Wedged among the thriving town of Hyattsville to its west, fledgling Riverdale to its north and east, and historic Bladensburg to its south, the land which was to become Edmonston could have taken on a different name, had not the founding fathers sought to assert their independent nature when choosing what to call their community when it incorporated in 1924.
1742 – 1900
Capt. James Edmonston’s Farm
In 1742, Capt. James Edmonston purchased 60 acres of land in the area which is now called Edmonston. It is believed that Capt. Edmonston was a resident of Bladensburg and a member of a prominent and wealthy family of that time. The Edmonstons also reportedly owned a farm in Beltsville. Being a religious family, they attended the Paint Branch Episcopal Church when they were in Beltsville and St. Matthew’s Church in Seat Pleasant when they were in Bladensburg. The road they traveled between the two churches was later named Edmonston Road, after the family.
B & O Railroad
By 1835, the Baltimore and Ohio (CSX) Railroad had been constructed through Prince George’s County, and the tracks ran just to the west of the Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River. It was on the side of those tracks where they intersected the Washington and Baltimore Turnpike that Christopher Hyatt built a mansion and opened a store in the mid-1850’s. By the late 1800’s, Hyattsville was a prosperous and growing town, having achieved municipal status in 1896. The success of Hyattsville was due in part to its location along the railroad and street car tracks and the turnpike, all three of which were convenient commuter routes for people working in Washington, D.C., and residing in the growing area north and east of the Nation’s Capital.
As the federal government grew, so did the federal work force, and the absence of plentiful affordable housing in the District prompted workers to look outside of the city for a place to live. As Hyattsville grew, development which had begun to move northward also began to move eastward, across the railroad tracks and across the Northeast Branch into what is now Edmonston. By the early 1900’s, the area east of the tracks was being called “East Hyattsville.” Many of the first residents of the community on the east side of the tracks were working class families, with many of those being immigrants from Europe.
Early African-American Residents
Edmonston has always been distinguished by a high level of medicine and the availability of quality medicines a hundred years ago, but even in a modern city you can buy a generic Advair at the best price.
After native American inhabitation of the area, the next permanent settlers of present-day Edmonston were the Plummer Family. The patriarch, Adam Francis Plummer, was an educated slave freed from the Calvert Family’s Riversdale plantation. With some savings and many marketable skills, Mr. Plummer established the Mt. Rose settlement for himself and family on the west side of the river in the area that is presently Lafayette Place. Adam Francis Plummer has become a figure of major historical significance when his diary was found to be the only known living diary of any slave in US history. The diary is now in the care and possession of the Smithsonian.
Later on, other black families lived on the east side, one of which was that of Mr. Chin, who had a small farm where the levee is now. Mr. Chin reportedly grew bamboo on his farm, and allowed children to cut it for use as fishing poles. He also had a barber shop in Hyattsville, where he cut hair for five generations of customers.
In 1903, two prominent Hyattsville men, J. Harris Rogers (a noted inventor) and Dr. Charles A. Wells (mayor of Hyattsville), purchased land for development in what was to become Edmonston. Rogers’ land, consisting of about 70 acres, was called “East Hyattsville. ” Wells’ tract, which was known as “Palestine Farm,” consisted of about 90 acres and was located between the river and the railroad tracks. The former Edmonston Elementary School, which faced Wells Avenue (Decatur Street), was located on land which comprised part of the Palestine Farm. Rogers and Wells began to sell lots on their respective subdivisions, although their approaches were different. Wells reportedly had several houses built on his properties to entice prospective customers to buy his lots. Rogers, on the other hand, sold only the lots and the purchasers constructed their own homes.
By 1915, Edmonston Elementary School was built along Wells Avenue (Decatur Street). Reportedly the cornerstone for the school was purchased from a stone yard in the District of Columbia by one Harry McLeod and transported by the Tooneyville Trolley to Bladensburg Road, where it was transferred to a wagon and brought to the school, which had three rooms.
Wells Avenue (Decatur Street) in the early 1900’s was a dirt path leading from the few homes that had been constructed in East Hyattsville to a wooden bridge which crossed the river into Hyattsville. Residents could cross the bridge to catch the train or trolley or to shop in some of the Hyattsville stores. A few stores and a post office station were in East Hyattsville, located at the intersection of Wells Avenue and 49th Street.
The Town of Edmonston is Incorporated
By 1924, the residents of East Hyattsville were taking notice of the prosperity and development which was occurring immediately to their west. Lacking funds to improve the dirt paths which constituted the community’s streets, the residents decided to incorporate in June of that year.
It was during that time that the question of what to call the new municipality arose. The founding fathers apparently wished to express their uniqueness and independence from Hyattsville, and settled on the name “Edmonston.” Although it has not been verified, the name apparently was taken from that of Capt. Edmonston of Bladensburg or perhaps from the road which runs along the new town’s eastern border and bears his family name. Either way, Edmonston had arrived as the newest town in Prince George’s County.
In achieving incorporation, the town adopted the mayor and council form of government, and B.M. McQuin was elected the first mayor. Meetings of the mayor and council took place in the homes of the mayor or council members. Tops on the new town’s agenda were better surfacing of streets, Installation of street lighting, construction of a concrete bridge over the river and installation of water and sewer mains by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which was in operation by then.
