Legend and Lore: A History of Hyattsville, Part 2
BY KIMBERLY SCHMIDT — Readers may remember that the last Legend & Lore took a look at our local history with a timeline that ran from 1608 to 1886, when Hyattsville was incorporated. At the time, it had four churches, three grocery stores, three butcher shops, a dry-goods business, blacksmith and tinsmith shops, a livery stable, two fire halls, and a land office.
Some time later, a publication called The Suburban Citizen called Hyattsville “a beautiful village,” adding that “its surroundings are all of the most delightful character, and as a business or residential location it cannot be surpassed, nesting as it does on and around a beautiful chain of Maryland hills.”
We pick up the tale in 1892 ….
1892—Hyattsville gains national attention when it adopts the “single tax system” wherein property owners are taxed solely on land and not houses or improvements. The single tax system is eventually declared unconstitutional by the Maryland Court of Appeals. (Folks, this was our fifteen minutes of fame and it had to do with taxes? Surely we can do better than that.)
1898—A severe drought results in residents locking their wells and guarding them with shotguns in hand. This situation renews efforts to provide public water to Hyattsville residents.
1899—Streetcars come to Hyattsville, connecting our town to Washington, D.C., and making for easy commutes up and down Route 1.
1900—Michael V. Tierney was elected Hyattsville’s first mayor, starting many years of distinguished service to the city by the Tierney family. The first city council is also seated.
1901—Eighteen technologically advanced citizens subscribe to the Southern Maryland Telephone Company, which established lines along Baltimore Avenue/Route 1.
1904—A sewage system is installed, costing taxpayers $30,000. It seems outdoor privies remained popular; a year later, only 92 households had actually obtained permits.
1908—The first speed limit was imposed on Hyattsville residents. This law pertained to “automobiles, locomobiles, or any other kinds of vehicle whether propelled by gasoline, electricity, or any other power; of horses attached to carriages, wagons or buggies; and of bicycles or any vehicle traveling the city streets.” Roller skates are banned from sidewalks.
1910—Hyattsville Hardware store opens and stays in continuous operation until 1992. Trains from Baltimore stopped at the back of the store to deliver everything from nuts and bolts to kit houses.
1911—The 25th anniversary of our town. No word on whether gifts of silver were exchanged.
1912—The first municipal building is erected at what is now 4334 Farragut Street. Total cost: $6,555.
1915—A central high school is built. Land near the site rises in value, and locals see the emergence of Ellaville and Hyattsville Hills (which we should rename Hyattsville Hill, since there is only one).
1916—The Hyattsville Horticultural Association is founded with the motto “Horti Meliora Domicilla” (“Better Gardens make Better Homes”). This HHA lasts until 1987. It is revived in 2006 and continues to meet monthly.
1918—World War I ends. Hyattsville men come marching home and housing development is spurred by young families moving to the area. The bungalow is the most popular housing style around.
1919—Hyattsville welcomes home its WWI vets, including those from “Company F,” with a grand parade and dance held at the Armory.
1920—After landing headfirst in a full barrel containing the contents of Hyattsville’s emptied privies, Mrs. Hezekiah Bailey is rushed to the Casualty Hospital with the ambulance windows fully open.
1921—Women vote for the first time in Hyattsville’s elections, doubling the number of votes. Because the women’s vote helped elect him, Mayor J. Frank Rushe is dubbed “a Lady’s Man.” Also this year, the Women’s Club of Hyattsville opens Hyattsville’s first public library.
1935—Our post office was built as part of the New Deal Administration’s attention to public buildings. The P.O. includes historic murals by nationally known landscape artist Eugene Kingman. Kingman’s commission for the murals stipulated scenes from Hyattsville countryside. If you want to get a feel for what Hyattsville looked like in the mid-1930s, go mail a letter.
1940—Hyattsville’s street names are changed to conform to the street pattern established in Washington, DC.
1940s & 50s—The high concentration of automobile showrooms and businesses along Route 1 earn the nickname “Auto Alley.” The historic Lustine Building was erected in 1950, heralding 20 years of prosperity as the Lustine franchise was one of Chevrolet’s most profitable in the country.
1942—Rationing of rubber, sugar and gas to help with the war effort is enforced. To encourage victory gardens, the Maryland Park and Planning Commission made beanpoles available for pickup.
1944—Women call their sons and husbands home from the World War II during the annual Easter Egg Hunts held in Magruder Park. The 1944 event was attended by hundreds of Hyattsvillagers.
1945—Area children are disappointed when the city council votes to curtail their “sledding privileges” to Jefferson Avenue.
1949—Hyattsville residents dub themselves “Tree City USA” with the slogan “Woodman, Spare That Tree,” and tree planting in the city becomes a tradition. The official designation from the National Arbor Day Foundation comes in 1986, during Hyattsville’s centennial year.
1956—Charles Caldwell and Don de Julius installed a theater-size Wurlitzer organ in their basement and evidently “entertained the entire neighborhood” with their music.
1958—Streetcar service from Washington, D.C. closes. Businesses in town begin to lose business to Prince George’s Plaza when it opens the following year.
1967—The TESST School opens its doors to students who were “eager to learn the latest in solid state technology” — that is, electronics and circuitry.
1979— The Hyattsville Preservation Association is formed. It is a civic association committed to preserving Hyattsville’s historic character and structures and to serve home owners through the exchange of information on preserving older homes.
1982—A significant portion of Hyattsville’s residential district is designated an historic district and added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1983—The last “bath with a path” (outdoor privy) is razed.
1986—Hyattsville celebrates its 100th anniversary. Mayor Thomas Bass uses the occasion to commend the many houses of worship, seven private and public schools, a number of well-known businesses, and the extensive library and park system.
1992—Longtime resident Mike Franklin opens Franklins General Store, “helping to recapture the spirit of the bustling community,” as stated on its website, and encouraging a renaissance of Hyattsville historic downtown core. The brewpub addition was built in 2002.
2004—The historic district is expanded to include approximately 1,000 structures, most of which are residential.
Today—Hyattsville is experiencing a renaissance with a designated Arts District, new townhomes, restaurants, grocery stores and businesses opening along the Route 1 and East-West Highway corridors.