Welcome to the home of the Berwyn Heights Historical Committee. Please feel free to provide feedback or attend one of our regular meetings on the 4th Wednesday of each month in the G. Love conference room located at the corner of 57th Avenue and Berwyn Road.
Nearly forty guests attended our 100th Anniversary of the founding of the Berwyn Heights Company. Lively discussion about the Company and Berwyn Heights history started even before the event with the hoisting of two large old maps and placing of exhibits during morning setup, and continued on a larger scale at the reception.
Once everyone had sampled our choice buffet and drinks, BHHC chair Richard Ahrens welcomed those present and unveiled the historic marker. Former chair Dave Williams made time to create the layout and fabricate the mockup. Thanks Dave.
For the presentation, we were happy to have Bruce Tobin with us, who supplied interesting details about the Company’s CEOs, his grandparents Clarence and Helen Benson, his uncle William Benson and his parents Mildred and Robert Tobin. Bruce also brought the original BH Company Minute Book, which got this whole celebration started.
The slideshow would not have happened if BHHC vice chair Sharmila Bhatia had not proposed it. Great idea, but a lot of work. The slideshow itself was based on many photos and documents collected by James Benson on his ancestry.com account, which he graciously opened to us. Unfortunately, Jim was not able to join us from his home on the west coast, but he may like to see the product. And others might, too. Please click image to view.
Please join us for our celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Berwyn Heights Company. Find out how this community-based real estate company shaped the development of Berwyn Heights between 1919 and 1975. We will be joined by descendants of the Benson family who ran the Company for most of its existence.
Meet and greet with Benson family descendants
Welcome by BHHC Chair
Unveiling of Historic Marker
Slide show on Berwyn Heights Company.
Optional 10-minute walk to former Benson House.
Wine and hors-d’œuvres are served for the duration.
After 89 years, the gates of The Behnke’s Nursery are shuttered. Many people in Berwyn Heights and this corner of Prince George’s County have Behnke plants in their gardens and will miss having this horticultural oasis nearby. The nursery not only had a seemingly endless variety of flowers, trees and shrubs, but also offered gardening workshops, put on an Oktoberfest and each December opened a lavish Christmas shop.
In May, Stephanie Fleming, Vice President of The Behnke’s and grand-daughter of the business founders Albert and Rose Behnke, told the story of the nursery and the family who ran it. The presentation was hosted by the Greenbelt Museum.
Come Out and Play – Friday, April 5, 6:30 pm
The Historical Committee and Recreation Council will bring back the popular Team Trivia Night. The focus will be expanded from Berwyn Heights to include Prince George’s County trivia. Topics will vary – from geography to sports to science – but the spotlight is on History.
It’s free to play. Teams of up to six people compete for a first place cash prize of $50 and a second place prize of $20 in Domino’s Gift Cards. Drinks and snacks will be available.
Contact Jodie Kulpa-Eddy at (301) 345-1516 or email email@example.com to register your team name and number of team players. Singles are welcome. Let us know if you’d like us to find you a team. Everyone is invited to come and watch, though it’s more fun to play!
‘The Cedars bungalow, marvelously priced and remarkably designed, is available in 5 floor plans, one of which is sure to meet your idea of a convenient, sturdy home’.
This Aladdin mail order house was built in 1920 on lots 37 and 38 in block 43 by John W. Hall (1876-1959), a carpenter and building contractor. The house we find at the corresponding address, 8801 63rd Avenue, today differs slightly from the catalog image (see dormer window in south elevation). It may have been an upgrade, a different model year, or Hall made alterations to suit his own taste.
John Hall and his wife Blanche (nee Fink) purchased the lots from Elwood and Sallie Taylor in 1917 and 1920, respectively,1 as an investment. They intended to sell the improved property but failing that they probably ended up renting it.2 The house was eventually sold to E. Clare Turner in 1946.3
John Hall’s family on his mother’s side used to own a store in Aquasco near Upper Marlboro, which his mother Laura inherited in 1879.4 Laura A. Hall (1843-1905) was a widow with four young children5 when she married William W. Hall (1840-1909), a miner, in 1874. Residing in the Branchville area of the Vansville District,6 they bought a house in Berwyn Heights in 1899.7 This house was built by the Charlton Heights Improvement Company ca. 1894 and was located on lot 5 and part of lot 6 in block 7, Duncanson Avenue, which today is at 5707 Seminole Street. John lived there with his parents and in 1905 purchased the remaining part of lot 6.8
John (1876-1959) married Blanche F. Fink (1875-1950), daughter of Jacob Fink, a bricklayer and longtime neighbor of the Halls, around 1904. They had one daughter, Mildred Alice (1904-1999). John and Blanche joined the Berwyn Heights Association in March 1915.9 In 1918, John reported himself working on the construction of the Lincoln Memorial as an employee of the George A. Fuller Company.10 Thereafter, he likely contracted for construction projects around Berwyn Heights, for example entering an unsuccessful bid in 1921 to build the mail-order Harris kit house for the Berwyn Heights Company.11
John and Blanche’s daughter Mildred served as a personal secretary for Mrs. Lou H. Hoover during President Herbert Hoover’s term in office, and lived with them in the White House.12 In 1934, she married Thomas Allen Campbell, the son of a former Governor of Arizona in Palo Alto, California.13 The wedding was hosted by the Hoovers at their home on the grounds of Stanford University.
