PHOTO: A much earlier bridge that crossed the Mill Race for Sligo Mill – Sligo Creek to the right. Photo provided by Historic Takoma.
TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
Last week neighbors hailed the re-opening of the New Hampshire Avenue bridge over Sligo Creek. After 20 months of detours while the bridge was rebuilt, traffic returns to normal – at least until fall when the state closes the Carroll Avenue bridge for repair.
Closed in 2014, this section of Sligo Creek Parkway to New Hampshire Avenue is now OPEN. Photo by Bill Brown.
The 1938 extension of New Hampshire Avenue north from the District line was a relatively late addition to Takoma Park’s development. The highway replaced Sligo Mill Road and the construction of a major bridge over Sligo Creek buried the last traces of the old Sligo Mill.
Sligo Mill was opened in 1812 by Daniel and Charles Carroll, two brothers from the sprawling Carroll family clan. The two-story gristmill was one of 100-plus such ventures along the many local creeks. It was moderately successful but was abandoned by the Civil War. The 414 acres of the original land purchase, however, would eventually form a major chunk of Takoma Park.
Sligo Mill ruins in the early 1900s. Photo provided by Historic Takoma.
In 1900, Asa Wiswell turned the mill properties into an amusement park he called Wildwood. Guests took a wild trolley ride from Takoma Park proper to Sligo Creek where they could boat along the mill run, dance on the rooftop of the old gristmill or stay at the new Glen Sligo Hotel. Within two years flooding destroyed the compound.
Investors from Baltimore bought Wildwood in 1904 and turned it into a gambling den – much to the ire of local residents and the Prince George’s County sheriff. A series of police raids and court confrontations forces the closure of the site. The hotel burned down in 1920 and neighbors dismantled Sligo Mill for its building stones.
Clair Garman and Larry Hodes of Friends of Sligo Creek researched the Sligo Mill and Wildwood years in order to create this map.
In 1932, E. Brooke Lee, great grandson of Francis Preston Blair, masterminded a plan to turn the floodplain of Sligo Creek into parkland, paired with the extension of New Hampshire Avenue from the District line. The newly accessible rural land was then platted into eight subdivisions, creating a mini-development boom and filling in the last empty stretch of Takoma Park.
This memorial plaque will be reinstalled soon.
Finally, a torrential thunderstorm in 1969 set the scene for tragedy. The Knowles family from Virginia were driving on Sligo Creek Parkway near midnight on August 9, when their car was swept into the creek. They escaped and managed to reach the bridge railing, but were stranded there. While trying to rescue the family, two Chillum volunteer firefighters, Robert Harmon and Robert Hobstetter, were swept away by the current and lost their own lives. A memorial plaque honoring the two heroes was subsequently erected on the Sligo Creek Bridge abutment. That plaque, removed for safekeeping during construction, will soon be reinstalled.
[UPDATE – FEB 10, 2015: The Takoma Park Public Works Department says the plaque has been reinstalled on the New Hampshire Avenue bridge.]
• Star Spangled Banner author linked to Sligo Creek
• Friends of Sligo Creek has also gathered much of the history of Sligo Creek here, including the story of Sligo Mill, the Wildwood years, the newspaper accounts of the 1904 confrontations between the sheriff and the gamblers, the memorial in the park and newspaper accounts of the tragedy.