On the occasion of the United States Bicentennial celebration in 1976, the late Donald D. Skarda, erstwhile resident of Berwyn Heights, published a very good little history of this Town entitled “Berwyn Heights. A History of a Small Maryland Town.”1 A few copies are still in circulation among long time residents, and a handful are on file in the Town office. If you have one, treasure it or share it with a neighbor.
On the eve of this year’s Town election, it may be appropriate to recall how Berwyn Heights began. Skarda summarized it thus: “The Town of Berwyn Heights officially came into being on April 2, 1896, by an act of the Maryland General Assembly passed on that date.2 The Charter specified the corporate limits of the Town to include all and the same land contained in Edward Graves’ subdivision of the tract of land heretofore known as Charlton Heights…
The Charter of 24 Sections called for the election of three commissioners to serve for one year without pay to administer the affairs of the Town. They were authorized to appoint a Town Clerk to keep appropriate records, and a Bailiff to preserve peace and order in the Town. The commissioners were authorized to levy taxes on all real and personal property, but not to exceed ten cents on each hundred dollars of assessed valuation… 3
Section 7 specified that an election of commissioners was to be held on the first Monday in May in the year 1896, and named Dr. Adelbert H. Lee, Archie Thompson and Elijah G. Gate [Cate] as judges of the election. Yet for reasons unknown, there is no record that an election was ever held or that any other provisions of the charter were ever carried out,” commented Skarda.
Forty years later, I have yet to lay eyes on a report of the 1896 election, but in all likelihood an election was held. Thanks to the Internet, we now have access to a multitude of historic sources that were not available to Skarda. One of the most rewarding is the Library of Congress’ digitized historic newspaper collection. Here one can find an April 28,1896 Evening Times article4 reporting the nomination of 3 candidates, John C. Bonnet, John T. Burch, and Hezekiah S. Waple, to run for commissioners in the May 4, 1896 election. Clearly, plans for an election were being made.
Another clue that an election in fact took place can be gleaned from the Journals of the Maryland Assembly, which was called upon to resolve a conflict related to the next Town election. That election was held on May 3, 1897. William DeMott, Edwin A. Alger and James C. Brelsford were elected commissioners and for a time managed the affairs of the Town. This can be ascertained from at least 2 reports in newspapers of the day.5
Sometime during their term of office, the election was challenged because the Town’s commissioners – presumably those who were elected in 1896 – had failed to appoint election judges in accordance with the Town Charter. Instead, the eligible voters of the Town by agreement selected John C. Bonnet, John Dove and Mahlen C. Stolzenberg to oversee that election.6
The Maryland Assembly addressed the controversy during its next legislative session. The matter was first taken up on on February 8, 1898, and referred to a Committee of Senators Clagett, Gray and Bouie. The Act to Declare Valid the Election went through 3 readings in the Senate and the House before being signed by Governor Lloyd Lowndes on March 22, 1898.7 Yet despite the upholding of the 1897 election results, there appear to have been no other elections held under the 1896 Charter. It was not until 1924, after a new charter had been adopted,.8 that a regular Town government began to operate.
2 “An act to incorporate the town of Berwyn Heights in Prince George’s County,” Session Laws of the Maryland Assembly, 1896 Session, Volume 475, Page 450.
3 Skarda, p. 21.
6 “An Act to declare valid the election of William DeMott, Edwin A. Alger and James C. Brelsford as Commissioners of the town of Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s county, on the first Monday in May, 1897, and to ratify and confirm the acts done by said Commissioners,” Session Laws of the Maryland Assembly, 1898 Session, Volume 482. Page 147.
7 Journal of Proceedings of the Senate of Maryland, January Session, 1898, pp. 220, 258, 317, 548, 892.
8 “Be it Enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland, that Chapter 267 of the Acts of 1896, entitled “An Act to incorporate the town of Berwyn Heights in Prince George’s County, ” be and the same is hereby repealed and re-enacted with amendments so as to read as follows…” Session Laws of the Maryland Assembly, 1924 Session, Volume 568. Page 1262.
