TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the incorporation of Takoma Park. But in many ways the story begins one hundred years earlier with the creation of the District of Columbia.
In 1790, President George Washington had finally wrangled Congress’ authorization to establish a 100 square mile Federal Territory on the banks of the Potomac River. The how and why the Potomac was chosen is its own complicated story.
Maryland and Virginia each agreed to cede land for this new District of Columbia. President Washington and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson placed the critical task of delineating the boundary in the hands of Andrew Ellicott, the most accomplished surveyor of the day.
Ellicott had served his apprenticeship helping determine the Mason-Dixon line between Maryland and Pennsylvania. Applying the advanced scientific methods learned there, he became the man to call when there was a boundary dispute.
Responding to the President’s request, Ellicott left his current project in upstate New York to his brothers, and reported to Alexandria, to establish the starting point. Ellicott handed this critical assignment to Benjamin Banneker, a freed black whose skills as a self-taught astronomer were widely recognized, and who happened to be a neighbor of the Ellicott family in Ellicott City. Long nights surveying the stars provided Banneker and Ellicott the precise lines they needed to proceed northeast and northwest from Jones Point.
For the next 18 months, Ellicott and his crew (minus the elderly Banneker) surveyed 10 mile stretches, placing granite boulders to mark each mile along the route, and finally clearing a 20-foot swath to the next stone. Some time in 1792, they erected marker NE 2, where it would play a role in Gilbert’s suburb 100 years later. The 20-foot cleared swath had long since disappeared and to this day the boundary in the two blocks adjacent to NE2 remains unmarked. Eastern Avenue otherwise serves as the border.
The boundary stone within a protective fence, March 2015. Photo by Bill Brown.
Amazingly, 36 of these boundary stones are still in place; two have been replaced and two are missing. Back in 1912, the Daughters of the American Revolution officially assumed the role of protector, installing wrought iron cages and historical plaques. Volunteers now serve as watchdogs.
Meanwhile, in Takoma Park, our oldest landmark sits on Maple Avenue barely 30 feet from our newest landmark – Busboys and Poets.
Closer view of the stone. Photo by Bill Brown.