This Place called Takoma Park: Before Gilbert

On November 24, 1883 Benjamin Franklin Gilbert bought the first 90 acres of what became the sylvan suburb of Takoma Park. But what about the years before Gilbert? Who left their mark here?

You might say that this place officially enters history in 1792 when Andrew Ellicott arrived with his surveying crew to lay out the boundary for the newly created District of Columbia. First they determined the correct path through the woods, cleared 20 feet of land on each side, and finally set up a granite pillar. Our pillar–one of 40 that designated the 10-mile-square territory–can still be seen on what is now Maple Avenue just north of Carroll Avenue.

Boundary-TP-azaleas_250.jpg 1792: Boundary Stone

They were members of the sprawling Carroll clan that collectively held title to much of the land hereabouts. Their "titles" were used to help distinguish them from
more famous cousins, Daniel Carroll of Rock Creek (one of three commissioners appointed to oversee building the capital) and Charles
Carroll of Carrollton (the wealthiest man in Maryland), both of whom had signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Sligo Mill built by our Daniel and Charles stood approximately where Sligo Creek crosses
today's New Hampshire Ave. First used as a distillery, it was later converted to grind corn and wheat. When the Carrolls' third partner had
financial difficulties, he mortgaged his share in the mill to Francis Scott Key.
SLIGOMILL.jpg
1811: Sligo Mill

Following 1824 the mill was leased to a series of businessmen before being closed after 1850. In 1900 the abandoned mill building and its mill run would enjoy a brief revival as the basis for a short-lived summer resort known as Wildwood.

A more lasting connection resulted when Charles of Bellvue’s grandson General Samuel Sprigg Carroll built his two-story manor house a quarter mile south of Sligo Creek in 1870, after Civil War injuries forced his retirement. The flamboyant red-headed general found himself a hero at Gettysburg when his fearless late-night charge recaptured Cemetery Hill on day two, thereby giving the Union command of the heights.

gencarroll.jpg1870: General S.S. Carroll

Ironically, Gen. Carroll was busy elsewhere in 1864 when his family lands came under fire from Confederate forces. In July Rebel General Jubal Early led 20,000 soldiers in a desperate attack on Washington DC. First circling wide around DC, the Confederates moved south from Frederick. Spread out in an extended front along the Seventh Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue), the troops trampled through the fields and forests of Takoma Park and Silver Spring on their way to Ft. Stevens.

For two days Union artillery pounded the invaders. Abraham Lincoln faced enemy fire (almost falling to a sharpshooter’s aim). Finally the exhausted Rebel army gave up and began the long harrowing retreat back to Richmond.

Several local landowners filed claims with the federal government for damages resulting from the battle. One of them was filed on behalf of the estate of Gottlieb Grammer. a German immigrant made good, who owned a sizeable parcel of land around the 1790 boundary stone. The claim was finally granted 1915, according to a New York Times account. The land in his estate was destined to become the heart of B.F. Gilbert’s new suburb.

grammer.jpg 1883: Grammer Estate sold to Gilbert

The final piece that paved the way for Gilbert’s arrival was the opening of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad’s Metropolitan Branch line in 1873. The  22 miles of rail tracks from Washington DC heading north to the West Virginia border, opened access to the then-wilderness north of the capital.

The presence of Gen. Carroll’s residence warranted a stop where the tracks crossed into Maryland. The passenger shelter, however, was only a rude three-sided shed. Nonetheless, developer Gilbert saw great potential when he stepped from the train on that day in November 1883. He was ready to carve out the necessary roads and clear building sites to convince people to join him.

As part of  the post-war expansion of Washington DC, the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, laid 22 miles of track from downtown DC north to the West Virginia border at Point of Rocks. In a single stroke, it opened access to the then-wilderness north of DC.

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About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.