Creating Community

Last night my BlackBerry and I stumbled through near-100-degree heat into the second weekly drum circle convened in the new Veteran’s Plaza by Impact Silver Spring.

Silver Spring is an interesting place. I’ve lived here for nearly 10 years and I still feel like a newcomer. It is an unincorporated place in southern Montgomery County (Maryland) that hugs Washington’s angular northern boundary line. Unlike other places I have lived (e.g., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Atlanta), there is no cohesive Silver Spring identity for the community as a whole or its various neighborhoods. It’s a place in search of a culture, it seems.

Two years ago the space where the new Veterans Plaza and Civic Building now sit was a patch of artificial turf that became a community gathering place. One year ago the spot was a construction site.  County planners envisioned the new space as a performance space and a formal and informal gathering place. I wonder how this is going to develop and if Silver Spring will get the culture planners hoped for in building the new space. Okay, they’ve built it and people are coming: skateboarders, loafers, nappers, and voyeurs. And the drummers. Are the drum circles a transitional phase helping (through music therapy?) to move Silver Spring into a new direction? Or are they something else? I look forward to watching how things turn out.

I spent about 45 minutes at last night’s drum circle (it was more of a rectangle with an amorphous fringe) and I wish I could have stayed longer. I enjoyed the improvisation and watching the diverse crowd. I wonder how things turned out with the Krishnas who set up an informational table a few dozen yards away, complete with their own drum.

Expert Testimony

Last night I visited my former colleagues: the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission. The HPC held a hearing to determine if a 1950s Silver Spring movie theater and shopping center met the criteria for designation in the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. The proposed designation is supported by local preservation groups and was initiated as part of a Planning Department sector plan review. The property owner opposes designation because he feels that it limits his options to redevelop the property to take advantage of new economic opportunities sprouting throughout Silver Spring.

Leaving aside the merits of the designation and the tensions between historic preservation commissions as regulatory bodies and private property owners, I would like to focus on the role of the historic preservation expert. The property owner’s land use attorney retained a large consulting engineering company with a cultural resource management division to make the case that the property does not merit historic designation. The person who appeared at last night’s hearing brandished her credentials — 14 years of professional experience and title as “architectural history team leader” — to establish her credibility as an expert in historic preservation. Continue reading

Silver Spring and a “Socialized Medicine” Sidebar (Part I)

Shall Government Help Pay Nation’s Doctor Bills? Sharp Fight Aroused by Program.

This headline could have appeared in any of the nation’s papers in 2009 or 2010. Instead, it was published in San Jose, California, in August 1938. That year one of the country’s first managed health care entities, Group Health Association, Inc., went head to head with the American Medical Association and the District of Columbia medical establishment in a legal battle over patients’ rights and affordable health care for low-income families.

Dr. Mario Scandiffio (1902-1996), a Washington pediatrician employed by GHA, found himself in the center of the imbroglio when his hospital privileges were revoked along with those of other GHA practitioners. My research frequently veers off into unanticipated territory and last year’s encounter with Scandiffio and his wife, Pauline (1903-1989), is becoming one of those side trips. The Scandiffios were the first owners of Northwood Park’s 1939 New York World’s Fair Home, the subject of my paper at this year’s Vernacular Architecture Forum conference.

GHA was founded in 1937. This was a time during which the American health insurance industry was an emerging business. The model was simple: a monthly premium payment bought access to a network of specialists and generalists and hospitalization plus necessary diagnostic tests. The idea for founding GHA grew from discussions by managers in the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a part of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. By attempting to minimize absenteeism and other costs associated with employee illnesses while also improving the quality of those peoples’ lives. According to a 1941 article by Dr. Scandiffio, GHA sought to eliminate the economic barriers separating the poor and access to healthcare and make practicing medicine more efficient by sharing lab and x-ray facilities in a large urban clinic. The AMA perceived GHA as a threat and moved aggressively against the new medical cooperative which was being accused of trying to socialize medicine. The medical establishment, i.e., the AMA and the District of Columbia’s District Medical Society, swiftly began marginalizing GHA’s physicians by revoking their hospital privileges and memberships.

This being Washington, D.C., legal action was quick in coming. The Justice Department opened an investigation into the AMA and the Medical Society of the District of Columbia for violating antitrust laws. Indictments followed and the case wound its way through the federal courts until 1943 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion upholding the lower courts’ decision that the AMA and Medical Society had acted unlawfully.

Dr. Scandiffio was one of GHA’s first medical professionals. The son of Italian immigrants to New York City, Mario V. Scandiffio graduated from The George Washington University medical school in 1928 and did his residency and internship at the New York Post Graduate School. Scandiffio’s medical school roommate introduced him to Pauline Loria, a Bureau of Engraving employee and singer with her own show on local radio station WOL. Married in 1930, the Scandiffios lived in Washington where he worked in private practice. Dr. Scandiffio’s first day of work for GHA was November 1, 1937, the day GHA’s Eye Street clinic opened to the public.