Maryland Milestones’ Executive Director, Aaron Marcavitch drew a record crowd during our March 18 spring reception. He did a fantastic job presenting his recently published Images of America book: US Route 1: Baltimore to Washington, DC. (available online, or at nearby Books-a-Million in Beltway Plaza Mall for $21.99).
Guests took the opportunity to chat with Aaron and get their books signed. Many stayed on after the presentation to reminisce about restaurants, car dealerships and other businesses that lined Route 1 in times gone by.
On April 28, 1896, the residents of Berwyn Heights assembled in the spacious home of John C. Bonnet to nominate 3 suitable candidates for commissioners in the recently incorporated Town. They nominated Hezekier S. Waple, a merchant and postmaster of Berwyn, John T. Burch, Justice of the Peace, and John Bonnet. Thus reported the Evening Times in its April 28, 1896 edition.1
It so happens, we have additional information to share about the civic-minded host of this assembly, thanks to Robert Gray, a Bonnet descendant, who attended our 2015 Berwyn Heights Association centennial celebration.2 (For those who follow this blog, Mr. Gray is also related to the Benson family, which played such a large role in our Town’s history. He is a cousin of Jim Benson on his father’s side.)
John Bonnet (1834-1904) was born Johann Conrad Bonnet near Kassel, Germany. He was a tailor by trade, and around 1855 went to England with his brother Carl Ludwig, where they started a tailoring business in the Woolwich district of London. Johann married Marie Dorothea Raabe (1836-1911), a native of Kiel, northern Germany in March 1857. They had 8 children and several grew up to work in their father’s tailor shop.3
Their eldest son, Peter Louis, left for America in 1881,4 and opened his own tailor shop on 923 E Street, NW in Washington, DC.5 His sister, Maria Augusta, followed her brother in 1885, and was soon joined by two other sisters Johanette and Katrinka. In 1888, Johann and Marie Bonnet gathered up their youngest children Gustav and Emily and also came to America.6 With assistance from Peter Louis and his wife Mary, they purchased a property in the newly platted suburb of Charlton Heights in March 1891, and had a house built on lots 8, 9 and 10 in block 7.7 This classic box-style foursquare, described as a conspicuous landmark in a Prince George’s County historic survey, still stands at 5617 Seminole Street.
Once settled, the Bonnets joined Charlton Heights social circles, hosted card games and musical evenings8 and attended Berwyn Presbyterian Church.9 Johann, now John Bonnet, began investing in real estate, and with his wife purchased a score of tax sale properties in the vicinity.10 Several were located in Lakeland, but most were near their home in block 7. In 1897, John and Marie transferred the house to their son Gustav. In 1903, they purchased a 1½ acre parcel across the tracks in Berwyn where they built a pretty Victorian house,11 today located at 4816 Berwyn Road. That house passed to their daughter Emily and her husband Arthur B. Gahan, a renowned professor of entomology at the University of Maryland.12 Their daughter Winifred Gahan next owned the house and lived there until she died in November 2002.
You might ask what happened in the election and whether John Bonnet and his fellow nominees were in fact elected commissioners of Berwyn Heights. The short answer is ‘maybe’. A longer explanation must wait for another post.
3 Gray Vignettes.
4 Caspian (British Steamer) Passenger List, 1881
5 1890 D.C. Directory.
6 Gray Vignettes
7 Deed February 3, 1891, Charlton Heights Improvement Co. to Mary Bonnet, PGC Land Records JWB 25-515.
10 Bonnet in PGC Land Records, Grantee Index, 1848-1922
11 Deed April 22, 1903, Edward Daniels to John C. Bonnet, 1½ acres of former Reyburn tract, Book 11 Page 408.
Some 40 patrons, many armed with smart phones, attended the unveiling of a Historic Walking Tour Mobile App at our fall reception. The app was produced by the GIS Section of the Prince George’s Planning Department based on the content of a current BHHC Walking Tour Brochure and historic markers. GIS Specialist Mussie Tewolde, who worked on the app, gave a demonstration.
