By DW Rowlands
College Park incorporated in 1945, and it was the last of the string of jurisdictions along Route 1 — and one of the last ones in the county — to do so. Unlike the older communities established along the Route 1 Corridor, College Park was, prior to its incorporation, a group of neighborhoods that had developed at different times and for different reasons, and these neighborhoods were generally seen as individual and separate entities.
The neighborhoods that became College Park
The oldest of College Park’s neighborhoods is Branchville, which grew up as a rural community around a stop on the B&O Railroad’s Washington Branch. A post office opened in this spot in 1867, and by 1871 the rail station there served the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland). The station, the post office and a cluster of homes were located where Calvert Road crossed the railroad.
As Washington grew in the decades after the Civil War, so did the demand for suburbs along the rail lines. In 1888, Charlton Heights was platted, the first subdivision in the area that would later become College Park, was established north of what is now East-West Highway. In 1896 it incorporated and was renamed Berwyn Heights.
In 1889, land for the Berwyn and Old Town neighborhoods of the College Park we now know, was subdivided. Then, in 1890, Lakeland was established as a resort community on the wetlands of the Indian and Paint Branch Creeks.
Railroad commuting was expensive, and there was little growth, at first, in these railroad suburbs. Then the Rhode Island Avenue streetcar line opened under the name City & Suburban Railway, in 1900. It ran through what would become College Park; the line provided half-hourly service from Branchville Road into the District. In 1902 it extended to Laurel and became known as the Washington, Berwyn, and Laurel Railroad. This new ease of access spurred the establishment of Calvert Hills, south of Old Town, and Daniels Park and Hollywood, north of Branchville Road, within a few years.
Early incorporation attempts
Population growth in the area really took off in the years after World War I, and, in 1924, Berwyn Heights incorporated. That same year, a referendum to establish a Town of Berwyn — consisting of Berwyn, Branchville, and parts of Autoville and Daniels Park — failed. A second referendum, this time covering only the Berwyn subdivision, failed in 1927.
The next effort at a new municipal incorporation came in 1935, when a referendum to incorporate University City, with roughly the current borders of University Park, failed. The next year, the southern portion of University Park successfully incorporated, while Gov. Harry Nice vetoed a bill for a referendum to incorporate the Berwyn subdivision, after receiving a petition opposing the move from most of the qualified voters.
A final referendum to incorporate Berwyn, again including Branchville, Autoville, Daniels Park and Hollywood, failed in 1941. As was the case in the previous unsuccessful attempts, the voters who opposed incorporation were largely concerned about higher taxes.
Also in 1941, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill authorizing what were termed special improvement districts in Prince George’s County; these districts had the power to levy taxes to provide specific municipal services not provided by the county. Two years later, the county established Special Improvement Area No. 3, in Old Town and Calvert Hills, to provide trash collection and improve the area’s unpaved roads.
Negotiating College Park’s borders
After two decades of false starts, the path to College Park’s incorporation began in earnest in December 1944, when, with the encouragement of University of Maryland officials, a committee was formed to promote the incorporation of Old Town, Calvert Hills and College Heights (now the northeastern portion of University Park).
It took several months of negotiation, however, to settle on borders for the new town. The initial proposal would have placed the northern border along Paint Branch and the western border on Adelphi Road. During negotiations, Lakeland and Berwyn were added to the proposal. In response, Berwyn Heights introduced a counterproposal to annex Berwyn, itself. At the time, the two neighborhoods were linked by a grade crossing of Berwyn Road across the B&O tracks.
Berwyn quickly rejected the proposal for annexation by Berwyn Heights, but Berwyn Heights residents expressed support for inclusion in College Park, and representatives from the town were added to the committee drafting a proposed charter. Following a month of negotiations, though, residents at a Berwyn Heights town meeting voted 78-58 against joining College Park, and the neighborhood was dropped from the proposal.
The Maryland House of Delegates committee that considered the charter also removed College Heights and most of the rest of the territory between Baltimore Avenue and Adelphi Road from the proposal; delegates representing the area requested the change because most of what was known as West College Park consisted of farmland. Following this change, the city’s western border became Paint Branch, the University of Maryland campus and what would later become Guilford Road.
Much of the West College Park area was annexed into College Park over the decades that followed. At the time of incorporation, the eastern border largely resembled the city’s current border, though a portion of Lakeland was the only residential development east of the B&O tracks at that time.
Although Branchville Road was originally intended to be the city’s northern border, a last-minute amendment to the incorporation bill added an area further north, to Edgewood Road, as the Fifth District. However, in an oversight that was to become significant, that area was not added to the bill’s title.
Incorporation referendum and lawsuit
College Park’s incorporation referendum on June 4, 1945 passed 955-707, with 91% of the electorate voting. Support was strongest in Old Town and Calvert Hills, where the vote was 454-96 in favor of incorporation. Berwyn also supported the bill, with a vote of 219-158. The African American community of Lakeland was strongly opposed, though, with a vote of 171-9 against the measure, largely due to fears that incorporation was a plot to allow the university to seize residents’ land.
Fifth District voters also opposed incorporation by a small margin, 282-273, and several residents announced a lawsuit to overturn the incorporation. The basis of their suit was that excluding Fifth District communities from the title of the incorporation bill violated the state constitution’s requirement for descriptive bill titles.
During the summer of 1946, the court ruled that this drafting error invalidated College Park’s incorporation. The city appealed the ruling, and the Maryland Court of Appeals delayed ruling on the matter until the 1947 session of the General Assembly was able to pass a new bill of incorporation, which included a corrected title and provisions that allowed the mayor and city council to remain in office until the next regular election was held.