IMAGE: The Woods house became the Davis house – home of mayor Ben Davis.
TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
Exploring the houses on this coming Sunday’s House and Garden Tour offers a chance to imagine life in the newly-incorporated Takoma Park of 1890.
Benjamin Franklin Gilbert had connections to two of the houses. He persuaded his niece Marion Veitenheimer to join his own family in the new sylvan suburb. She brought property across the street from the Gilbert homestead, and construction began on the first new home in Takoma Park. Ultimately she had to share “first home” honors with her neighbors, Amanda and Isaac Thomas,, who moved into their new house before her own was completed.
Meanwhile, Gilbert was so busy with the details of creating his suburb, that Marion invited her uncle to move his family into her house until their grand Victorian was finally ready for them.
The second house with a Gilbert connection is nearer the railroad tracks. Enoch Maris, another of the real estate developers attracted by Gilbert’s vision, took a corner lot for his Victorian residence. In 1892, Gilbert resigned his seat as Mayor of Takoma Park to supervise work on the North Takoma Hotel, and Maris was appointed to fill out the remainder of Gilbert’s term. Many decades later this elegant house was rescued by Project Turnaround, which sparked the restoration of some of the town’s oldest houses then falling into neglect.
In 1895, a second town official bought the house adjacent to Maris on what was then Oak Avenue. Ben Davis was serving as town clerk, and would go on to be a councilmember and eventually mayor from 1926 – 1932. As clerk, Davis had the challenge of keeping track of the town records when there was as yet no official town hall. He solved the problem by keeping the documents at home, making his house the first semi-official government building.
In 1923, the land between Maris and Davis became the site of a new Colonial revival (ordered from the Sears catalog) as the rural spaciousness that marked the early days gave way to a more dense street-scape.
Another house on the tour, built by Mr. Snodgrass, had the distinction of serving as the first schoolhouse in the fledgling town. Snodgrass invited the local teacher to hold classes in his living room until there were finally enough students to warrant a real four-room schoolhouse completed in 1888 on Tulip.
We hope you will join us this Sunday, May 3, from 1-5 pm to rediscover the Takoma Park of 125 years ago. Advance tickets are available for $18 online until Saturday at 5 pm or from two local merchants (Mark’s Kitchen and the Co-op). On Sunday you can purchase tickets at the Cady-Lee Mansion, 7064 Eastern Ave NW DC, which is included in the tour. The self-guided tour runs rain or shine.