt purchases three acres, once a part of the Black Ask tract, and builds an imposing 32-room mansion. (No bathrooms, though.) He also builds a store.
1859—Hyatt is appointed post master of the region. The post office was housed in his store and he held this position for six years.
1865—The name “Hyattsville” is first used for our town, again demonstrating the remarkable creativity of early residents.
1860s —Residents of Hyattsville enjoy Spa Springs in nearby Bladensburg, an area known for its healthful mineral waters, swimming, boating and fishing. (Imagine that!)
1870s—Many homes in Hyattsville are built close to the railroad tracks, including a small but thriving row of houses to the east. These were modest residences housing white and African-American laborers. Two houses, 5600 and 5602 Rhode Island Avenue, are still extant.
1884—Christopher Hyatt passes away.
1886—Our town is incorporated. The town boasts four churches, including St. Jerome’s, three grocery stores, three butcher shops, a dry goods and notions store, blacksmith and tinsmith shops, two wood and coal dealers, a livery stable, two town fire halls, and a land office. But no brewpub!