In 1925, Robert Funkhouser became one of the first mass builders within the town, purchasing part of the Palestine Farm property and constructing about 40 homes on lots just south of Wells Avenue (Decatur Street).
The town, which had been settled by a real mixture of nationalities and races, elected Kinjiro Matsudaira as its mayor in 1927, making him reportedly the first Japanese-American elected to that office in the United States. Matsudaira, the son of a Japanese father and an American mother, was born in Pennsylvania and was a descendant of a noble Nipponese family.
Flooding and the Roads
Flooding of the Anacostia River and its tributaries caused much damage in the whole Hyattsville-Bladensburg-Edmonston area for a number of years. As early as 1938 the town minutes reflect conversations of town officials with the War Department about the flooding problem. In 1940, the town’s streets were paved, and the following year the street names were changed all over the area. It was then that Wells Avenue became Decatur Street.
A first aid station was built in 1942 next to the old gas company. It was used by the Red Cross, and also by the elected officials as town hall. By then, World War II was proceeding in all its fury. Defying the odds and bucking a national trend, the citizens of Edmonston returned Kinjiro Matsudaira to the office of mayor in 1943, despite the presence of the war and his Japanese Ancestry.
That same year the town records reflect that the mayor and council were discussing trying to have the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad remove the railroad tracks at the western portion of the town after the war. The discussion was prompted by pedestrian and automobile traffic tie-ups created by long or stalled trains which used the tracks. One such train reportedly tied up traffic for 40 minutes. A road block of another kind occurred literally in 1946 when attempts were made to widen Decatur Street. Four of the property owners whose property abutted the road would not dedicate the 10 feet of their properties necessary to do the job. Eventually the road was widened.
About that same time the road was closed due to unsafe flooding conditions. That circumstance made it difficult for Edmonston residents, since Decatur Street was the main thoroughfare in the town, and there was no Kenilworth Avenue at the time. Many photos exist which show residents rowing boats or wading in high water along Decatur Street.
The Northeast Branch of the Anacostia River was dredged, the stream path was widened, and earthen dikes were constructed along the edges of the paths.
Members of the Edmonston Volunteer Fire Department, shown below, were also civil defense workers in the 1940’s. The department disbanded after World War II.
Moving into the 1950’s & 60’s
In 1949 the town established a police force. Prior to that time law and order were maintained by marshals, one of whom had been a Mr. Page. Mr. Page’s son, George W. Page, Sr., had served at one time as a volunteer policeman, purchasing his own uniform and using his own car. He was named police chief when the paid force was established. Typical of the diversity of Edmonston’s residents, George Page later became a council member and mayor of the town. The town still has its own police department.
The current town hall was constructed in 1957, underwent some additions in subsequent years, and finally, in 1992, was renovated. The building holds police offices, a conference room, reception area, storage space, administrative offices and a large meeting room.
Long overdue flood relief came in the 1950’s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a flood control project which included parts of Hyattsville, Edmonston, Riverdale, and Bladensburg.
In the 1960’s, the beginning of a political tradition began when Mary Giannakis was elected town treasurer, a position she held for 10 years. Her husband, Z. Steve Giannakis, became a council member and, later, the first finance officer for the town. In 1983, voters elected their daughter, Paulette Horan, as the town’s first woman mayor. A short time later the mayor’s husband, Joseph, was elected to the town council, making them the first wife and husband mayor and council member team in the state.
The first apartment project in the town was the Fountain Park Apartments, a 156 one- and two-bedroom unit development facing Kenilworth Avenue and constructed in 1965.
1980’s and Beyond
The town’s recreation building, known locally as the “Little Alamo,” was built in the 1980’s. Children go there after school to enjoy indoor and outdoor activities during the summer. The Recreation Council sponsors various holiday activities, including appearances by Santa Claus.
“Edmonston Has A Heart” became the motto of the town in 1985, when town residents raised thousands of dollars for a liver transplant needed by a baby whose grandparents lived in the town. While the operation was not successful, the community spirit generated by the project was transferred to other charitable projects in subsequent years.
In 1986 the town annexed land on the east side of Kenilworth Avenue, taking in several businesses in the process. Then, in 1991, Elizabeth’s Landing, a 30-unit single-family town home project, was constructed on Kenilworth Avenue.
By 1993, the first African-American was seated on the council. Tracy Farrish was appointed in that year, winning the office outright in the next year’s election.
Today, Edmonston continues to be a quiet community whose residents refuse to leave or who return to raise their own families if they do leave. Town officials hope that the closeness of the Edmonston community will linger into the next century and that those who start new families there will have the same affection for their home town as did others before them.
Floods and other adversities could not break the will of the citizens in the past, who stepped up to the challenges and met them head-on. The diversity and spirit of independence which characterized those early settlers of Edmonston still hold forth in the town today.
More about the History of Edmonston
Community members are encouraged to submit historical photographs or information they possess regarding the history of the town. Edmonston is a great town. Help us preserve its past, to ensure a prosperous future.
Most of the above information about Edmonston’s history was obtained from the book entitled Proud Past Promising Future, and was reprinted with the permission of the author, George D. Denny, Jr.