Favored with beautiful weather after days of pouring down rain, our Town celebrated another wonderful Berwyn Heights Day. The Historical Committee had prepared two dedications. In the morning, the Town Council dedicated a newly-renovated conference room, named for the late Geraldine “Jerry” Love, who used to run a small Town library in that location. Two of her sons, former Mayor Tom Love and his brother William were in attendance. They were happy that Mrs. Love’s many years of volunteer work in the library were thus honored.
After the parade, the Historical Committee unveiled this year’s historic marker, which commemorates the story of the Washington, Spa Spring & Gretta Railroad, or WSSGRR for short. This streetcar company, which ran between 15th and H Street, NE in the District of Columbia and Berwyn Heights, by way of Bladensburg and Riverdale, operated between 1910 and 1923. Despite it’s less than stellar service record, WSSGRR helped spur development in these communities. Berwyn Heights saw a steady influx of well-to-do D.C. residents during this period. In 1915, they organized the Berwyn Heights (Citizen) Association and, in 1924, they had the Town rechartered to form a fully functioning government.
The Historical Committee was very pleased that Robert Shea made the trip from Connecticut to participate in the ceremony. Mr. Shea is the great grandson of former Congressman Samuel S. Yoder, who invested his personal fortune to build WSSGRR, and put Berwyn Heights real estate back on the market.
On May 6, 1906, the real estate section of The Washington Times featured Berwyn Heights on page 1, 3 and 8, including a full page advertisement offering properties for sale. Quarter acre lots were sold for the price of $250, inclusive a $100 equity in the Berwyn Land & Manufacturing Corporation, set up to develop the subdivision. Berwyn Heights, with its convenient access to Washington D.C., was described as a money making suburb because investors would benefit from both, the certain increase in property values and an increase in dividends. The write-up seemed to work: one month later, a notice in The Washington Times thanked the paper for helping to sell 170 lots in Berwyn Heights.
The ads and notice were placed by former Congressman Samuel S. Yoder, who had recently purchased the holdings of the Jacob Tome Institute in Berwyn Heights, comprising about 275 acres or about 2/3 of the all the available land in the Town. Jacob Tome had financed the real estate dealings of James E. Waugh, one of the original developers of Charlton Heights, and after his death, Waugh’s properties passed to the Institute. Among the Tome properties Yoder acquired was the Waugh mansion on the eastern edge of Berwyn Heights, which became his country home.
Yoder’s purchase of the Tome Institute lands and the creation of the Berwyn Land & Manufacturing Corporation were part of a larger plan to profit from the tremendous expansion of Washington that occurred in the first decade of the 20th century. City people were flooding into the suburbs looking for affordable homes. The Berwyn Land & Manufacturing Corporation was intended to finance improvements in the subdivision to make it more attractive to prospective home buyers. But it was also meant to promote industry that made use of raw materials available in the area. Brick, tile and cement block factories were on the drawing board to supply the construction trade in the booming Hyattsville region.
Another part of the plan, was to build a streetcar, the Washington, Spa Spring and Gretta Railroad (WSSGRR), east of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad that would serve Berwyn Heights proper and several communities on the way. Streetcars were the principle means of transportation in the city before the arrival of the automobile, and made it possible for the middle class to relocate to the suburbs while continuing to work and shop downtown.
So far, this process had largely played itself out in the areas northwest of the District, but by 1905 growth was shifting to the east of Washington, where Hyattsville was becoming a regional center of industry and commerce. Prominent citizens in and around Hyattsville joined with Yoder, who lived in the District, to organize WSSGRR. They owned land, ran businesses, held leading positions on the Hyattsville City Council and in the government of Prince George’s County and the State of Maryland. In light of the fast growth of the area, a streetcar connection from Washington to develop the “neglected” areas east of the B & O Railroad appeared to make sense.