History of Takoma Park
Historic Takoma/A Sylvan Suburb
In 1883, an investor and small-scale developer by the name of B. F. Gilbert bought 83 acres of the Gottlieb Grammer farm, which lay across the border of the District of Columbia and Maryland. The New York native had undertaken some small residential building projects in the District of Columbia, but with this land purchase, he set out to carve a unique community from the wilderness that lay north of what is now Florida Avenue in the District. The area was unsettled except for an inn on the road to Sandy Spring (now the Davis-Warner Inn) and the farm of General Samuel Spriggs Carroll (at Manor Circle also on the road to Sandy Spring). Carroll was a Union army hero at the battle of Gettysburg (1863) and a descendent of the Carroll family who had been granted the land when they immigrated to the Maryland colony at the end of the seventeenth century.
Gilbert took a friend out the Metropolitan Branch of the B & O Railroad to look at his new purchase and discuss his plans. They got off the train when it stopped at Angus Lamond's terra cotta factory, walking further north, deeper into the woods tangled with vines. "What have you done?!?" his friend asked. But Gilbert was not daunted by the terrain; he rather embraced it. Gilbert was a devotee of the temperance movement, and he envisioned a temperate life-style for his new community. The purity of the environment and the air at a higher elevation than the city attracted him, as did the numerous clean springs and streams in the area. It all provided a welcome relief from the unsanitary and unsavory conditions of the more densely populated city.
Another friend, and one of the first people to follow Gilbert out to his purchase, Ida Summy, suggested over a game of cards that the new community should be named Tacoma, which meant "high up, near heaven" in a Pacific Coast Native American dialect. She also suggested the streets should be named for trees, breaking with the current fashion of naming streets for civil war generals. Gilbert promoted his suburb as a sylvan paradise, free of squalor, health risks, and disease. Later, he added the word "Park" to the name of the community to highlight these qualities; the U.S. Post Office ultimately changed the spelling to Takoma in order to avoid confusion with Tacoma, Washington.
For the price of a small apartment in the city, employees of the federal government could own a spacious house and lot in an idyllic setting. Gilbert's target audience was soon joined by others from the temperance movement, as well as spiritualists, artists, and educators. Over the next two decades, he added three other parcels of land to his original purchase.
Into the Future
In the closing decades of the twentieth century, significant change again washed over Old Takoma with the loosening of bonds that had long bound the city and the Adventist Church. Preservation was embraced, urban renewal was implemented, and large-scale restoration of the physical fabric of the community was undertaken.
The temperate life-style that Gilbert had implemented continued to flourish with vegetarian residents, restaurants, and caterers, as well as a natural foods co-operative store. Buddhists, practitioners of yoga, midwives, and massage therapists joined the community. Simplicity circles arose as property values escalated. New age became completely at home in the community that Gilbert built. Non-profit organizations and political activists joined writers, academics, artists, craftsmen, gardeners, journalists, musicians, dancers, and all manner of cultural producers as well as government bureaucrats and officials in Old Takoma.
The principles laid out by B. F. Gilbert of a temperate life-style, in touch with nature and surroundings have served Old Takoma well for more than a century. The vision and adaptability inherent in Takoma have crafted a unique community, rich with continuity as well as an incubator for cultural change. In Old Takoma, past is present, and future.