Legend and Lore: City OKs trolley line, bans roller skates on Route 1

May 10, 2011

A trolley near Crittenden Crossing around 1957, shortly before the line’s operation ceased. Photo courtesy Herb Harwood.

kimberly schmidt mugBY KIMBERLY SCHMIDT — In 1908, a Hyattsville city ordinance was passed to prohibit roller skating on the sidewalks of Maryland and Johnson avenues and Spencer Street (now Baltimore Avenue and Farragut and Gallatin streets).  Elderly walkers and shoppers were beset by traffic problems along Hyattsville’s main shopping district, the Route 1 corridor, and “many packages went flying.”

Order needed to be restored. According to the book Hyattsville, Our Home Town, speed limits were imposed on “locomobiles and any other kind of vehicle whether propelled by gasoline, electricity or any other kind of power; of horses attached to carriages, wagons, or buggies; and of bicycles or any vehicle traveling the city streets.”  Another ordinance outlawing “boisterous” gatherings on street corners was also passed.

These ordinances speak to an active commercial and community life found in turn-of-the-century Hyattsville.  The city, about to mark its 25th year since incorporation, was in the midst of a building boom brought about by advances in transportation.  This article marks the third and final installment focusing on the history of Route 1.

Well established transportation routes already existed when Christopher C. Hyatt purchased his tract of land in 1845 at the intersection of the Washington and Baltimore Turnpike (which became part of Route One) and the B&O Railroad.  The B&O Railroad had served the area since 1833 and Hyatt wisely chose to establish a small store, which also functioned as a post office, along these transportation lines. Over the years, he and other developers continued to purchase and subdivide land in the area.

By the 1880s, Hyattsville experienced its first building boom as a summer resort for those with means from Washington, according to a 2003 study produced by University of Maryland students.  Post-Civil War Washington was beset with sewage problems. Those who could escaped the heat and disease brought about by an infrastructure unable to keep pace with the population boom. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that Hyattsville became a “classic railway suburb” with residents purchasing homes for year-round use and commuting to Washington, D.C. for downtown jobs.

By 1893, a trolley line connected Hyattsville to downtown Washington, DC.  Initially service was sporadic but by 1899 the trolley ran every two minutes to its terminus at Fourth Street and Rhode Island Avenue, NW. By 1909, steam rail lines served Hyattsville with service every five minutes.  The railway station, built in 1884, was said to be “one of the largest and most ornate on the D.C. line,” according to the 2003 study.

Trolleys and trains continued to serve the community until the 1950s, when the trolley line, which by this time was extended as far north as Laurel, was finally discontinued due  to the automobile’s ascendance.  Hyattsville’s historic downtown suffered when Prince George’s Plaza, the library and other services were built on the city’s periphery.

Incorporated in April 1886, Hyattsville turned 125 last month.  We continue to be a city of commuters who fan out into the Washington metro region every morning, many of us using the Metro or traveling down Route 1 into the city.

Our history and workaday lives are still tied to transportation networks, although one cannot easily walk to West Hyattsville’s green line from city’s residential historic core. Perhaps a trolley line is still needed, such as the one currently being constructed on H Street in Washington, D.C., to once again ferry commuters along historic Route 1 and into the District.

Kimberly Schmidt is president of the Hyattsville Preservation Association. This year’s  HPA House Tour, on May 15, includes two locations near historic Route 1: the Armory Building and the Marche Mansion.