FORESTVILLE…A Bicentennial Look At Its Past–Presented by The Forestville Citizens Association, A Bicentennial Community: MARCH 1976 [Digitized by: Joanne Boling Dickinson, July 18, 2014]
At the beginning of this Bicentennial Year , the Forestville Citizens Association applied for and obtained from the Bicentennial Commission recognition as a Bicentennial Community. We celebrated that event with a Bicentennial flag raising ceremony at the home of Post Number 482 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Ritchie Road in March 1976. As the second and last days of our celebration we are issuing this pamphlet telling what we have learned of the history of Forestville and what the town was like before it was overtaken by the great migration to the suburbs in the early 1940s which is continuing. The biggest changes in the area were brought about first, by the establishment of Andrews Field [opening on May 2, 1943]:
“On 26 August 1942, President Roosevelt directed Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson to purchase 3,200 acres in the Camp Springs area, which would become an Army Air Field. The acquisition included a few hamlets in the Maryland countryside—Centreville, Meadows, Woodyard—and many farms. More than 100 families left their homes on 269 tracts, which ranged from small plots of bottomland to great estates with hundreds of productive acres.”
Secondly, [in 1959 and 1960], Pennsylvania Avenue was extended east out of D.C. to Meadows as a controlled access four-lane divided highway and designated MD 4. Marlboro Pike was assigned MD 4 Business, a designation that was gone by 1970.
Little is known to us of the time when Forestville was first recognized as a community. We do know of the history of one important early institution–namely, the Prince George’s County Alms House. In 1768, the MD General Assembly passed the “Act for the Relief of the Poor” authorizing the construction of Alms Houses in several counties. Most Alms House residents were people deemed insane, disabled due to loss of limb or sight or people just considered to be “outcasts of society” during this period in history. John F. Beall, acting as “Trustee of the Poor,” purchased 30 acres from Nathaniel Magruder for the Alms House. This land was part of the original 1761 land grant known as “Black Oak Thicket.” The original building was constructed in 1771 on D’Arcy Road, formerly known as Alms House Rd. It fell into ruin by 1860, and a second building was constructed on the same site and finished in 1870 (pictured). Alms Houses became obsolete over time, mostly from government programs such as Roosevelt’s “New Deal” and Johnson’s “Great Society.” The PG County Alms House closed in 1965, and was torn down in the 1970’s. It was located on the current location of the PG County Department of Public Works on D’Arcy Rd.
Prior to and for some time beyond the Revolutionary War (1764-1789) , activities of greater significance occurred in the communities that grew close to the principal means of transportation which was by boat on the many navigable tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay. However, for a short span of several days, this area was the scene of much activity and excitement because of the invading British troops who encamped in the vicinity and marched up Marlboro Pike on their way to burn the Capitol of the United States during the War of 1812.
Recollections of the persons and their activities that help create or assume are digested from stories told to us by respected senior citizens, Mrs. Norman Collins and Mrs. Edna Entwistle. Their stories augment the story of Forestville as told by Mr. Willard Entwistle in his line picture story at our March flag raising.
“The Alms House Story”
Have you ever noticed a large red brick building on D’Arcy Road, amid the public works buildings? It is the remaining part of what was the Alms House Project. It is more than 200 years old.
This project was founded on December 23, 1771 when the trustees of the poor for Prince George’s County purchased the land as follows: 157 pounds 10 shillings current money paid in hand for 90 acres of land called the Black Oak Thickett and 50 pounds current money paid in hand for 10 acres of land called the second addition to OFFUTS Adventure.
The two deeds were recorded on February 22, 1772. This 100 acres of land was formerly owned by a gentleman named Nathaniel Magruder who was given the land by Lord Baltimore as a patent on January 7, 1761. On the law books of Prince George’s County, there were 14 articles which cover the running of this project and apparently it was used for various purposes besides being a home for the poor. One such use was a place to house vagrants where they were to be kept at hard labor. Possibly their hard labor was to work the acreage as there were tobacco barns, cornfields, a large orchard, and other farm operations. The story is told that the money from fruit sales (especially pears) was used later to put in the electricity and water system without any cost to the county. Of the various stories that have been told, one was that British troops killed in the attack on Washington were buried there. It is known that persons that died in the Alms House and others who had no burial ground were interred in the cemetery that used to be there. But, no evidence has been found that British soldiers are buried there.
Up until about 1951, a single lane dirt road called Almshouse Road went through the woods and over a little white bridge up the hill to the property. There was no other entrance.
In later years the place became solely a rest home for the indigent poor and the name was changed to “County Rest Home”. There were many old folks who spent their declining years there in peace and security. It was a pleasant place to live. The old folks would sit outside in good weather and watched the turkeys, chickens, ducks, cats, dogs, and even the pigs and cows, or look over their neatly kept vegetable garden.
