There was no romance involved in the naming of Laurel. Located on the fall line of the Patuxent River, the water powered an 1811 grist mill on the Patuxent River grew into a bustling cotton mill buzzing with hundreds of workers. So the town was called Laurel Factory, in recognition of its status as a mill town. The Washington Branch of the B&O Railroad arrived in 1835 and within a decade two large factories – the Patuxent Factory and Avondale Mill - had been built here employing between 700-800 operatives. The firm also constructed fifty blocks of two-story stone and brick houses for these workers, many of which are still standing.
After the Civil War, the fortunes of America’s cotton manufacturers waned and shifted. During this time the mill closed, was sold, and reopened. Steam arrived and broke the bonds to energetic streams like the Patuxent; factory owners could locate closer to sources of raw materials or affordable labor. The main cotton mill had closed for good by 1929; the Avondale Mill struggled on a bit longer.
As the most important town in Prince George’s County by the 1870s, Laurel began to move past its days as homes for mills and shed the “factory.” On June 14, 1875, the town name was shortened to Laurel. During this period Laurel was an economic and cultural center for the surrounding area that remained largely rural. Laurel is the site of many Prince George’s County firsts, including the first public library, first public high school, and first national bank. Laurel can also boast of Prince George’s County’s oldest continuously operating volunteer fire department, formed after a fire devastated the downtown in 1899.
The 20th century found Laurel morphing into a bedroom community for Baltimore and the soon-to-explode District of Columbia metropolis. Commuters could hop on a trolley every half-hour at Sixth Street and Main to reach the big city. By 1960 more than half the population held a government job.
Our walking tour will start at one of those iconic brick houses built for 19th century mill workers that now serves as the town museum. In its heyday, it was just downstream from the dam that powered the mill that drove the town but today is just a sleepy corner of Laurel by the river...
817 Main Street
The Laurel Museum occupies a building constructed between 1836 and 1840 by Horace Capron, owner of the Patuxent Manufacturing Company, a cotton duck mill that was located on the opposite side of 9th Street. The building was one of many duplexes built in the area to house mill workers and their families. During renovation, a company ledger was found in the west half of the building, detailing transactions between the company and the mill workers. It is believed that for some period of time the west half of the building was used as a company store. After the mill closed in the mid-1930s, the building was used as rental property until the City of Laurel purchased it in 1985. The building was officially designated the Laurel Museum in 1991, and renovation of the building was completed in 1996.
WALK DOWN TO THE RIVER BEHIND THE MUSEUM.
foot of 9th Street at the Patuxent River
Nicholas Snowden built a grist mill on this site in 1811, using water from the Patuxent River to power the mill. He converted it into a cotton mill in 1824. His son-in-law, Horace Capron, enlarged the Laurel Cotton Mill in 1836 to produce canvas duck for Baltimore Clipper ship sails and Conestoga wagon covers. The mill burned in 1855 and was re-built in 1856 with automatic sprinklers. The mill was the largest employer in Laurel in the late 19th century. The remnants of the mill dam and millrace can be seen on the Riverfront Park Trail.
TURN AND WALK SOUTH ON 9TH STREET TO MONTGOMERY STREET.
Phelps & Shaffer Store
southwest corner of Montgomery Street and 9th Street
Edward Phelps and Charles F. Shaffer, Jr. opened the city’s first department store here in 1891. Its many interesting architectural features include Laurel’s most elaborate Italianate cornice. Over the years, the building has been a jack-of-all-trades for practically every service in Laurel. In 1935, it became the headquarters of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, which later moved across the street and then to Cherry Lane. From 1954 to 1972, it served as City Hall, police headquarters and jail. The City restored the exterior of the building after a tornado in 2003, and in 2005 it was purchased from the City for private use.
TURN LEFT ON MONTGOMERY STREET.
Laurel High School
701 Montgomery Street
Built in 1899, Laurel High School was the first high school in Prince George’s County. The original structure, which makes up the center portion of the existing complex, has been described as a gem of architectural symmetry. Mayor Edward Phelps initiated construction of the high school by raising subscriptions of $2,000 to match the $6,363 that had been appropriated. When the lowest bidder failed to give bond, Edward Phelps himself assumed financial responsibility for completing work on the school. The cupola on top of the building was used during World War II as a Civil Defense Aircraft Spotting Station for identifying aircraft flying in the Laurel area. Observers were taught to identify the silhouettes of both friendly and enemy aircraft. There was a 24-hour watch, with adults covering the school hours and night hours, and high school students on watch from 3:00 p.m. until dark. The building is now used as the Phelps Senior Citizens Center and by the Laurel Boys and Girls Club.
