IMAGE: Dorothy Thomsen Barnes in 2001 when her oral history was recorded, courtesy of Eileen McGuckian, who conducted the interview.
TALES OF TAKOMA • BY DIANA KOHN
Neighborhood residents have requested the Takoma Park city council officially name the wooded lot behind the former Washington-McLaughlin Christian School “Dorothy’s Woods.” At its Sept. 14 meeting, the council turned the request over to the city’s Commemoration Commission.
Dorothy Thomsen Barnes was born in 1922, soon after her parents bought a small house at 419 Elm Avenue. Dorothy and her friends grew up playing in the woods behind their house. She described those years in an oral history recorded in 2001.
“We raced and ran through the woods behind our houses. W walked to school through a meadow of daisies and grasses and little tiny trees. Now it’s a wooded area, of course, with houses built after they cut [Woodland Avenue ]through.
The wooded lot from Woodland Avenue. Photo by Bill Brown.
The school was J. Enos Ray Elementary, named for the influential Prince George’s politician and long-time chair of the Democratic State Central Committee. Opened in 1929 it was the first school on the Prince George’s side of Takoma Park. Local parents considered it a blessing in the days when the next nearest county school was in Mt. Rainier and there were no buses. “I don’t know how we would have gotten there,” Dorothy explained.
But the woods was more than the shortcut to school, it became the favored play space. “All the girls – my neighborhood ran toward females in those day – would draw out plans for a house in the ground,” Dorothy recalled, “We would lay twigs down designating the different rooms. Then we’d break off little pieces of evergreen and do the landscaping and put down stones or twigs making walkways. We didn’t have any dolls or cars or anything but we just made plans for houses. I guess it’s something that girls would do.”
TALES OF TAKOMA: Who was J. Enos Ray? January 23, 2015.
Dorothy’s mother found another use for the woods. “During the war, mother had a victory garden down on the school property just outside of our fence. Looking at it now it’s all woods, but then all those trees were just little saplings so there was lots of sun.”
Dorothy continued: “She and the two other women in the neighborhood would have it plowed for them and then mother grew pretty much everything, including okra and collards. I still tell people, I was eating soul food before anybody else knew what it was.”
Dorothy later raised her two daughters in the same house and they also attended J Enos Ray. “There was no kindergarten in the public schools in Prince George’s County,” Dorothy remembered, “but the parents in the area got together and hired someone who built us a one-room building on the school property. We paid for it, though the school board may have contributed to the teacher’s salary.”
A portion of the woods January, 2015, when the city purchased the lot at auction. Photo by Bill Brown.
The Prince George’s School Board closed the elementary school in 1981, and the property ended up in as Washington-McLaughlin Christian School.
Last year Dorothy sold her house and moved to assisted living up near Rockville. She has been lamenting the neglected state of the school buildings for years. The City has since intervened and now holds title to the woods. Neighbors are petitioning to rename the woods, and one of the suggestions is to name it after Dorothy herself.
City wins unexpected bidding war, angry remarks follow, January 22, 2015