We hope, in time, this app will become a comprehensive guide to all historic sites in Berwyn Heights. We plan to add more descriptions of homes, and invite anyone to contribute information they may have about historic homes, as well as interesting people or events connected with them.
Meanwhile check out the app online at https://tinyurl.com/HistoricBerwynHeights or scan the QR code.
This 6-room,1-bath mail order house located at 8409 58th Avenue was built in 1920 – 1921 by the Berwyn Heights Company.1 It was purchased by Catherine A. Moulton (1874-1938) and her daughters Monemia and Parthia, joint tenants, in February 1922.2 Prior to purchasing the home, Catherine lived in Dorchester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She was married to Francis J. Moulton (1868-1909), who worked as an oysterman off Hooper’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay.3 They had 5 children: twin girls Monemia and Parthia born in 1901, then Howard (1903), Charles (1905) and Lilly (1909).4
Catherine, nee Fitzpatrick, was an immigrant. She came to America from Ireland with her family in April 1887 aboard the ocean liner City of Montreal.5 Francis, on the other hand, grew up in a prominent New England family. He was born in France to Charles Raymond and Lillie (Greenough) Moulton.6 His Moulton ancestors had first settled in Saalem, MA in the late 1600s, and their English forebears trace their lineage to Thomas Moulton who fought with William the Conqueror in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.7
Charles R. Moulton was a wealthy banker, and a son of Charles F. Moulton, a merchant from Troy, NY, who had accumulated a great fortune in the cotton trade. Charles Sr. was a personal friend of Louis Napoleon, and he and his family moved to Paris when Napoleon became Emperor of France in 1852.8 The Moultons owned several houses in and near Paris, including the Chateau de Petit Val, where Charles Jr. and his wife Lillie would reside after their marriage. Lillie was a famous soprano and an appreciated guest at the court of Louis Napoleon. She gave performances in Paris’ high society and counted among her friends such important composers as Liszt, Wager, Rossini, Gounod and Auber.9 After the fall of Napoleon III in 1870, the Moultons returned to the United States, where Charles died. In 1875, Lillie married the Danish diplomat, Johann de Hegermann-Lindencrone, whom she followed to Washington and a number of European capitals where he served. Her life in Paris and as a diplomats wife is chronicled in two books of letters she published in 1911 and 1913.10
Lillie’s children were raised with the help of nurses. After her return to America, they stayed with her family at Fay House in Cambridge, MA and went to school there.11 Considering the upbringing, it is a bit of a mystery how the Moulton scion Francis ended up working the oyster grounds of the Chesapeake Bay. But the leap is perhaps not as great as it might first appear.
In the late 1800s, the Chesapeake Bay was experiencing an oyster boom that drew men in search of profit from many places, in particular from New England. The once thriving New England oyster industry had gone into decline because its oyster beds had been depleted. But the Chesapeake seemed to have an inexhaustible supply. In the peak year of 1884, 15 million bushels of oysters were harvested in the Chesapeake, representing nearly half of the world’s supply.12 A reporter for Harper’s Magazine described the boom as “simply a mad scramble carried on in 700 boats manned by 5,600 daring and unscrupulous men.”13 The scramble pitted mostly local watermen, who “tonged” for oysters in the shallow waters of the river deltas, against outsiders, or “oyster pirates,” who “dredged” in deeper waters, but gradually encroached on the tongers’ territory. This resulted in numerous violent clashes and often death. The efforts of the Maryland Oyster Navy to restore order during the Chesapeake Oyster Wars were largely ineffective.14
All things considered, Francis’ illustrious ancestry did not have much practical significance in his adult life. He died in March 1909 at the age of 41 from inflammation of the kidneys and acute bronchitis,15 possibly the result of working in the icy waters of the Chesapeake during the winter oyster season. Catherine was left to raise their children. The year 1920 finds her living in Vienna, Dorchester County, where she was employed as a laborer, while her sons worked as farm hands.16 Her daughters Monemia and Parthia both attended Maryland State Normal School (Towson University).17 After graduating in 1920, the Misses Moulton first lived in Washington, D.C., where Monemia was a clerk in the Commerce Department,18 before moving to Berwyn Heights. The Berwyn Heights house was sold in August 1939, a year after Catherine died, to Arthur and Mabel Shank.19 Catherine and two of her children are buried at Fort Lincoln Cemetery.