The complex could care for 35 persons and it was for all races, colors and creeds. Citizen organizations, churches, and school children went there to entertain the inhabitants. The history of the Alms House has been compiled into two volumes that are available at the Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.
2014 Insert: Cemetery notes and/or description from findagrave.com:
Also known as The Alms House of Prince George’s County, Maryland. This was a County Financed Program. The caring for the County’s destitute dated back to 1768. The original Alms House was constructed in 1772, and its successor built approximately 100 years later on the same site. Both structures have long since faded into obscurity, leaving no current landmark(s) to reflect the exact site of the County’s Program. The physical location of the Alms House [8401 D’Arcy Road] was noted to be in front of the cemetery, (notes describe the cemetery as being located in an open field directly to the rear of the Alms House).
Of the 143 interments, only one single grave marker remains at the site of The Alms House, where those listed were buried. Petitioners were voted and acted upon by the Executive Committee, comprising of the Trustees of The Alms House.
Residents consisted of indigents, paupers, the disabled and any other citizens of Prince George’s County with no visible means of financial income or support. Paupers (with previous ties to Prince George’s County), who died in neighboring jurisdictions were also buried here.
WAR OF 1812 . . . From an article by: Judge Robert Lee Van Horn
Major George Peter wrote to Colonel J. S. Williams, May 24, 1854, who was then writing his book on the invasion and capture of Washington, as follows: “I was ordered back to join the concentration of the army at Long Old Fields (Forestville).
During the nights of August 22 and August 23, there was the constant alarm of guns being fired by sentinels, always the result of an army comprised of raw militia. On my arrival at Long Old Fields, I found Smith’s brigade and the flotilla men under Commodore Barney with a battery of two 18 pounders and the Marines under Colonel Miller. General Ross (British) occupied Centerville having arrived there at 2 PM August 23.
He (General Ross) sent back to Marlboro and dragged up with his sailors, two or three pieces of light artillery the only guns he had with him at Bladensburg.
There was a conference between President Madison, his cabinet and General Winder (Commander, US forces) in the general’s headquarters in Long Old Fields. General Winder ordered a forced march from Old Long Fields to Washington. On August 23 and 24, General Ross and army bivouacked in the woods and at 4:00 AM on the 24th passed through Long Old Fields on his way to Bladensburg where he arrived at noon on August 24th, and in 1814 the Battle of Bladensburg was then fought.”
DIGEST OF RECOLLECTIONS OF MRS. NORMAN COLLINS AND MRS. EDNA ENTWISTLE
Before the Civil War, a large part of what is now Forestville, was owned by David and Lowenia Sommers and was known first as Magruder’s Plains, later as Long Old Field and then as Ole Long Fields, changed to Forestville in the 1870s.
The Marlboro Turnpike or Old Stage Road ran through it from Washington to Upper Marlboro, with two toll gates at the main entrance to District Heights and at Marlboro Pike and Forestville Road.
Before the Battle of Bladensburg, troops marching overland from Hills Bridge and Benedict and camped at Ole Longfields. In or about 1869, a Mr. Nye, from Pennsylvania bought a large piece of Mr. Magruder’s Plains and built a large home and a store for groceries, dry goods, and general merchandise. A part of the store became the First Post Office in or about 1874. This was the only post office between Washington DC and Marlboro. Each morning the mail carrier met the Popes Creek train line at Marlboro and took off the bag of mail for delivery. This post office was on the north corner of Forestville Road and Marlboro Pike where the Sunoco station is now [the Sunoco station still remains there in operation].
Next to the post office on Marlboro Pike was Dr. Brent who had his office, and up the road on the opposite side, was a Mr. Rielly’s store which served for many years as a polling place.
Across Marlboro Pike from the post office were two stores and a residence (where Mitchell’s gas station is now).
The ground for the First Methodist Church was bought in 1820, 4/5’s of an acre from Mr. Marshall – price $50. This is the fourth church on this site with additional land being bought over the years.
The Episcopal Church cornerstone was laid in 1865. Its educational building/rectory etc. were added later. Noah Smith, a local preacher from England, bought a plot of ground after the Civil War from the Sommers tract and built what is now Phelps Addition to Forestville.
J. W. Randall and wife from New York bought from the Sommers tract a parcel known as Grey Eagle and built his home just down Marlboro Turnpike from where one of his sons Charles and his wife built their home and a large lumber or saw and grist mill in 1854, which served the Forestville and surrounding country for many years. This is the site of the Forestville Fire Department [still an active Volunteer Fire Company].
The Forestville School situated between the Methodist and Episcopal churches was opened by Alonzo D’Arcy who taught there, 1866 to 1883–10 months a year to about 50 pupils– cost of each approximately $18 per year. The school building is now occupied by a surveyor [W. L. Meekins].
