In February 2013 I got an email from Jacquie Bokow, editor of the Northwood News. “Hey, Dave! Do you know anything about the property at 503 Dennis Avenue?,” Jacquie wrote. The property is in our old Maryland neighborhood and late last year signs were posted that the property was under subdivision review and that the early 20th century home there may be demolished.
The research I did on the 1939 World’s Fair Home and the neighborhood’s 1950’s cooperative subdivision included documentation on the pre-suburban properties prior to subdivision in the early 20th century. I wrote a brief article and sent it to Jacquie. It was published in the Northwood News in April 2013 and it is reprinted below along with additional illustrations not included in the printed version.
The Read Family Legacy: A Brief History of Northwood Park’s Subdivsions
Throughout much of its history, the house on the slight rise at 507 Dennis Avenue was known as the “Read House.” It is one of the oldest surviving homes in the Northwood- Four Corners neighborhood. This article tells some of its history and its significance in the development of many of the subdivisions comprising the community.
Located approximately six miles north of where Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue intersect in downtown Silver Spring, Northwood Park has remained under the radar of most historians documenting the history of metropolitan Washington’s suburbs. For much of the nineteenth century, the parcels that ultimately became Northwood Park were part of a 202-acre farm between the road linking Four Corners with Wheaton and the Ashton and Colesville Turnpike, now the congested University Boulevard and Colesville Road intersection.
View Read Property in a larger map
Maps published in the late nineteenth century identify William Read as its owner and show a house in the vicinity of Dennis Avenue. A road map surveyed in 1894 shows the vicinity as owned by William Read’s heirs. The Read name was so inextricably attached to the landscape that the tributary running along Dennis and ending in the Northwest Branch was called “William T. Read’s Home Spring Branch.”
Four Corners developed slowly in the first part of the twentieth century. The area is a rural unincorporated hamlet at the intersection of today’s Colesville Road (U.S. 29) and University Boulevard (MD 193). Maps published in 1916 and 1917 illustrate continued agricultural uses, large lots, and diffuse development. Like the core of Silver Spring to the south, it appears that the Four Corners vicinity developed partly as a summer retreat for Washington, D.C., residents. Few published histories document the development of Four Corners. A Washington Post article published in 1901 provides some clues about the crossroads at the turn of the twentieth century:
Four Corners, the name of the village of a few houses on a corner of the Bryan property, is about three and one-half miles from the District line, and is at the intersection of the Colesville pike, which leaves the Seventh street road at Sligo and runs northeastward. There are a number of summer residences in the vicinity.
The former Read farm occupied a rectangular tract linking University Boulevard (formerly Old Bladensburg Road) with Colesville Pike. William A. Read (b. 1823), a federal clerk and in the middle part of the nineteenth century and later an attorney, married Mary Eliza Beale (1829-1903) in 1848 in Washington. In 1854 a deed of trust was executed giving the Reads and their children ”entire and exclusive control” of three lots comprising 202 acres between the “Washington Road” and “Bladensburgh Road.” William Read died before his wife and in 1903, shortly before her death, she subdivided the property and transferred title to the new tracts to her children. George B. Read and his wife Alice acquired a 28-acre parcel. George and Alice died and their son, George Jr., subsequently inherited the property.
According to research in Maryland Historical Trust files, the house at 507 Dennis Avenue was built c. 1903 by Oliver Hamilton for William T. Read Jr. The original house was a two-story frame central-hall building. Just six years later, he and his wife Margaret sold the house and the surrounding 12-acre parcel to Robert Allen. Allen subsequently added a two-story wing in the rear. He died in 1918 and his wife, Marie, inherited the property.
Charles Clements, a government clerk, bought the property in 1921. He and his wife, Virginia lived there for the remainder of their lives. In 1951 Clements subdivided the property, now known as Northwood Knolls, and over the next two years sold much of it to Rosewood Homes, a developer who eventually built the blocks of brick ramblers along Dennis Avenue and Royalton Road. Clements, however, retained ownership of three contiguous lots: the property at 507 Dennis and two adjacent lots fronting on the cul-de-sac created in the 1951 Northwood Knolls plat.
Charles died in 1968 and Virginia died one year later. Their children, Jeanne, Mary, and Charles inherited the property. Jeanne and Mary transferred their interests in the property to their brother. The Clements family, under the Charles Clement III Trust still owns the property.
In 1985, the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission evaluated the former Read house for designation in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. The Commission decided to not designate the property because too much of its original building fabric had been altered diminishing its integrity, including multiple additions and the construction of dormers and new roof in 1972.
The Read legacy in the Northwood-North Four Corners neighborhood is significant. By the early 1930s the Read family had lost a portion of the property through foreclosure and other family members prepared additional lots for subdivision and sale. Louise Vonne, a Washington, D.C., subdivider, in late 1935 bought 28 acres carved out of the original farmland. She quickly had the property surveyed and filed a subdivision plat for “Northwood Park” one month after the purchase. The new subdivision had 93 lots, most of which had 70-foot frontages on one of six streets dissecting the property. The original streets were Eastwood Ave., Edgewood Ave., Northwood Ave., Woodridge Ave., Southwood Ave., and the MA-VA Highway (Dennis Avenue). After holding the property for less than half a year, Vonne sold it to Waldo M. Ward.
Ward and his business partner James Wilson formed Garden Homes, Inc. Wilson added to the company’s portfolio by acquiring additional lots in the former Read property and between 1936 and 1940 the company sold most of the properties in their inventory, including the 1939 Washington World’s Fair Home on Sutherland Road.
Other subdivisions followed Northwood Park: Indian Spring View (1937), Northwood Village (1947), and the Third Addition to Northwood Park (1952), best known locally as the Northwood Park Housing, Inc., cooperative homes along Cavalier. By the early years of the Cold War, much of the former Read farmstead had been converted into the fashionable suburban housing that forms the physical core of the Northwood-Four Corners neighborhood.
Postscript: After the April 2013 Northwood News was distributed in the neighborhood I received a note from a longtime resident. “I love learning about the history of our area. I also had been wondering why this house wasn’t designated as historic; David’s article answered that question,” she wrote. The resident added,
I remember when Xmas trees were sold on the property (Clements Christmas Trees); there was even such a sign still on the Clements property–although it has been some years since the Clements’ property was used for Xmas tree sales.
June 2015 Update:
After an estate sale at the end of May, the property was prepared for demolition. Work began June 1, 2015.
Note on sources: The information for this article was derived from Montgomery County land records, the Washington Post newspaper archive, and research done by the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Section.
© 2013 D.S. Rotenstein