1 Berwyn Heights Company Minute Book, Page 64
2 Deed, 4 February 1922, Berwyn Heights Company to Catherine A. Moulton, Monemia Moulton & Parthia Moulton, Prince George’s Land Records, Book 237, Page 357.
3 U.S. Census Record, 1900.
4 U.S. Census Record, 1910.
5 City of Montreal Passenger List, 19 April 1887.
7 Miller, Charles C., and Samuel A. Baxter, eds. “The History of Allen County, Ohio and Representative Citizens.,” Chicago: Richmond & Arnold, 1906. Page 805.
8 Miller and Baxter. Page 809.
11 U.S. Census record, 1880.
13 Wennersten, John R. “The Oyster Wars of the Chesapeake Bay,” Tidewater Press, 1981. Page 55.
16 U.S. Census record, 1920.
17Maryland State Normal School. Book of the Senior Class, Vol. I. Towson MD, 1919. Page 60.
18 D.C. City Directory, 1922.
19 Deed, 10 August 1939, Prince George’s Land Records, Book 538, Page 67.
In 1931, Joseph Chlopicki and Donald Wade together purchased lots 5, 6, 33, and 34 in block 8 to enlarge an existing chicken farm Chlopicki owned.1 Chlopicki and his wife Gladys had moved to Berwyn Heights in 19212, and bought the property with the chicken farm encompassing the eastern end of block 8, from Charles Donaldson in 1928.3 Photos and documents about their joint venture were shared with the Historical Committee by Debbie McGrath, who is the grand-daughter of Donald Wade. She contacted us to find out more about old tax records she found in a box of personal papers that had belonged to her grand-father.4
The photos show scenes from the farm: building of fences, clearing the land, and feeding of chickens. Several photos labeled ‘November 29, 1926’ show Donald Wade dressed in city clothes apparently looking the property over.
During the 1920s, Chlopicki and Wade both worked at B.F. Keith’s Theatre at 15th and G Street, NW across from the Treasury Department, Chlopicki as a projectionist5 – Keith’s pioneered the Lumière Cinématograph for a moving picture show in their New York theater in 18966 – and Wade as a trombonist for the orchestra.7 The Keith was the premiere vaudeville entertainment venue in Washington as soon as it opened in 1912. President William Howard Taft was present on opening night, and his successor Woodrow Wilson attended nearly every Saturday evening performance. The centerpiece of the building was a huge six-story auditorium that could accommodate 1,838 patrons, in mahogany seats upholstered in red Spanish leather. The walls were covered with tapestry of red silk, and the stage curtain was ruby-red with gold fringes, while the lobby was finished in Sienna marble.8
Benjamin F. Keith and his manager Edward F. Albee ran about 30 vaudeville theaters in the eastern U.S., based on the principle of presenting wholesome family entertainment. Signs were posted backstage warning performers of dire consequences if they used even mild profanity or otherwise offended the audience’s decency.9 Keith and Albee also dominated the Vaudeville Managers’ Association (VMA), which controlled the theatrical bookings of the major vaudeville circuits. In 1928, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) bought the Keith-Albee-Orpheum, formed Radio-Keith Orpheum (RKO) Pictures, and turned the vaudeville circuit into a chain of movie theaters.10 In 1932, when sound was introduced with movies, live acts were eliminated as well. Chlopicki remained an operator of movies at RKO Keith’s, but Wade went to work for other theaters, including the Fox11 and the Loew’s Capitol.