One day after starting work at GHA Dr. Scandiffio received a registered letter from the District of Columbia Medical Society directing him to appear before the group’s Compensation, Contract and Industrial Medicine Committee to answer charges that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct by practicing for GHA. Scandiffio responded by first resigning from the Society and then rescinding his resignation. The Society expelled Scandiffio in early 1938 and the case began attracting national attention. The AMA opposed GHA because the new model threatened the institutional framework of professional medicine. The struggles to reform healthcare in the United States in 1994 and again when President Barack Obama took office look remarkably similar to the issues faced by GHA and Dr. Scandiffio. In his 1941 paper on the GHA, Dr. Scandiffio described GHA’s most fundamental beliefs:

It was felt that there should be little or no economic barrier to securing competent and adequate medical care. All of us are gamblers at heart and, unfortunately, one of our most vital possessions – good health – is too often gambled with. It is almost a universal characteristic to delay seeing the doctor until all other means at our disposal have failed. The result is that the private practitioner sees only advanced illness and has little time for the care of early illness or for preventive medical care. Care of early illness and preventive care are, to me, the primary advantages of prepaid group medicine for it is distinctly to the best interests of both patient and physician to know how to achieve good health and how to maintain it. Then too, early care results in lower morbidity and mortality and in a marked reduction in the number of serious or advanced illnesses. [1]

Scandiffio resisted the medical establishment’s pressures and remained with GHA. In the spring of 1939 he became GHA’s medical director and a few months later he and his wife bought Northwood Park’s 1939 World’s Fair Home. Scandiffio left GHA in May 1944 and opened his own Silver Spring practice on Georgia Avenue. The Scandiffios lived in Silver Spring until 1952 when they moved to Miami, Florida.

The Washington Post, August 20, 1939.

Pauline and Mario Scandiffio outside their Silver Spring home with their daughter Ann.


[1] Dr. Mario Scandiffio, “The Program of the D.C. Group Health Association,” Social Security in 1941, 145-149.

Look for Part II: a closer look at Group Health Association, Inc.

Thanks to Ann Scandiffio for sharing her family photos.

© 2010 David S. Rotenstein

Who was Col. Lyde Griffith and Why Preserve His MoCo Farm?

The Col. Lyde Griffith Farm (M: 15/27), also known as the Mehrle Warfield Farm, is located at 7301-7307 Damascus Road in Gaithersburg. The current property covers approximately 87.6 acres north of Damascus Road and northwest of Etchison, a rural unincorporated hamlet.[1] The farmstead includes several domestic and agricultural buildings, agricultural fields, and areas in mixed hardwoods. At its March 10, 2010, work session the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to remove the property from the Locational Atlas and Index of Historic Sites and to not recommend designation in the Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

I agree with the HPC’s decision and the reasons stated by individual members for voting against designation. The documentation prepared by staff in support of its recommendation of designation based on the property’s historical associations and architecture was not defensible nor was it accurate and complete. If the HPC had voted to designate the property, all 87.61 acres and individual buildings would have been subject to regulation by the HPC. This brief summary of the property’s history and cultural features derives from research conducted at the Library of Congress. The information presented below underscores the serious questions raised by the HPC regarding the research conducted to support the proposed Upper Patuxent Area Resources Amendment to the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation.

Audio (heavily compressed MP3) from the March 10, 2010, work session where the HPC discussed and voted on this property is available here.


According to the December 2009 MIHP form completed by staff, the surviving historic house is a “log and frame structure with a three bay, side gable main block.”[2] Staff noted a metal-clad roof, synthetic siding, a rebuilt [brick] chimney, and an attached garage. Most of staff’s description of the property derived from a 1987 survey. At the March 2010 work session staff was unable to answer HPC members’ questions about the house’s integrity nor could staff provide the HPC with a definitive construction date for the building.

Staff wrote in the 2009 MIHP form, “The log and frame house was likely built between 1797, the date of Col [sic] Lyde Griffith’s first marriage to Anne Poole Dorsey and 1809 … The three bay house is a traditional form that was used throughout the region in this era.”[3] Pictures of the home included in the 2009 MIHP form, along with earlier MIHP forms, suggest that the house is a traditional I-house, a common nineteenth and early twentieth century vernacular house type found throughout the eastern United States.[4] The building shown in the photos has a pair of internal gable-end chimneys, a 1.5-story gable roof side (east) addition and a one-story shed roof addition, and a one-story hip-roof garage attached to the building’s rear (north). There are two first-floor windows piercing the west (side) façade. These windows appear to be 1/1 double-hung-sash replacement windows (metal or vinyl). The original three-bay principal façade (south) appears to have a one-story shed roof porch support by wood posts. A photo included in the 2009 MIHP form taken from a distance shows 6/6 DHS windows with wood shutters.

