By MARK GOODSON — Aaron Marcavitch is a man on a mission to educate residents about the city’s auto-centric past.
When Marcavitch was earning his history degree from Roger Williams University, he developed a curiosity for the road: how do motor thruways affect the community? What he thought might be a general interest in architecture blossomed into a passion for the history of roadside communities. He grew up in an area of the country, western Pennsylvania, where the commerce of coal and transport of steel left its imprint on the land and community. How did this interplay of travel and residence look elsewhere?
Working for Maryland Milestones (MM), a program of the grant-funded Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, Inc. (ATHA) organization whose mission strives to connect citizens of Maryland to their history, has been a good fit for Marcavitch, who is the executive director of ATHA. MM, through literature distribution, public signage, cultural enrichment programs and more, has been educating Marylanders since 2012. Part of its focus is to raise awareness of how transportation has impacted the communities and geographies of the area. An example of such efforts is MM’s work with the College Park Aviation Museum, developing programs to celebrate the 100th anniversary of air mail in our region, beginning this August.
His most recent endeavor is sure to interest any citizen of Hyattsville who has wondered about the traffic patterns and commerce of the Arts District. Marcavitch explained that in his role as civic educator, he has found that people are uninformed about the history of Route 1 in Hyattsville and its effect on Hyattsville’s downtown.
In order to better shape the history of the city and other communities in the Route 1 corridor, Marcavitch has researched how Route 1, the former major transit road between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., has shaped the adjacent communities. His book, Images of America: US Route 1 Baltimore to Washington, DC, will be released in March by Arcadia Press.
The best source of information for his study, Marcavitch said, were images he found at the National Archives. Marcavitch said he wants people to understand that, “Route 1 has always been a pass through road. It’s been a highway. From its earliest construction as a turnpike, to its being forgotten next to the railroad development of the 1830s, to its being rediscovered at the turn of the century,” he said. In his book, Marcavitch tells the stories of the different forces who fought for control of Route 1 at such important transitions.
“There is a collection of photographs taken by the Bureau of Public Roads, later named the Department of Transportation. They would bring photographers. They might be working on any one of a number of projects, but the result is a massive collection of images from 1915 on, showing the entire history of the region,” he said.
As Route 1 was the only way out of Washington, D.C., for years, Marcavitch explained, an entire history of our region on up to Baltimore is documented in these photographs. Marcavitch brings this story to life.
Hyattsville has a rich architectural history. Take the Pyramid Atlantic building where the Maryland Milestones office resides. First a church, then a theater, then a bowling alley and pool hall before the city stabilized it and Pyramid Atlantic Art Center began its reconstruction in 2015, the building, in its structure and reclaimed appearance, tells a story of the city’s history. It is Marcavitch’s hope that this book will answer the questions his office receives most frequently, about parking, traffic flow, and Hyattsville’s downtown area.
He also aims to preserve the history of a city in the midst of a major revitalization. He hopes to help citizens understand through the history of Route 1 that: “Traffic is a sign of something good. It means there are people who want to be here. The funny thing is we’ve got all these new townhomes filled with people who don’t know their homes were built on an old car dealership. They may think the Lustine Building is interesting but they don’t know why. This is an automobile-centric neighborhood in its history.”
Marcavitch cited Chester Liebs description of a miracle mile as roads that serve cities the way major arteries serve a heart. The history of Hyattsville, as explained in his book, can be seen as the remains of the miracle mile of Washington, D.C.
Look for Aaron Marcavitch’s release of Images of America: US Route 1 Baltimore to Washington, DC on March 12. ATHA Inc. will have a sneak peek book talk on March 18 at Berwyn Heights Town Center. For more information on the book or Maryland Milestones, visit its founding company’s website, Anacostia Trails Heritage Area Inc.