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.
1“Berwin Heights Items,” Evening Times, April 28, 1896, p. 4.
2 “The Gray Family – Vignettes,” Robert Gray, 2010.
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.
8 “Berwyn News,” Evening Star, February 10, 1892, p.3.
9 “The Social World-Berwyn,” Evening Star, November 27, 1897, p.7.
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.
12 “Gahan Family Papers,” University of Maryland Archives, Special Collections, 1905-2003.