Then & Now: Historic Hyattsville House Tour celebrates 40 years
By RANDY FLETCHER — Last month, the telltale signs of spring started to arrive. The warmth of the sun urged flowers to pop up and show off their colorful blooms. Trees and shrubs pushed out new growth. The sounds of chirping birds and the smell of freshly cut grass began to fill the air.
But even before then, in the long dark days of winter, many homeowners were preparing for the spring rebirth of their homes. As they put away the fall and winter decorations and began cleaning, painting and repairing, they were carefully planning for even larger projects.
This annual ritual of clearing out the winter cobwebs and tidying up dormant gardens has been more important than usual for a small handful of homeowners in Hyattsville. They have been preparing for one of the city’s most beloved rites of spring, the Annual Historic Hyattsville House Tour, presented by the Hyattsville Preservation Association (HPA).
May 19 marks the 40th anniversary of this event. It’s the day when owners of homes on the tour will finally be ready to open their doors and show off the results of all their hours of planning, and the blood, sweat and tears — and buckets of elbow grease — they’ve poured into preparing their homes for this public debut.
These labors of love are always contagious, inspiring neighbors to gussy up their homes and yards. On tour day, upwards of 500 people will take to the streets, map in hand, and find their way to 10 homes of various styles and periods, six of which are listed on the Prince George’s County Register of Historic Homes. Along the way, they’ll pass by some of the other charming houses and yards of historic Hyattsville.
This year, some of the houses that appeared on the very first house tour 40 years ago will be making a comeback. Sharon Sweeting, a past president of HPA (1989-2004), owned a Gallatin Street house that was on that tour. She remembers the hustle and bustle of the early days of HPA. “We worked so hard in those days and spent countless hours researching the records in Upper Marlboro. We even helped push through tax credit legislation, which is beneficial for homeowners in the Historic District.” As for the tour itself, Sweeting remembers, “Back then, we did everything we could to make the house presentable. We didn’t have time to properly fix the plaster walls, so we put up red moire fabric in the parlor. It looked fabulous!”
Forty years later, the moire fabric is gone, having served its purpose well. The plaster walls have been repaired, and the current owners have put their own classic/modern touch on the home, adding colorful accents throughout. Even the shed in the alleyway has had a facelift.
Each owner makes a mark on the home they live in. Though the traces of their tenure may no longer be visible, they are part of the history of the home.
The house tour offers an opportunity to soak up some of this history, while experiencing Hyattsville’s friendliness and unique sense of place. You can peek into the ways people live and appreciate their individual styles. The house tour highlights the pride and hard work that residents have put into their homes. As Sharon Sweeting said, “One of the biggest contributions to the city that the house tour brings is pride of ownership.”
And Hyattsville’s diverse architecture is on display, too. As Carol Pappagiannis, HPA secretary and house tour liaison said, “Today, I see the tour as a parallel to the growth of the city. We have a more diverse community, and the homes on the tour are representative of this diversity. The tour of recent years is not only devoted to the older historic homes but to the many different types of homes in the city and the many different residents who live here.”
The Hyattsville Preservation Association (HPA) seeks to engage residents in the preservation and promotion of the many historic homes and buildings in our city. www.preservehyattsville.org.