Blanche Hall died on March 3, 1950 and John on September 3, 1959. Both are interred at Fort Lincoln cemetery.
1 Deed 24 Aug. 1917 Elwood & Sallie Taylor to John W Hall, lot 37, block 43, PGC Land Records 148-176; and Deed 14 May1920 Elwood & Sallie Taylor to John & Blanche Hall, lot 38, block 43, PGC Land Records 164-316.
2 BH Company Minute Book, July 15, 1926, p. 89.
3 Deed 13 Aug.1946 John W & Blanche Hall to E. Clare Turner, lots 37 & 38 in block 4, PGC Land Records 865-135.
5 1870 U.S. Census, Vansville District
6 1880 U.S. Census, Vansville District
7 Deed 27 Nov. 1899, Maria Freeland to Laura Hall, lots 5, part of 6 in block 7, PGC Land Records JB 9-371
8 Deed 1905 Aug. 3, Marion Duckett, Trustee to John W. Hall, part of lot 6, block 7, PGC Land Records 26-212
9 Berwyn Heights Association Minute Book, 11 February 2015.
11 Berwyn Heights Company Minute Book, 29 March 1921.
Join us for our fall reception November 11, 2:00 pm at the Berwyn Heights Town Center.
Learn about the owners, the clientele and the role taverns played in the history of our County. Historian Susan Pearl will present her research on this cheerful topic. Ms. Pearl currently runs the Prince George’s County Historical Society’s DeMarr Library. Before her retirement, she worked for the County’s Historic Preservation Section and surveyed most of the historic houses in Berwyn Heights.
The Rossborough Inn featured here was constructed 1798-1812 by John Ross to serve as a way station for weary travelers on the old Baltimore Pike. In 1858, the house and surrounding tract of land was donated by Charles Benedict Calvert to the Maryland Agricultural College. Having served a multitude of purposes, today it houses UMD’s Undergraduate Admissions Office. UMD Archives holds a series of photos of the Inn, some of which are shown in a 2017 article of Terp Magazine found online at http://terp.umd.edu/an-historical-inn-vestigation/.
The Historical Committee was proud to feature the historic home of one of its members, Lee Fuerst, in this year’s Berwyn Heights Day and National Night Out exhibit. Lee and her husband Mark purchased their house (PG: 67-022-23 survey) in 2011, and have since turned it into a beautiful show piece of the Victorian “cottages” that originally dotted the subdivision. The house, once poetically named “The Maples,” was built circa 1888-1889 by the Charlton Heights Improvement Company,1 and retains many original architectural features: from shutter dogs to pocket doors to plaster moldings, even a chandelier made for gas lighting.
The first occupants of the house were Peter J. Keleher (1864-1927), his sister Hannah and her husband Terrence J. Gorman.2 The Kelehers were a close-knit Irish Catholic family from Wisconsin, who made their way to the Washington, DC area via Albany, NY in the early 1880s. Here, with Peter’s older brother Timothy leading the way, the Keleher brothers in turn worked for the DC Auditor’s Office3, and then the US Treasury Department’s 6th Auditor’s Office4. Sometime during this period, they became acquainted with Edward Graves and James Waugh, the principle developers of the new railroad suburb Charlton Heights (now Berwyn Heights), and helped sell properties in the new subdivision. In recognition of their role, Keleher Avenue (now Ruatan Street) was named after them.
After the collapse of the Charlton Heights venture, Peter Keleher was instrumental in turning Edward Graves’ mansion into a summer home for the DC-based St. Ann’s Orphanage. He was the President of St. Joseph’s Union, when the charity purchased the house in June 18975 and raised funds to remodel and expand it to accommodate more of the orphanage’s children.6 One year later in 1898, he joined the 4th “Immunes” Volunteer Infantry Regiment to fight in the Spanish-American War.7 After the war, he returned to work for the Treasury Department and later the Agriculture Department. In January 1904, he married Mary Ann Moran of Georgetown. 8 Throughout his life, Peter was an active member of Catholic congregations and benefit societies. He died in March 1927 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery9, where his brother Timothy is also buried.
