Then & Now: A walk through old Hyattsville

BY ROSE FLETCHER – What makes neighborhoods like Hyattsville so charming and so unique in this day and age of monopoly-house developments? Is it just that the houses in Hyattsville were built a long time ago and that they built things differently (read better) in the past? While that may be true, there’s more to it than that. It’s more a matter of time, or timing, for, like Rome, Hyattsville was not built in a day.

A large part of the charm of old neighborhoods like Hyattsville is the variety of housing styles that can be found on most blocks: two-story houses, low houses with deep front porches, houses that look like gingerbread, houses with turrets, houses with sleepy-looking dormer windows. While the assortment may seem random, what you are actually seeing as you walk through the neighborhoods is the history of Hyattsville as told through architecture.

1880s: The first round of building

Before Hyattsville was Hyattsville, it was part of an area called Bealltown. Route 1 was a gravel stagecoach highway called the Baltimore Washington Turnpike. The B&O Railroad ran parallel to the Turnpike, and where they converged was where Christopher Clark Hyatt bought a lot in 1845. He opened a general store that sold merchandise and tobacco and built his home, a grand 32-room residence on the west side of the railroad tracks, across from the store.

That home is no more, but as Hyattsville began to develop, the first houses were built in the highly ornate Victorian style. The first Victorian homes were in the Stick style, known for the use of wood pieces that were applied to create a patterned stone-and-brick look. Key features include steeply pitched gabled roofs, porches with angular decorative “stick work,” and siding that runs both vertically and horizontally. The Queen Anne style followed or was, at times, mixed in. Its main features include prominent porches running the length of the facade, gable-front roofs with decorative shingle work, and projecting bays which add interest and dimension. Victorian-style houses were built in Hyattsville from the Civil War era until the early 20th century, a span of about 60 years. Of these homes, 181 still exist in the Historic District.

Early 1900s: Homes for the people

As the speed of development picked up and the middle class grew, the ornate Victorian style was replaced with the more “honest” Craftsman-style homes. These are the cozy bungalows with deep overhanging eaves and front porches with short, squat columns. They are also the basically square, two-and-a-half-story Foursquare-style homes, which feature Craftsman elements, such as open floor plans, lots of handy built-ins, and fireplaces. Common characteristics include a symmetrical facade, simple detailing, and hipped roofs with a single, hipped-roof dormer. These houses were very popular, but only for about 25 years from 1905 into the 1930s. There are 485 Craftsman-style homes in historic Hyattsville.

1920 to 1940: Eclectic Revival

Designed to look like Medieval English houses, Hyattsville’s Tudor-style homes are often characterized by faux half-timbering, steeply pitched cross gables on the front facade, and prominent chimneys, which are sometimes on the front of the house. The exteriors feature an eclectic mix of details and materials. Sometimes you will find an arched front door surrounded by cut stone or contrasting brick.

Tucked in among the other more East Coast styles, Spanish Revival homes surprise, looking like they belong in California or Mexico. With stucco exteriors, rounded doorways, red-clay tiles that cover decorative shed roofs over the entrance, and perhaps a fanlight over a front window, these low-slung structures have a Mediterranean feel.

Sixty-five of these Eclectic Revival homes remain in the Historic District.

1930 to 1950: Colonial Revival

When the popularity of the Craftsman house waned, home construction in Hyattsville took on a Colonial Revival flair. These are the mostly square or rectangular brick-and-wood houses with symmetrical facades and colonial-era design features such as pedimented front entrances. They also feature small front or side porches, double-hung, multi-paned wood windows, and an exterior chimney which is situated on the side of the house.

Another version of the Colonial Revival popular at this time was the Cape Cod, a simple design rooted in 17th-century New England architecture. Usually constructed of brick veneer, these one- to one-and-a-half-story houses feature symmetrically placed double-hung multi-pane windows and wooden clapboard dormers, as well as simple colonial-style door surrounds.

The Dutch Colonial Revival also falls into this category. These one-and-a-half- to two-story houses generally have roofs with two slopes on each side, one shallow and one steeper, which give them a barn-like appearance and provide more living space on the second floor than the steeply pitched gable roofs of other styles. The rooflines are often interrupted by several dormers or one large shed dormer. Windows are double hung and the front door may be embellished with a pediment or portico. The exteriors are usually brick veneer, wooden clapboard or shingles.

There are 337 Colonial Revival houses in the Historic District..

Postwar: After 1945

As cars became the primary mode of transportation, the affordable, architecturally informal and unembellished Ranch style typified suburban living. However, the Hyattsville version of this long, low single-story style was often dressed up with Colonial Revival details, including shutters and multi-paned windows, instead of the traditional picture windows. However, by this time, Hyattsville had mostly filled in, and there are only 27 postwar houses in the Historic District.

Though the architectural evolution of Hyattsville was more overlapping than linear, the end result is a beautiful diversity. Over time, all of these styles have come together to create a welcoming, walkable community whose diversity is reflected not only in its housing stock but also in its people. All you have to do is look.

For more information on architectural styles and recommendations for additions and alterations to these styles, go to the Hyattsville Historic District Style Guide at www.preservehyattsville.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/HSG_FINAL.pdf.