Donald Wade (1888-1966) was born in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, but he grew up in the small town of Manchester near Boston, MA, where his family had settled.12 He showed an early interest in music and had an ambition to be a member of the home town band. He joined the band as a trombone player because it was an instrument that was available at that time. Through hard work and a teacher’s assistance in arranging lessons with renowned instructors, Wade became an accomplished trombonist, and started playing engagements with bands all over the Boston area. During World War I, he enlisted in the 20th band, C.A.C., and upon his discharge, he came to Washington to play at B.F. Keith’s.13 On March 1, 1930, he married Louise Moloney,14a widow with 2 sons, David and Joseph, from the prior marriage. In June 1930, he bought a house in Berwyn Heights at 5808 Keleher Avenue15 (now Ruatan Street), where they raised their sons and daughter Margaret, born in November 1931.
Joseph Chlopicki, also referred to as Joseph von Chlopicki, was born in August 1883 in Warsaw, Poland, then under Russia’s control. He came to the United States with his younger brother Julius on the Cedric sailing from Liverpool, England in November 1907.16 Initially, he worked with Julius in a rubber tire business in Washington, D.C.17 Trained as an electrical engineer, his interests soon turned elsewhere. In the 1914 D.C. Directory, he listed his occupation as ‘lantern slides’, the projection of still images onto a screen,18 anticipating his future career as a projectionist. Meanwhile, Julius had expanded into auto repair and would eventually run his own shop.19
Joseph married Wladyslawa (Gladys) von Lichodziejewska (1889-1983), born in Russia-ruled Poland,20 in November 1910, and Julius married Rose Stracilo ca. 1916,21 whose parents also hailed from Poland, had settled in Baltimore and later moved to Surrattsville, Prince George’s County.22 City directories and US Census data show Joseph and Julius living at the same addresses in the 1910s, first in D.C. and then in the Spauldings District, Prince George’s County. Their paths diverged when Joseph and his wife moved to Berwyn Heights and became members of Washington’s fashionable society.
1 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 355, pp. 366, 268.
2 D.C. City Directory, 1921, p. 460.
3 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 313, p. 543.
4 Donald Wade papers, per Debbie McGrath.
5 D.C. City Directory, 1921, p. 460.
7 “Trombone Hall of Fame – No. 39 – Donald Wade,” Jacob’s Band Monthly, Vol. 5, Oct. 1920, per Debbie McGrath.
8 “Vaudeville and other High Drama at 15th & G,” John DeFerrari, Streets of Washington Blog, accessed 4 June 2017.
9 Vaudeville, John DeFerrari.
11 D.C. City Directory, 1932, p. 1602.
12 U.S. Military Draft Registration Card, 5 June 1917.
13 Jacob’s Band Monthly.
14 D.C. Marriage Records, 1910-1953.
15 Prince George’s County Land Records, book 354, p. 483.
18 D.C. Directory, 1914.
19 U.S. Census Records, 1920, 1930
19 D.C. Marriage Records, 1910-53.
20 U.S. Military Draft Registration, 5 Jun. 1917.
21 Rose Stracilo in U.S. Census Record, 1910.
Nothing needs to be said about the weather this Berwyn Heights Day, except it was ill suited for the occasion. Regardless, an intrepid crew of Historical Committee members set up a tent and exhibits and chatted with residents who came out to celebrate.