In her report delivered to the HPC at the March 2010 work session planner Sandra Youla described her visit to the property. “We were invited off of the site when we were there so this is the best we can do for you,” reported Youla as she delivered her presentation to the HPC. Youla explained that her departure from the property precluded collecting additional information to present to the HPC.

The dairy barn complex was described at length in the 1987 survey by Andrea Rebeck and in the 2009 MIHP form. In addition to the nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings and structures, there are several late twentieth and early twenty-first century buildings located at this property. These include a large new residence and agricultural buildings and structures related to the active dairy farm.


Staff recommended an environmental setting that embraces the entire parcel: “The setting is 87.61 acres, being parcel P909. In the event of subdivision, the features to be preserved include the historic dwelling house, the dairy barn, the Griffith family cemetery, and the vista from Damascus Road.”[5] Staff’s recommendation did not include potential archaeological resources, including the antebellum chrome mines reported to have been operated on Lyde Griffith’s farm.

Historical Significance

Lyde Griffith Genealogy Outline

Lyde Griffith (1774-1839) was born into a prominent Maryland family. Engaged in state and local government, large landholders, and military officers in the late Colonial and early Republic periods, the Griffith family’s role in the development of Maryland history is documented in several local histories and genealogies.[6] Lyde Griffith’s father, Samuel, was a Continental Army captain and farmer. Lyde was the only child born to Samuel and his first wife, Rachel Warfield. Lyde Griffith’s first wife, Anne Dorsey, with whom he had three children, died in 1808; he later married Amelia Wayman and they had four children. The Griffith genealogy is complex and warrants further research to tie specific Montgomery County farmsteads to individual descendants and affines in the Warfield and Dorsey families.

Despite Historic Preservation Office staff’s assertions in earlier documents and testimony that the source of Griffith’s title, “Colonel,” was unknown, several histories identify Lyde Griffith as a captain who served in the 44th Regiment (Montgomery County) during the War of 1812.[7] The Griffiths held extensive lands and relied on African-American labor to work their farms before and after the Civil War. It is beyond the scope of this document to review all of the Griffith Montgomery County landholdings. By 1824, however, Lyde Griffith had accumulated sufficient capital to acquire nearly 1,200 acres which he named “Griffith’sburg” (Griffithsburg).[8]

Chrome Mining

Lyde Griffith’s 1,196-acre farm was located in the Upper Patuxent River drainage and was dissected by several unnamed tributaries. The geology of this area includes serpentine rock formations rich with chrome ore. According to Maryland Geological Survey maps, the serpentine formations near Etchison run from southwest to northeast.[9] Chrome is a mineral that in the nineteenth century was used in the manufacture of steel, the leather industry, and as a pigment. The American chrome industry was founded in the first quarter of the nineteenth century by Baltimore entrepreneur Isaac Tyson Jr. Tyson’s career and contributions to American and Maryland economic history are discussed at length in articles on the chrome industry and in several biographies.[10]

1824 folio cover for the Griffithsburg survey.

Lyde Griffith appears to have realized by the mid 1830s that his lands held merchantable quantities of chrome. In October 1837 Griffith executed a contract with Washington Waters allowing Waters to remove chrome from the property. According to the contract, Waters, for $50, bought the right to “search for, dig, and remove, as he may think proper, chrome ore or mineral from the lot of ground marked out for him.” Waters also obtained, “the use of the house, except the cellar, in said lot, so long as he may wish it, for the use of the hands he may employ in digging for chrome.”[11]

Less than a year into the contract with Waters Griffith apparently began negotiating with Tyson to mine chrome from the farm. These negotiations spurred a breach of contract suit involving Waters and Lyde Griffith’s heirs. Waters was awarded $2,056.25 in damages and Griffith’s heirs appealed the judgment to the Maryland Court of Appeals. The portion of Griffith’s property mined by Waters was a tract formerly owned by Benjamin King and bought by Griffith in 1824.[12] This appears to be the farm that came to be held by Columbus Griffith and which is now south of Damascus Road.[13] Records consulted to date do not indicate if there were chrome pits active within the 89 acres now comprising the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm. The 1865 Martenet and Bond Montgomery County map show “Tyson’s Chrome Pits” in the vicinity of the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm.[14]

The Etchison chrome mines were the only ones active in Montgomery County.[15] The earliest known description of the place where chrome was removed starting in c. 1837 is in a Johns Hopkins University publication from 1889. “On the land of Columbus Griffith, a mile west of Etchison P.O., and a little east of Great Seneca Creek, is a considerable deposit of chromite … This was formerly worked for chrome ore,” reported A.C. Gill. Gill also described “old dump –heaps which surround the pits.”[16]

In 1926 geologist Earl Shannon wrote in the Journal of the Mineralogical Society of America:

