The Crossing – Bypass
In 1942, the old Branchville Road that used to form the northern boundary of the Town of Berwyn Heights was reconstructed along a new alignment as Greenbelt Road. This included a new overpass across the B&O railroad tracks, making it possible to close the dangerous Berwyn grade crossing. When that crossing was barricaded, sometime in September or October 1942, it became necessary to redirect traffic bound for Route 1 via State Road 434. Route 434 connected Edmonston Road and Baltimore Avenue along La Belle Avenue (today Pontiac Street & 57th Avenue) and Waugh and Central Avenues (Berwyn Road).1
The Berwyn Heights Commissioners wanted to make an outlet from La Belle Avenue to Branchville Road along Huntley Avenue (58th Avenue). But there was a little problem: Huntley Avenue stopped at Newby Avenue (Tecumseh Street), now just a paper street between block 26 and 27. Traffic, including Capital Transit buses, would have had to zig and zag along Newby and Howell Avenues to reach Greenbelt Road and cut into the property of a prominent citizen of the Town.
Samuel Moyer, an attorney for the Department of the Interior, who served as Town Commissioner from 1926-1936 and President of the Berwyn Heights Volunteer Fire Department from 1924-1935,2 owned the now historic house at 8911 57th Avenue, as well as an adjoining orchard that lay in the path of the proposed road. He did not relish the taking of a slice of his land and suggested the Town purchase a right of way through unimproved properties in block 27, which belonged to the Berwyn Heights Company and Burch Realty.3
The Town Commissioners approached Berwyn Heights Company Vice President Margaret Benson and Burch Realty and they agreed to sell the Town the required land to make the new outlet.4 The State Roads Commission built the road, which was taken into service in 1945 as Route 251. In 1990, the State Highway Administration renovated these streets and transferred them to the Town.5
The extension of 58th Avenue to Greenbelt Road resulted in a re-subdivision of the properties in block 27 and their subsequent development by the Berwyn Heights Company.6 Some of these properties no longer conform to today’s zoning standards and require variances when improvements are made. As recently as October 2019, the Town Council held a hearing on a variance application for 8906 58th Avenue and granted an exception for lot size and frontage width to allow the owner to build a house on the property.7
1 “Berwyn Crossing,” Greenbelt Cooperator, 24 April 1942, p2.
2 Photo of Members of the BHVFD (President Samuel H. Moyer standing 3rd from right), Dedication Day, 30 December 1930, posted on BHVFD website https://bhvfd14.org.
3 Letter from Samuel Moyer to Ewing Gupton, Secretary & Treasurer, Berwyn Heights Town Commissioners, 15 November 1942.
4 Minutes of Meeting of the Berwyn Heights Town Commissioners, 17 December 1942.
5 Excerpt of Minutes regarding Construction of Route 251, Maryland State Roads Commission, 15 October 1946.
6 PGC Land Records, 1955 Re-subdivision of Lots 8-22, Block 27; Plat Book WWW 26-21
7 Minutes of Meeting of the Berwyn Heights Town Council, 7 October 1919.
THE BENSONS, CONTINUED
After the death of Fred Benson, who led the Berwyn Heights (Citizen) Association from 1915-21, the Benson family remained a significant presence in Berwyn Heights. As stockholders in the Berwyn Heights (Building & Improvement) Company, Margaret and her son Clarence continued to sell lots in Berwyn Heights. Margaret was active in the Berwyn Presbyterian Church and, in 1940, was the first woman to run for the Berwyn Heights Town Council (then functioning as a Board of Commissioners). She fell short by 2 votes.
The eldest son Howard Livingston Benson (1890-1938) worked as a manager for Chase Bank in several locations throughout Central America. In Panama he married Sarah Veysett and they had 5 children. Howard Benson was on the verge of opening his own bank, when his promising career was cut short by the banking crisis of 1933, during which President Franklin Roosevelt closed all banks to stop the run on banks. The children were sent to live with their grandmother in Berwyn Heights and graduated from Hyattsville High School. Howard followed them later. He was elected to the Berwyn Heights Board of Commissioners in May 1938, but died of a heart attack during a hunting and fishing trip in August 1938.
The second son Clarence C. Benson (1891-1951), a 1914 West Point Graduate, had an illustrious career as a U.S. Army cavalry officer and was a pioneer of tank warfare. During World War II, he served as a combat officer in North Africa and the China-India-Burma theatre and, in 1943, was awarded the Silver Star for distinguished service and the Oak Leaf Cluster for gallantry in action.
Margeret Benson survived her husband and her three children. She died in Berwyn Heights in 1958 at age 90, and is buried at Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, D.C.
Author: Kerstin Harper
Sources: James Benson Ancestry.com family tree; Town of Berwyn Heights records