Kensington, the town and the surrounding area

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The Piscataway Indians were here first

By the late 17th century land speculation from English settlers arriving in Maryland had reached the Rock Creek basin which was still an uncleared frontier. Within a few years the huge land grants had been broken up into settled farms. One of the first land speculators in this area was Colonel William Joseph, who in the late 1680s briefly held the post of governor of the colony.In 1688, Charles Calvert, the third Lord Baltimore, granted him 4220 acres of land in this area, subsequently called Joseph's Park. It is on this tract that the town of Kensington is located. Col. Joseph never lived on his land but gave it to his son who sold it for 500 lbs in 1705.

A member of Maryland’s prominent Carroll family, Daniel Carroll I, an Upper Marlboro merchant, acquired a large portion of Joseph’s Park in 1748. The Carroll family named their farm Balamona after the Carroll holding in Ireland. There were two frame houses at the southwest corner of Veirs Mill Rd. and Georgia Ave. which were part of the Eccleston/Brown farm (current location of the First Baptist Church of Wheaton.) The original farmhouse was one of the homes used as the congregations first church building. Daniel Carroll I passed it on to his son, Daniel Carroll II, in the 1750s. Daniel would later become Maryland’s delegate to the Continental Congress (1781-1783), a signer of the United States Constitution, and a surveyor of the boundaries of the
District of Columbia.

By 1776 enough people had settled into the area that Montgomery County was formed. In 1797 Robert Brown began acquiring land in the area. He had arrived in 1761 from Ireland as a skilled stonemason and worked on both the White House and the Capitol. His land purchases were in the Hermitage and Joseph Park tracts. His son, also named Robert Brown, negotiated a deal for his father's land in Montgomery County after his father's death. He added to the holdings and prior to his death he owned most of the land from what is now Wheaton and Kensignton and Forest Glen and from east to west from Georgia Avenue to Rock Creek. He did not own all the land within these boundaries since many landowners would not sell. As Robert Brown's children married the land was divided among them, thier spouses and their children.

Records from the 1780s show that half of the land in Joseph’s Park had been cleared. There were at least three frame houses, several log houses, and four tobacco storage barns on the tract. The area remained exclusively agricultural until the latter part of the 19thcentury. The farms orignally grew Maryland’s staple crop of tobacco, which was inspected, marketed, and shipped; first from Bladensburg and later, in the 18th century, from the seaport of Georgetown. Tobacco exhausted the land and by 1830s most farmers had turned to growing wheat.

In 1873 the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad cut through Montgomery County on its way to Point of Rocks. A community developed where the railroad tracks crossed the road, which connected the Rockville Pike with Bladensburg. The first train came through on May 25, 1875. The railroad track crossed a dirt road on a farm owned by George Knowles (he is buried in a graveyard in Rockville). This early railroad stop became known as Knowles Station and catered to the neighboring farmers. Nine small subdivisions were subsequently developed near the tracks. By 1880, the community numbered about 75 residents, mostly farmers. Much of the early development occurred north of the railway tracks, where one of the first businesses, the Mannakee General Store, opened on a site that is now Mizell’s lumber yard.

In the early 1890s, a real estate promoter, Brainard Warner, developed a planned community of streets and building lots, complete with church, library, and local newspaper. He named his subdivision Kensington Park after the London garden district and later persuaded the railroad
and post office to adopt the name Kensington. In 1894 the Town of Kensington was incorporated, and Warner’s vision of a Victorian garden community became a reality. A mayor
and council form of government adopted at that time is still retained today. In its early years the Town of Kensington served as a summer refuge from Washington’s oppressive heat with wage earners commuting to the city by train or trolley. It was also year round home to many in the new civil service that came to work for the governement after passage of the Civl Service Act in 1888 that made government jobs permanent and not by political appointment. The further a worker lived from the city along the rail line was a strong indicator of what they earned working for the governement.

Warner and others organized the trolley company, the Kensington Electric Railway (known to residents as the Toonerville trolley) to supplement the railroad’s commuter service. The trolley line traveled along what in now Kensington Parkway to Chevy Chase where it connected to the Capital Traction Line, which ended at 18th and U streets. The trolley ran from 1895 to 1933.

The self-contained commuter suburb gradualy divided into three sections divided by roads. The grade crossing at St. Paul was abolished in 1938 and Connecticut Avenue was extended in 1957. A century after its incorporation, the Town of Kensington retains much of its charm. Residents prize the town’s historic character. In 1980, a portion of Kensington exemplifying a Victorian-era community was placed on the national Register of Historic Places. In 1986 the Kensington Historic District was included on the Montgomery County Master Plan for Historic Preservation. Although the Town of Kensington is now an integral part of a huge metropolitan complex, it has maintained its political boundaries and much of its individual character. Kensington’s historic community can be visualized by short walks in the older parts of the original town.

Surrounding the Town is the area also known as Kensington, home to the West Howard Avenue Antiques District, Historic Lee Memorial A.M.E. Church and many families and area businesses. A recreational path and a section of Rock Creek Park border the west. A marker where Newport Mill once stood can be found there which also commemorates the place (in mid 1800) Josiah Henson a celebrated evangelist and model for Harriet Beecher Stow’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, received his Christian baptism while still a slave on the nearby Riley plantation.

Walking Tour of the Town of Kensington

A self guided booklet A Walking Tour of Kensington by the Kensington Historical Society can be found at Kensington Row Books.

Don't miss the tours of the Josiah Henson House! February only!

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