An old chromite mine near Etchison in Maryland has been mentioned by Gill as a locality for chrome tourmaline and fuchsite and the present writer has recently described a green margarite from this region. The mine now consists of a shallow depression surrounded by dumps, somewhat overgrown with briars. The only rock exposed in place is a mass of rusty talc in the pit. Beneath this talc outcrop is an old tunnel which still shows a narrow opening but, since no light was available, this was not explored.[17]

Two years after Shannon’s article was published, Joseph Singewald wrote on the Chrome Industry in Maryland in a report published by the Maryland Geological Survey and he described the “Etchison Mine”:

On the farm of Columbus Griffith three-quarters of a mile west of Etchison, chrome ores were mined off and on several times prior to the Civil War and hauled to Woodbine for shipment. There appears to have been three openings. The largest and only accessible one shows no evidence of chrome ore. It consists of a pit 30 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep from which a gallery runs with a steep down grade for 50 feet N. 20° W. and then turns N. 70° E. for 30 feet. The country rock is a soft talcost schist with the direction of N. 70° W. 30° N. A second opening 80 feet distant in the direction N. 35° E., and a third 50 feet N. 75° E. of the second are now completely filled up but small dumps about them contain serpentine in which there are metallic particles but no pieces of massive chromite could be found. The indications are that not much ore was produced here. [Endnote did not copy: Singewald, “The Chrome Industry in Maryland,” 191.]

Portion of 1865 Martenet and Bond Map. Tyson Chrome pits are pictured in the center.

Maryland Chrome Mines. Map published by the Maryland Geological Survey in 1928. The 1928 color plate appears to have been derived from maps created as early as 1919 and published in articles on Maryland's chrome industry.

Singewald’s article also contained a map precisely locating the Etchison mine :

1928 Maryland Geological Survey Map Showing the Etchison Chrome Mine Location.

The documents available suggest that the chrome extraction occurred on portions of the former Lyde Griffith property outside of the boundaries of the farmstead now known as the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm. Aerial photographs and United States Geological Survey topographic maps, along with the 1865 Martenet and Bond map, suggest that the wooded portions now within the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm could have been exploited for chrome. These areas require an archaeological evaluation to determine if chrome was extracted in this portion of the former 1,196-acre Griffith property.

Griffith Family Cemetery

Although there appears to be no evidence of the Griffith family cemetery visible, the graves may still be intact and their location delineated using non-destructive archaeological methods (e.g., ground penetrating radar, surface survey, etc.).

Griffith Family Cemetery. Photos included in 1973 MIHP form on file with the Maryland Historical Trust

Other Archaeological Components

Historical photographs and earlier MIHP forms show a large Pennsylvania German bank barn at the farm. Demolished after the farm was first surveyed by M-NCPPC, the barn and its associated yard area may contain significant archaeological data that could amplify and expand the surviving historical record. Furthermore, in addition to the surviving I-house, other domestic buildings may have been located within the current property’s boundaries. These buildings may have been occupied by Griffith family members or by agricultural and industrial (mine) workers. Privies and other outbuildings, if preserved archaeologically, also could contribute to a more complete understanding of Lyde Griffith and his heirs through the architecture they preferred and the objects made and bought, used, and discarded at the farm through time.

Bank barn, privy, and other buildings and structures photographed by M-NCPPC historian Mike Dwyer in 1973.

Griffithsburg Resurveyed (1879)


[1] Clare Lise Kelly and Rachel Kennedy, Etchison, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, November 2009.

[2] Clare Lise Kelly and Lorin Farris, Col Lyde Griffith Farm (M-15/73), Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, December 2009.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Henry H Glassie, Pattern in the Material Folk Culture of the Eastern United States (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969); Henry H Glassie, Vernacular Architecture (Philadelphia: Material Culture, 2000); Henry H Glassie, Folk Housing in Middle Virginia: A Structural Analysis of Historic Artifacts, 1st ed. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975).

[5] Sandra Youla and Clare Lise Kelly, Staff Report. Staff Draft Amemdment to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation: Upper Patuxent Area Resources, January 13, 2010, 3-4.

[6] Joshua Dorsey Warfield, The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, Maryland; a Genealogical and Biographical Review from Wills, Deeds, and Church Records (Baltimore: Regional Pub. Co, 1967); Emily Griffith Roberts, Ancestral Study of Four Families: Roberts, Griffith, Cartwright [and] Simpson (Terrell? Tex., 1939); Maxwell Jay Dorsey, The Dorsey Family: Descendants of Edward Darcy-Dorsey of Virginia and Maryland for Five Generations, and Allied Families ([Urbana, Ill.?: M.J. Dorsey, 1947).