Since 1900 we have seen four elementary and junior high schools in Forestville. In the early 1800s Phillip Spaulding, a large landowner in Old Long Field, kept a tavern and stagecoach inn on the present site of the Regency Nursing Home [7420 Marlboro Pike]. This was later used as a polling place and when our election district was formed, Spaulding District, was the first. Our junior high in Forest Manor bears his name.
On the north east side of Westphalia Road extending toward the post office was land owned by the Armstrong’s who gave the ground for the present Methodist Parsonage in 1882.
On the south side of Marlboro Pike extending from the gates down Marlboro Pike to Westphalia Road was land owned by John Brady, great, great, grandparent of the Beans who operated Old Longfield’s Dairy on the south side of Marlboro Pike. Mr. Brady donated the ground for the first Odd Fellows Hall built in 1894. This was located where the overpass of the Beltway crosses Pennsylvania Avenue. In the back of this land with outlet on Marlboro Pike and running through Forestville Road was Covert Farm [3700 Forestville Road], bought by Thomas Ryon in 1849. [Edna Ryon Entwistle inherited this property through her father, W. Ward Ryon, who inherited it from his father,Thomas Ryon.]
John Henry Bayne (born on my birthdate January 5, in 1840) was the wheelwright and blacksmith at the intersection of Marlboro Pike and Ritchie Road (7700 Marlboro Pike)– owned and occupied for decades now by Freddie’s Liquors. Wheelwrights like John were very important tradesman in small rural towns like Forestville. They made wheels for wagons, carriages, and riding chairs. Because the roads were rocky and rugged, wheels had to be made to handle these rough conditions. He also built or repaired carts, wheelbarrows and wagons so local farmers could transport stock or take their crops or milk to market. In April, 1868, John Bayne married Amelia Louise Moore from Westphalia Road. Amelia died as young mother at age 27 leaving John a widower with four children. He next married Mary Ellen Rebecca Darcy and they had nine children together. John died on December 23, 1921, at the age of 81. Forestville’s native, John Bayne, never left Forestville. In fact, he and his two wives are buried at Epiphany Episcopal Church Cemetery, 3111 Ritchie Road–the same church I attended as a child and where I was married in 1965.
Later on there was another blacksmith, Mr. Proctor, who had a home and shop on land owned by Dr. John Sansbury who had his home and office just west of the present location of the Regency Nursing Home. This same Dr. Sansbury had a racetrack in 1908 on what is now Sansbury Subdivision. That track was the first in Prince George’s County, a trotting track, one half mile long.
Dr. Sansbury’s residence and office later and was owned by J. H. Boyd, M. D.
In the 1880s, part of the Pike, across from where Penn Mar is now [2950 Donnell Drive], was a shoe repair shop (Keiler’s). In those days, and up to about 20 years ago , the site of the Penn Mar shopping center was a part of O’Donnell’s farm and the present Donnell Drive was a dirt road that went back to the farmhouse. The house was somewhat to the north of the present Pennsylvania Avenue Extended. Pennsylvania Avenue Extended did not exist then.
In the 1880s farther up the Pike toward District Heights was Jackson Memorial Methodist Church, public school, and cemetery.
Next up was the first Catholic Church in Forestville, a frame church painted white built in 1912. It was replaced by the present Mount Calvary church, school, and convent. McNamara high school for boys was built later [converted to a coed school in 1992 when neighboring La Reine Catholic High School for girls closed its doors in Suitland].
Across the Pike, in what is now Berkshire, they drilled for oil in the 1900s with no luck. They also drilled on the Matthews tract which is now Andrews Air Force Base.
“Wells have been dug near Lonaconing in Western Maryland; in the Triassic soil of Frederick County; in Prince George’s County; near Leonardtown, and on the Isle of Wight near Ocean City,” reported The Sunday Sun Magazine in the 1940s.
“Most of the digging resulted in nothing but disappointment,” it said.”
“In 1919, the only real “strike” came in Prince George’s County, when an operating well produced a bucketful of oil every 24 hours.
Newspaper accounts at the time said it was so pure that it could be “put right into the gasoline tank of an automobile and run off with it.”
Abundance wasn’t in the cards, and shortly afterward, the well and its so-called pure oil went dry. However, the talk of Maryland oil wouldn’t go away, as speculators continued to whip up interest.
“The kind of science the big companies employ is not to be believed. … Hardly a single geologic condition is favorable for the accumulation of oil near Washington. The usual requisites for an oil pool are lacking, and no reputable geologist would advise the expenditure of money under these conditions,” said a 1920 report from the U.S. Geological Survey published in The Sun at the time.