THE BERWYN HEIGHTS COMPANY

The Berwyn Heights Company played an important role in the second phase of the Town’s development, lasting from circa 1905 to 1924.  BHHC records on the Company are incomplete and leave many questions unanswered. So, any information that adds to our understanding is very welcome.

The Berwyn Heights Building and Improvement Company was incorporated in Washington, D.C. in October 1909 by Fred Benson, Charles Eldridge, William Poultney, William Smyser and Robert Armour for the purpose of developing Berwyn Heights (The Washington Herald, October 23, 1909, Page 11). In the same period, a new streetcar line, the Washington Spa Spring & Gretta Railroad (WSS&GRR) was being constructed to serve the Town. This streetcar company was chartered in 1905 by Samuel S. Yoder, a two term US Congressman from Ohio, who served as its President. Yoder had purchased and was living in the former Waugh mansion on Edmonston Road when Congress was not in session.

Both companies shared the goal to get more people to settle in the town. The streetcar aimed to make it easier to commute to a downtown workplace (the D.C. terminus was at 15th and H Street near the Treasury Department), while the Berwyn Heights Company was advertising and selling land. The Berwyn Heights Company owned land along the tracks but we do not know if there was a formal link between the two ventures or if they operated independently.

Benson relative poses in front of Benson home, 1940

Benson home with Berwyn Heights Company sign, 1940
The young lady is a visiting relative from Panama.

Several of the D.C. residents, who incorporated the Berwyn Heights Company, later moved to Berwyn Heights, where they were instrumental in founding the Berwyn Heights (Citizen) Association. Fred Benson served on the board of directors of the Berwyn Heights Company, and by 1920 was presiding over its board while also serving as President of the Association.  Elwood Taylor served as vice president, John McNitt as treasurer, and W.H. Willard as secretary.

After Fred Benson’s death in 1923, his wife Margaret Benson and his sons Howard and Clarence appear to have taken on some of the responsibilities for the business. As late as 1943, Margaret and Clarence Benson’s signatures appear on a deed that conveys land in block 27 owned by the Berwyn Heights Company to the Town for the purpose of extending 58th Avenue (formerly Huntley Ave.) from Tecumseh Street (Newby Ave.) to Greenbelt Road.

Author: Kerstin Harper
Sources: Town records, Library of Congress’ digital archive of historic newspapers

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