[7] “He was called ‘Colonel Griffith’ too. We haven’t been able to determine why. Perhaps it was a term of respect for this gentleman but we don’t know exactly why,” Clare Lise Kelly, Worksession to consider the Staff Draft Amendment to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation: Upper Patuxent Area Resources (Silver Spring, Md, 2010).  The MIHP form completed by staff states, “Perhaps he served in the War of 1812,”Kelly and Farris, Col Lyde Griffith Farm (M-15/73).  William M. Marine, The British invasion of Maryland, 1812-1815 (Hatboro, Pennsylvania: Tradition Press, 1965), 305; General Society of the War of 1812, Register of the General Society of the War of 1812 (Washington, 1972), 308.

[8] Staff wrote that Griffith patented the tracts in 1826.Kelly and Farris, Col Lyde Griffith Farm (M-15/73). Although the land patent was filed in 1826, earlier survey documents show that Griffith began laying out his Griffithsburg tracts in late 1824.

[9] Joseph T. Singewald, “The Chrome Industry in Maryland,” Maryland Geological Survey Reports 12 (1928): 158-191.

[10] Collamer M. Abbott, “Isaac Tyson, Jr.: Pioneer Industrialist,” The Business History Review 42, no. 1 (Spring 1968): 67-83; William Glenn, “Biographical Notice of James Wood Tyson,” Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers 31 (1902): 118-121; Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, Its Resources, Industries and Institutions (Baltimore: The Sun Job Printing Office, 1893); William Glenn, “Chrome in the Southern Appalachian Region,” Transactions of the American Institute of Mining Engineers 25 (1896): 481-499; Joseph T. Singewald, “Maryland Sand Chrome Ore,” Economic Geology 14, no. 3 (May) (1919): 189-197; Singewald, “The Chrome Industry in Maryland”; United States National Museum, Report upon the condition and progress of the U.S. National Museum during the year ending June 30 … (G.P.O., 1901), 249; “Maryland’s Geologic Features: Soldiers Delight Serpentine Barrens, Baltimore County,”

[11] Washington Waters vs. Lyde Griffith, Executor of Lyde Griffith, deceased, 2 Maryland Reports 326 (1852).

[12] Montgomery County Land Records. Liber X, folio 497, Benjamin King to Lyde Griffith.

[13] In 1879 Lyde Griffith (descendant) had Griffithsburg resurveyed and the King tracts are clearly shown in the southern portion of the original Griffithsburg survey.“Resurvey on Part of Griffithsburg,” May 8, 1879, Maryland State Archives.

[14] Simon J. Martenet, “Martenet and Bond’s Map of Montgomery County, Maryland” (Baltimore: Simon J. Martenet, 1865).

[15] Additional research in Isaac Tyson’s business papers held at the Maryland Historical Society may change this assertion. According to a contract Tyson executed in 1836, he secured the rights to prospect for and remove chrome from lands owned by a Mary Costigan. Montgomery County Land Records Liber BS 7, folio 522.

[16] A.C. Gill, “Notes on Some Minerals from the Chrome Pits of Montgomery County, Maryland,” Johns Hopkins University Circulars, September 1879, 100.

[17] Earl V. Shannon, “Mineralogy of the Chrome Ore from Etchison, Montgomery Co., MD.,” The American Mineralogist 11, no. 1 (1926): 16.

Update on MoCo’s Upper Patuxent Historic Designations

Last night the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission concluded its latest work session on the Upper Patuxent Master Plan Amendment for Historic Preservation designations begun near the end of my term as HPC chairman. Now that the HPC has reviewed and voted on all of the properties contained in the proposed amendment, the next step in the process is evaluation by the Montgomery County Planning Board. [Correction: This refers to the draft amendment prepared in December 2009. There will be one additional meeting to evaluate properties culled from the previously proposed Etchison and Clagettsville HDs.]

From the first time I received the amendment documents last December I was troubled by the quality of the research done by Historic Preservation staff in making the recommendations for designation to the Master Plan for Historic Preservation or in recommending removal from the Locational Atlas and from future consideration for designation. Some of the properties, like the two proposed historic districts — Etchison and Clagettsville — appeared to lack cohesion and contained an unsettling number of noncontributing properties, i.e., properties constructed after the proposed districts’ period of significance or properties that lacked integrity and/or historical associations. The proposed Clagettsville Historic District, for example, had more than 30% (12) of its  37 properties identified as “non-contributing.” HP staff failed to disclose prior to the completion of January 2010 staff report that the Clagettsville Historic District had been reviewed by the Maryland Historical Trust. The 1991 Determination of Eligibility report, based on documentation prepared by then-M-NCPPC historian Mike Dwyer, noted “The crossroads community of Claggettsville has undergone numerous alterations and has many intrusions. It no longer conveys the sense of a 19th and early 20th century village and lacks sufficient cohesiveness to be considered a district.”[1] The HPC voted February 24, 2010, to not recommend designation of the Clagettsville Historic District.