A couple of later owners of the Graves-Keleher-Fuerst house should be noted for the mark they left on the Town’s history. From 1915 to 1923, Pierre Christie Stevens (1858-1919), his wife Sarah and their daughter Marie Christie (1887-1952) lived there.10 Major Pierre Stevens, a Spanish War veteran and paymaster in the U.S. Army, came from a long line of illustrious military leaders going back to the Revolutionary War. Sarah was the daughter of William Bowie Magruder and Elizabeth Worthington Gaither, both whom were descended from founders of the State of Maryland.11 All Stevens’s were members of the Berwyn Heights Association, the precursor of today’s Town government. Marie in 1917 had charge of an Association cleanup committee which organized the collection of refuse in the fledgling community.12 She was also a committed volunteer for Evergreen, a Red Cross School for Blind Soldiers in Baltimore at that time. In April 1920, she married Congressman Frederick Hicks of New York, and during World War II, founded the Scottish Clans Evacuation Plan for bombed out English children.13
From 1935 to 1944, Charles Mayo Attick (1882-1975 ) and his wife Lillian owned the house, which in those days sat on a large property that included most lots in block 42. Additionally, the Atticks owned a number of lots in adjacent blocks 31 and 41.14 Some of the land would eventually be conveyed to the 9 Attick children, most of whom still lived with their parents when they moved to Berwyn Heights.15 The Atticks had previously owned a farm on Edmonston Road near today’s Capital Beltway, which was taken by the Resettlement Administration as eminent domain to serve as a staging ground for building the Greenbelt development.16 Charles Attick owned a barber shop in Berwyn near the streetcar line on the west side of the B&O tracks,17 and served on the Town’s Board of Commissioners from 1938 to 1944, the first 4 years as Chairman. His oldest son, C. Mayo Attick, took over the barber shop, an institution still remembered by some of Berwyn Heights’ older residents.
1 PGC Tax Assessments, 1888-1890.
2 More detailed information about members of the Keleher family can be found in the biographical sketches of the BHHC’s 2006 “Keleher Avenue” pamphlet, authored by former BHHC member Ann Harris Davidson with research assistance by Julia Coldren-Walker.
3 P.J. Keleher replaces T.D. Keleher in District Auditor’s Office. “District Government Affairs: An Appointment,” The Evening Times, 26 January 1884.
4 The 6thAuditor’s Office of the Treasury Department also employed other men who were connected to the Charlton Heights enterprise. It appears to have been a place where Treasury employees were solicited to purchase properties in Charlton Heights. In 1887, Richard M. Johnson was Chief Clerk in that Office, Timothy Keleher Disbursing Clerk, and Patrick Cunningham Chief of Division. Both Johnson and Cunningham served on the Board of Directors of the Charlton Heights Improvement Company in 1888 and 1889, respectively, while Timothy Keleher served on the Board of the Charlton Heights Investment & Building Association, an entity set up in 1890 to raise funds for the development of Charlton Heights. The 1888 Charlton Heights subdivision plat has corresponding street names: Johnson Avenue (Quebec Place), Cunningham Avenue (Cunningham Drive), and Keleher Avenue (Ruatan Street).
T.D. Keleher is listed as disbursing clerk in 6th Auditor’s Office in D.C. City Directory, 1886; and US Register for Civil, Military and Naval Service, 1887, p.13. P.J. Keleher’s appointment to permanent position in 6th Auditor’s Office reported in “Treasury Department Changes,” Evening Star, 23 April 1888, p.1. Incorporators of Charlton Heights Improvement Company listed in “A New Real Estate Company,” Washington Post, 30 August 1888, p.6. Members of Board of Directors of Charlton Heights Improvement Company listed in “Election of Officers,” Evening Star, 26 January 1889, p.3.
5 “Summer Home,” Evening Star, 3 May 1897, p.3; and “Summer Home for Orphans,” Evening Star, 12 June 1897, p.3; and Deed 12 June 1897, Edward & Katherine Graves to Sisters of Charity, PGC land records, book 39, page 715.
6 “Garden Party & Bazaar,” The Times, 15 August 1897, p.12; and “St. Joseph’s Union,” 12 November 1898, p.8.
7 “Regiments of Immunes,” Evening Star, 14 June 1898, p.3.
8 “Marriages,” Evening Star, 9 January 1904, p.6.
9 “Rites for P.J. Keleher,” Evening Times, 30 March 1927, p.9.
10 Deed 1915 Augusta & Paul Bornsen to Sarah M. Stevens, PGC Land Records, Book 91, Page 488. And Deed 1923 Sarah M. Stevens to Mary L. Biondi, PGC Land Records, Book 194, Page 469.
11 “Pierre Christie Stevens,” http://www.ArlingtonCemetery.net/pcsteven.htm, accessed July 31, 2018.
12 Berwyn Heights Association Meeting Minutes, 2 November 1916, 1 February 1917, 12 April 1917.
13 ArlingtonCemetery.net record.
14 Deed 29 October 1939, Prudential Building Association to Charles M. & Lillian L. Attick, PGC Land Records, Book 431-382. And Deed 28 June 1944, Charles M. & Lillian L Attick to Henry E. & Florence I. Edmunds, PGC Land Records Book 756-290.
15 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census.
16 Told by Michael Attick, grandson of Charles Mayo Attick.
17 1920-1940 U.S. Census.
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.