The highlight was a tour of the Berwyn Heights museum. A half dozen participants crowded into the small room to listen to a presentation by Kerstin Harper on the museum’s holdings. Committee member Sharmila Bhatia pointed out that a significant number of the artifacts were donated by the Lofgren family. The latest addition were a recently-mounted set of long-handled tools. The tools were once used by the Berwyn Heights Association to erect poles for street lights after Pepco got around to bringing electricity into the community in 1921. Other artifacts from the Taylor Lofgren house include a wooden Waugh Avenue street sign (which served as a stopper board in a wood stack before it was rescued), and a 1910 United Realty map of the Berwyn Heights subdivision showing the original street names.
Ms. Harper said the extent of the BHHC collection is not obvious from the artifacts displayed in the museum, as it comprises many documents, photos, maps and books stored in a cabinet, or in electronic format. A series of minute books from the Town’s early years were found stashed away in a Town safe a couple of years ago. The BHHC scanned them and will make the electronic copies available to anyone interested in reading them.
This year’s exhibit featured the Edward Graves’ mansion (see puzzle ‘varges snowmain’ in April Bulletin), better known as St. Ann’s orphanage. The mansion was raised in 1958 to make way for Berwyn Heights Elementary School. Next to James Waugh, Graves (1845-1910) was the founder of the Charlton Heights suburb, who most influenced its development. He had the land subdivided in 1887, served as treasurer of the Charlton Heights Improvement Company (CHIC) – the real estate company for the development – and bought back half of the land when CHIC went out of business in 1892. Unlike for Waugh, for Graves Charlton Heights was not the main source of income. He was co-owner with his uncle Benjamin Charlton of the prosperous Havenner Bakery in north-west D.C. He and his wife Katherine kept selling lots and leasing homes in the development until around 1907.
“This charming bungalow nestling in a setting of trees represents one of the best pieces of work of our master designers. Individuality is portrayed in all its lines and it is distinctly American in character. Sunshine implies cheerfulness, happiness and light. Could a more fitting name be given to this home?” (1920 Aladdin Co. Catalogue)
This 3-bedroom, 1-bath craftsman bungalow with south-facing front porch sits on lot 9 in block 32 at 5906 Pontiac Street. It was one of the properties conveyed by William H. Willard to the Berwyn Heights Company in December 1919 to form part of the start-up inventory of this resident-owed real estate company. Willard was a carpenter by trade and built several homes in Berwyn Heights, possibly including the Sunshine. His background was certainly useful, when he joined the Berwyn Heights Company in November 1919. He served as the Company’s Secretary until 1925, and supervised construction and remodeling activities in Company-owned homes.
The Sunshine was owned by Frank Chandler, a draftsman for the Granite Company, when Willard purchased an option in the property, which he then turned over to the Berwyn Heights Company. The Company listed the property for $3,700 in April 1920, including the adjacent lots 6,7 and 8. George and Mary Donovan bought it in May, 1920 and had it until April 1929. More recently, it has been owned by former Berwyn Heights Mayor, Jadie McDougald, who sold it to the Enderson family in 1978.
Berwyn Heights Company Minute Book
Prince George’s County Land Records
Join us on Sunday, March 26 at 2 p.m for a wine and cheese reception and help us remember the post-War era in Berwyn Heights. Our oral history team will host a moderated discussion about what our Town was like in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. We have so many questions:
- Which restaurants and shops were on Greenbelt Road?
- How was Sports Park built?
- Who led the Cub Scouts, Blue Birds and Boys & Girls Club?
- Community center on the Doyle property?
- What was school like?
- What was the Berwyn Heights Citizen Association doing?
- Town taxes for storm water system construction?
The November 13 premiere of the BHHC highlights reel (click to view) of interviews with long-time residents was attended by some 30 appreciative guests. In the conversation that followed the presentation, they shared memories of movie nights at the Town Center, cub scouts, sledding on un-plowed streets, hand delivery of the Town’s tax bills, and a story about how Good Luck Road got its name. Many expressed interest in participating in a new round of oral histories the BHHC plans to conduct.