The December 2009 Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties form HP staff completed for the proposed Etchison district included language suggesting that the proposed historic districts many postwar ranch houses were significant elements because they had achieved an exceptional level of significance:

The period of significance for the district is from 1876‐1965. The residences built at the end of this range, even though not yet attaining 50 years of age, qualify under Criterion Consideration G for exceptional significance, representing continuity of tradition in this kinship community.[2]

Leaving aside the issue that Montgomery County does not designate properties based on the National Register of Historic Places Criteria for Listing (and the supplementary Criteria Exceptions), there was no evidence presented to support that the postwar ranch homes rose to the level of meeting any of the designation Criteria listed in Chapter 24A of the Montgomery County Code and the HPC at its February 24, 2010, meeting declined to recommend designation of the full district as proposed by staff.

The Master Plan amendment’s individual resources also had substantial problems. The documentation prepared for the Parr’s Spring property marking the point where Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll, and Howard counties meet failed to adequately inform the HPC whether the original early federal period boundary marker remained in place beneath the spring’s waters. The paucity of defensible documentation prompted one new HPC member to remark that it appeared that staff was asking the HPC to designate a Master Plan property based on “folklore.”

The Master Plan amendment was prepared by multiple staff members, some of whom are no longer working for Montgomery County. The documents themselves were inconsistent and did not contain sufficient information for the HPC, not to mention the Planning Board or County Council, to make defensible decisions about whether properties met the Criteria for Designation in Chapter 24A. For example, several properties lacked contemporary photographs and staff relied on low-resolution aerial photos, scanned 1970s inventory forms, and digitally zoomed photos taken from public rights of way to provide the HPC with information on the architecture (construction detail, materials, integrity) of farmhouses and other buildings. The HP staff’s explanation was that they did not have access to the properties. Okay then, what was staff asking the HPC to use as evidence for recommending designation or removal from the Locational Atlas?

At last night’s final work session the HPC considered seven properties. Among the properties the  HPC evaluated was the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm, an early nineteenth century property covering approximately 88 acres. Staff was unable to provide the HPC with contemporary photos of the property, which includes what appears to be an early nineteenth century I-house, a 1930s-era gambrel-roof dairy barn complex, and other agricultural and domestic outbuildings. Historical documents and oral histories add to the inventory within the farmstead: a nineteenth century family cemetery, the ruins of a Pennsylvania German bank barn, and antebellum chrome mines.

The HPC repeatedly asked staff for details of the farmstead’s architecture, i.e., specific dates for buildings, their integrity, and the location of potentially significant archaeological resources related to the mixed agricultural-domestic-industrial use at the property between the 1820s and the Civil War. Staff was unable to answer the questions to the HPC’s satisfaction and the HPC voted unanimously to remove the property from further consideration as a Master Plan property.

Troubling as the two proposed historic district designations were because of the potential to place undue regulatory burdens on property owners, the HPC’s decision to not recommend designation of the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm was perhaps the most troubling outcome from the Upper Patuxent proceedings. Based on the wealth of information available to HP staff — i.e., they had collected primary historical documents and cited them in their reports but failed to read or understand them — this property clearly met all of the associational Criteria for Designation, e.g., it has character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the county, state or nation (for nineteenth century farmsteads, role in chrome extraction industry); it Is identified with a person or a group of persons who influenced society; and, it exemplifies the cultural economic, social, political or historic heritage of the county and its communities.[3]

The American chrome industry was born in Baltimore in the early nineteenth century. A family of metals entrepreneurs, the Tysons, founded processing and extraction sites throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. They leased chrome pits and mines on farms like Griffith’s throughout the region. We know that Griffith had been leasing his farmstead to chrome extractors since at least 1837 when he executed a contract with Washington Waters to mine and remove the chrome from Griffith’s farm. Shortly after executing that contract Griffith began negotiating with the Tysons for them to lease the property for chrome extraction. Waters sued Griffith for breach of contract and the case was litigated, appealed, and reported in 1852.[4] The appeals court case included explicit descriptions of the Griffith property and the rights afforded to lessees to use the farmhouse and other buildings for housing workers, etc.:

The defendant then offered in evidence the following receipt: 1838, January 30th, Received of Washington Waters, $50 in full, for the entire right to search for, dig, and remove, as he may think proper, chrome ore or mineral from the lot of ground marked out for him, upon the terms specified in a contract between him and myself, dated, October 18th 1837. Also for the use of the house, except the cellar, in said lot, so long as he may wish it, for the use of the hands he may employ in digging for chrome upon said lot.[5]

We know that the Tysons did in fact secure the lease to remove chrome from the Griffith property because the 1865 Martenet and Bond Map of Montgomery County shows the “Tyson Chrome Pits” at the location now known as the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm.[6] What remains unclear and which should have been explored by staff is how the antebellum chrome extraction site identified in Waters v. Griffith relates to what appears to be a second Griffith chrome extraction site, also mined by lease, located southwest of the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm and documented between the 1890s and 1929 by the Maryland Geological Survey.

