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Garrett Park in 1898, and now

by Paul Edlund, Former Mayor

By the time of its incorporation as a Town in 1898, Garrett Park was a busy small town with a population of over a hundred and containing more than 30 buildings. Much of life centered around the trains and the station, the railroad being the only public transportation in the early years. The trains to and from Washington were numerous, as many as nine a day into the city, with train service on Saturdays and Sundays.

635938167754530000It seems clear that through much of the 1890s, the sounds of construction, hammering and sawing and all that went with them, continued unabated in Garrett Park. During the 1890s, 14 houses as well as a one-room schoolhouse were constructed on Kenilworth Avenue, making this street the most heavily populated at the time, being the location of nearly half the houses in Town. Seven houses were built on Waverly, six on Montrose, five on Keswick, and one lone house, long known as the Cleveland house, on Rokeby.

In 1893, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad build a train station in Town, one quite similar to that built in Kensington in 1890, the only one that still stands today. The sights and sounds of horse-drawn wagons, bringing from the B&O siding the building materials to be converted to homes, must also have been pervasive. The unloading of freight cars on the Town siding proceeded at a regular rate. A load of coal weighing 31,984 pounds was delivered on November 3, 1891: freight charge $9.60. Two days later, 192 feet of lumber weighing 600 pounds was unloaded: freight charge 30¢! Facing the Garrett Park station was the building now called Penn Place, but which was at that time called Hardesty and Crehan's store. The first telephone in Town was installed there in 1896, and according to the Montgomery Press, "the Park people have already begun to realize what a convenience it is and how it fills a long felt want."

The Garrett Park Chapel (today's Town Hall) was opened in July 1897. The Montgomery Press had reported that the building was to cost $1,100, stating "we are anticipating a very pretentious building." We wouldn't agree with such a statement today, of course!

By 1898 the Town had a solid architectural base with its Victorian homes. Trees were not as evident as they would become, although the planting of new ones went forward with considerable zeal. Today, people and buildings have increased tenfold, and there seems little more room for growth. The Town remains a small town, both in its size and atmosphere, much to our satisfaction and great pleasure. 

Video Walking Tour of  Garrett Park:  Paths to the Present, Montgomery Connections History Project.  (By Montgomery County Cable, run time is 15.02 minutes)

The History and Architecture of Garrett Park, Maryland: A Walking Tour

100 Years as a Community Apart By Eric Jay Dolin

Thirty minutes from downtown Washington, D.C., in lower Montgomery County, Maryland, sits Garrett Park, one of the region's hidden treasures. Although this small, incorporated town of 358 homes is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, many people in the area have never heard of it. They are missing something special. Whether you're looking for an architectural ramble, a leisurely stroll or ride along quiet, winding, heavily-wooded streets, or a bite to eat, Garrett Park is an excellent place to spend part of a carefree day.

Nestled between Route 355 and Rock Creek Park, Garrett Park came into being in the late 1880s. A brochure at the time extolled the virtues of this new community, stating that it would "be the suburban town of the National Capital." In 1898, Garrett Park was incorporated in response to a controversy over sewage. At the time, waterborne typhoid was a major health concern. Fear of the disease led the citizens of Garrett Park to protest a one Mrs. Sprigg's indoor plumbing and associated cesspool which was seen as potential source of contamination to local wells. Responding to this concern, the town fathers incorporated and immediately passed an ordinance banning cesspools and requiring all residents to use "above-ground" privies. Mrs. Sprigg fought the ordinance in court, lost, and left town.

Your visit to Garrett Park is best begun at Penn Place in the heart of "downtown," at the intersection of Waverly and Rokeby Avenues. Don't expect too much. Downtown consists of a small train station, The Garrett Park Cafe, town offices, a beauty salon, a market, a few other small businesses, and the Post Office. It is easily accessible by car, as well as by bike or foot. Penn Place is only 200 yards from the bike path in Rock Creek Park, and there is a pathway that connects the two.

Since there is no home delivery of mail in Garrett Park, the Post Office is a social center, where residents empty their P.O. boxes, chat or read the town bulletin board. The cafe is a popular place, especially on weekends when bicycle, running, and walking groups take time for lunch, brunch, or dinner. With an unusual menu, featuring items such as seared rockfish with hunter style tomato sauce & chevre risotto, the cafe is also a great place to eat.

Before you begin your tour, look across from the cafe for a boulder with a plaque which will tell you a bit of Garrett Park's history, including the town's placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Now, start out in whatever direction you choose. Don't worry, you won't get lost! In the late 1940s, all through streets, into and out of town, with the exception of Strathmore Avenue, were blocked off to reduce traffic. Thus, on both sides of Strathmore, which cuts Garrett Park in two, as long as you stay on the streets, you'll never leave town. You can't go too far, Garrett Park has only 4 miles of roads.

You will immediately see why the town earns its official designation as an arboretum. Along every street are a great variety of trees, rare and common, short and tall, with some old giants rising well over one-hundred feet into the air. And don't just look at the trees. Most Garrett Parkers are avid gardeners, whose yards hold many pleasant surprises.

The most unusual thing about Garrett Park are the houses. Unlike the architectural monotony that blights so many suburbs, in Garrett Park virtually every house is different. There are sprawling, brightly colored Victorians with turrets and spires reaching towards the sky, and beautiful wraparound porches. At the other end of the spectrum are the tiny Chevy Houses, built in the 1920s and so-named because they were originally sold with a brand new Chevrolet in the driveway (good examples can be found at 10926 Clermont Avenue and 4517 Clermont Place). Pick an architectural style and it is here -- colonial, ranch, bungalow, Swiss chalet, stone cottage, Cape Cod, Sear's Catalogue Farm House, and those that defy categorization.

Do not restrict your tour of town to the Penn-Place side of Strathmore avenue. Go to the other side for some more beautiful houses, trees and gardens. There you will also find Town Hall, just off Strathmore on Kenilworth Avenue. Originally built in 1897 as a chapel, the hall is a beautiful building that is available to anyone for civic and social functions. (information on renting Town Hall)

Because of the 100th anniversary of the town's incorporation, now is a great time to visit Garrett Park. Along Strathmore, signs placed in honor of the anniversary proudly proclaim interesting facts about the town's history. Here you will learn that Garrett Park became a Nuclear Free Zone in 1982 and an arboretum in 1977. If you time your visit right, you can participate in some of the Town's festivities, [including the Attic in the Street Sale, a Tree Walk, and Tours of Houses 100 years or older, all of them on different dates in October.]

If you are looking for something different, unexpected, and relaxing, visit Garrett Park. You'll be surprised by what you see. 

[Article first appeared in the August 1998 issue of Recreation News (Vol. 16, No. 8), page 3.]