According to one writer, in 1928 the “Etchison Chrome Mine” was:

On the farm of Columbus Griffith three-quarters of a mile west of Etchison, chrome ores were mined off and on several times prior to the Civil War and hauled to Woodbine for shipment. There appears to have been three openings ….[7]

Another writer, in 1926, observed, “The mine now consists of a shallow depression surrounded by dumps, somewhat overgrown with briars.”[8]

Maps published in various Maryland Geological Survey reports place the mine described on property southwest of Damascus Road yet the historical record reviewed thus far does not identify two distinct mining operations active on the Griffith properties. HP staff should have ensured that the HPC had sufficient information to know which chrome extraction operation was active at what is now known as the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm and HP staff should have been better prepared to address the HPC’s questions about the individual elements within the Col. Lyde Griffith Farm.

As it stands now, the Planning Board will receive a Master Plan amendment fraught with errors with long-term implications for Montgomery County’s history and its property owners. I will update this blog post with more details from last night’s hearing and a future post will cover the significance of Montgomery County’s only chrome extraction site.


[1] Elizabeth Harrold, Claggettsville Historic District (M-15-8), Individual Property/District Maryland Historical Trust Internal NR-Eligibility Review Form (Crownsville, MD: Maryland Historical Trust, September 20, 1991).

[2] Clare Lise Kelly and Rachel Kennedy, Etchison, Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties Form, November 2009.

[3] Chapter 24A §3(b)(1).

[4] Washington Waters vs. Lyde Griffith, Executor of Lyde Griffith, deceased, 2 Maryland Reports 326 (1852).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Simon J Martenet, Martenet & Bond, and Schmidt & Trowe, “Martenet and Bond’s Map of Montgomery County, Maryland” (Baltimore: Simon J. Martenet, 1865).

[7] Joseph T. Singewald, “The Chrome Industry in Maryland,” Maryland Geological Survey Reports 12 (1928): 191.

[8] Earl V. Shannon, “Mineralogy of the Chrome Ore from Etchison, Montgomery Co., MD.,” The American Mineralogist 11, no. 1 (1926): 16.

Hamlets 1, County 1: Local Landmarking

In January I wrote about the difficulties of local designation in the aftermath of chairing my final Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission hearing. Last week the newly constituted HPC continued the worksession begun in January and concluded that the two proposed historic districts did not meet the County criteria for designation. The hearing and HPC’s decision was reported in this morning’s Montgomery Gazette: Claggettsville Out of Running for Historic Designation. Last week’s worksession stretched well into the night and was stopped before the HPC was able to complete its consideration of all of the properties proposed for designation; the worksession continues next week (10 March 2010).

Clagettsville Determination of Eligibility Form

Although the Gazette reporter touched on many of the key issues, she failed to broach some of the more difficult problems facing the HPC: incomplete research and the troubling failure by County historic preservation staff to disclose the fact that one of the historic districts, Clagettsville, had been evaluated by the State Historic Preservation Office in 1991 and found to not meet any of the Criteria for Designation for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. According to the DOE form, apparently completed by then-Montgomery County Planning Department historian Mike Dwyer, “The crossroads community of Claggettsville has undergone numerous alterations and has many intrusions. It no longer conveys the sense of a 19th and early 20th century village and lacks sufficient cohesiveness to be considered a district.” The February 18, 2010 HPC staff report prepared for last week’s worksession mentions the MHT document but fails to include any of the language in the MHT document. Furthermore, contrary to my request to HPC staff that links to the MHT documents (post at the MHT/MD Archives Web site) be included with the hearing material, the staff elected to let stakeholders know that the materials are available and left it up to individuals to find the materials on their own. There are some very serious implications for the property owners in the two historic districts if they are designated locally and found by MHT to be not eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Chief among the implications are the benefits of designation touted by historic preservationists vis-à-vis state historic preservation tax credits. If a historic district is not listed in the National Register or (and this is important) is not determined eligible for listing in the National Register by the MHT, then property owners are not eligible to receive state historic preservation tax credits.

Among the continued concerns I have that remain from the January hearing and its supporting documents are the ways in which HPC staff rely on National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places guidance and standards only when it is convenient to support their positions (sometimes demonstrably incorrectly as with some of these designation documents) but when individuals attempt to bring in the NPS/NRHP literature HPC staff takes the position that the NPS/NRHP materials are informative only and that Chapter24A criteria are the only applicable standards.

Last year Councilmember Mike Knapp introduced legislation to amend the County’s historic preservation law (Chapter 24A) . I think with the Upper Patuxent Master Plan Amendment working its way towards the Planning Board and Council there is an opportunity to revisit amending Chapter 24A to open up the designation of historic districts to more property owner involvement, i.e., provisions for owner consent by establishing a percentage threshold of consenting owners within the boundaries of a proposed historic district to enable a historic district designation to move beyond the HPC.

More on this next week.

Confronting the Covenants: Hidden Racism at Home

NPR’s Morning Edition this past Sunday included a segment on racially restrictive deed covenants <>. NPR noted that the covenants were not legally enforceable and that they were widespread throughout the United States.

Robert Fogelson, author of Bourgeois Nightmares: Suburbia, 1870-1930, discussed restrictive covenants at length. Other authors on the history and sociology of American suburbs also have written on restrictive covenants. In my work over the past 25 years I have done projects in quintessential American suburbs that involved primary documents research, including land records (deeds, etc.). These communities include Shaker Heights, Ohio, and Chevy Chase (Maryland and the District of Columbia).

I live and work in Silver Spring, a Washington suburb. My subdivision, Northwood Park, was created in 1936 and my home was built in the subdivision’s first year of existence. When we bought the house in 2002 our deed contained all the expected legalese, along with the clause, “Subject to covenants and restrictions of record.” It wasn’t until I began doing some research on the history of our subdivision that I discovered that some of those covenants and restrictions prohibited anyone of a “race whose death rate is at a higher rate than that of the White or Caucasian race.” Put in place in a stand-alone document recorded in Montgomery County land records, they were executed, “For the purposes of sanitation and health, and to prevent irreparable injury to Waldo M. Ward [the majority landowner] … and the owners of adjacent real estate.” Garden Homes, the company selling the lots and homes, executed the covenants almost six months after the first sales and signatories to the covenants included all of the people who had bought property up to that point.

Northwood Park is the subject of my paper in progress, “ The Greatest Publicity Stunt Available to Developers”: Washington’s 1939 World’s Fair Home.”

1936 Restrictive Covenants filed for Northwood Park (click to enlarge).

Marketing Modernism in the D.C. Suburbs

Images from "The Greatest Publicity Stunt Available to Developers’

The Vernacular Architecture Forum’s 2010 Washington conference is taking shape and the paper sessions have  been announced. My paper,  “The Greatest Publicity Stunt Available to Developers”: Washington’s 1939 World’s Fair Home, is scheduled for the 10:30 session, “Marketing Modernism”. This post has more historical and contemporary images of the 1939 World’s Fair Home built in Silver Spring, just north of the D.C. line.

From the paper abstract: By 1939 suburban subdivisions were a familiar element in the American landscape. The spurious suburb created in the 1939 New York World’s Fair Town of Tomorrow offered visitors a sampler of tradition and innovation packaged for consumers just beginning to emerge from the depths of economic depression. Shortly before the Fair opened in the spring of 1939 Washington, D.C., subdivider and developer Garden Homes, Inc., secured the rights to use the Fair Corporation’s name and the plans to one of the 15 demonstration homes from the Town of Tomorrow. Designed by New York architects Godwin, Thompson and Patterson and sponsored by the Johns-Manville Corporation, House No. 15, the Long Island Colonial Home, became Garden Homes’ 1939 marketing centerpiece in Northwood Park, the Silver Spring, Maryland, subdivision located less than three miles north of the District of Columbia.

From the Current Research Files

Bride's Home

The Bride's Home (1939 and 2009)

My 2010 Vernacular Architecture Forum paper, “The Greatest Publicity Stunt Available to Developers”: Washington’s 1939 World’s Fair Home, to be delivered in May will include photos from other homes built in the Northwood Park subdivision. One of those homes was called the “Bride’s Home,” which was built in 1939. Seen here are an August 1939 trade magazine ad and a photo of the altered home taken in October 2009.

All Landmarking is Local: Looking for Pragmatism in the Hamlet

Last night I chaired a hearing to evaluate the historical significance of a batch of properties in Montgomery County. Designating these properties means placing them in the County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation and subjecting them to regulatory review by the Historic Preservation Commission. Although advocates for historic preservation are heavily invested in increasing the population of things we call “historic,” I wonder where academic dialogue ends and pragmatism begins. What are the historic preservation objectives of preserving vernacular properties with debatable historical associations and questionable architectural integrity? Is it in the public interest to spend precious public resources to make a case for historical significance where little exists? What are the public benefits of subjecting property owners to regulatory compliance? And what are the benefits to taxpayers who must pay for the regulatory program, from the actual designation process through each future historic area work permit applied for by property owners?

The hearing was a challenge and the debate will continue in future worksessions. In December I read a blog post on historic property designation — “Local Landmarking v2.0 – Are Historic Preservation’s Glory Days of Local Landmarking Winding Down?” — that resonated throughout last night’s hearing. The hearing record posted at the County’s historic preservation office Web site will continue to grow as the public record remains open until February 16 after which the debate will continue.