422 Montgomery Street
The Anderson-Murphy Armory was built in 1928 by the Maryland National Guard.. It carries the names of former Mayor Captain Julian B. Anderson and Lt. Colonel Thomas F. Murphy, who were instrumental in getting the structure built. Laurel’s first National Guard Company was authorized in 1912. The Armory building is currently used by the Laurel Department of Parks and Recreation as a community center.
TURN LEFT ON 4TH STREET AND TURN RIGHT ON PRINCE GEORGE STREET.
331 Prince George Street
Many residents built homes, modest and grand, on Prince George and Montgomery streets. This house was built as mill worker housing in the mid-1800s by Armand Jardin, Jr. It is not known if the Jardins ever lived in the house, but Armand Jardin, Sr., who supplied the flowers for Abraham Lincoln’s funeral in 1865, lived nearby in a mansion (known locally as the Gude Mansion, in Laurel Lakes). Armand Jardin, Jr. and his wife are buried in St. Mary of the Mills Cemetery. An addition was put on the house in 1911. Thereafter, the house had a succession of owners and was divided up during World War II for military housing.
RETURN TO 4TH STREET AND TURN LEFT. TURN LEFT ON MONTGOMERYSTREET.
Ray's Boarding House
327 Montgomery Street
Built in 1879, this Victorian cottage is thought to be the second oldest home on the block (preceded by 333 Montgomery, which was built about 1860). Previous owners reported that the house was once known as Mrs. Ray’s Boarding House. After WWI, (President) Dwight D. Eisenhower, then a major serving as a tank commander at Ft. Meade, lived in the house with his wife Mamie during the summer of 1919. Reportedly, Mrs. Eisenhower returned for a visit in 1976.
324 Montgomery Street
Built in 1895 by Lawrence Ellis, this four-square home is one of a group that Ellis built on Montgomery Street (316 to 324 Montgomery) at that time. As a young man, Ellis was employed by Charles F. Shaffer of the Shaffer Lumber Company in Laurel, and later attended the State Agriculture College, now the University of Maryland. After graduation, he took the advice of his friend and employer and established his own construction company. Among the 125 structures he built in the Laurel area were Victorian-style houses, Swiss-English cottages, and private businesses. He built the Academy of Music, the Phelps and Shaffer Building, St. Philip’s Rectory, the Masonic Hall, and the original Citizens National Bank. The homes were designed by Albert Gottschalk, who lived at 316 Montgomery. The first known owner of 324 Montgomery was the Phelps family, relatives of Mayor Edward G. Phelps. During the Depression, when Mr. Phelps lost his business, he sold his large Queen Anne-style house at the top of Montgomery Street and moved into the “family” home here.
TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON BOULEVARD.
207 Washington Boulevard
The property on which the Masonic Hall stands was acquired in 1893. The cornerstone was laid in 1894 and the Temple was dedicated in 1895. The entire records of the Lodge are preserved in the hall, and wall plaques list past masters of the local Lodge.
CROSS THE STREET TO THE TASTEE DINER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BLOCK.
118 Washington Boulevard
Built by Comac in 1951, the Tastee Diner building replaced an earlier diner at the same location. The business opened as the Laurel Diner, before being purchased by the local Tastee Diner chain, which also continues to operate diners in Silver Spring and Bethesda.
WALK THROUGH THE PARKING LOT AND CROSS ROUTE 1.
B&O Railroad Station
22 Main Street
Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, initiated construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1829 and a 12-mile stretch between Baltimore and Ellicott Mills was laid through Laurel in 1835. A small railroad station constructed on the east side of the tracks in Laurel greatly facilitated commercial development in the region. In 1884, the station was demolished and the present Queen Anne-style station, designed by well-known architect Francis Baldwin, was built on the west side of the tracks. On the National Register of Historic Places, the station is still in active use.
WALK BACK UP MAIN STREET TOWARDS THE TOWN. TURN RIGHT ON WASHINGTON BOULEVARD.
43 Washington Boulevard South
Baublitz Garage, built in 1905 by Samuel T. Baublitz, was the first garage built between Baltimore and Washington on Route 1 (then called the Washington & Baltimore Turnpike). On one occasion, George Herman “Babe” Ruth stopped at the garage to have his car repaired. The Garage was later purchased by Fred Frederick and expanded into a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO WASHINGTON BOULEVARD AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING ON MAIN STREET.
Route 1 and Main Street
The intersection of Route 1 and Main Street has long been a crossroads for travelers between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. As early as 1808, an inn called the “Half-Way House” stood on the northeast corner (now the site of the Patuxent Bank Building). Stables were adjacent to the inn and a blacksmith was located across the street. Four stagecoach lines stopped at the inn daily to change horses. The 40-mile trip between Baltimore and Washington took six hours. The inn was expanded in later years to become Harrison’s Hotel and then the landmark Milstead’s Hotel, which included undertaking among its services. Milsteads’s burned in 1898 in one of several major fires in the city prior to the establishment of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department in 1902. In the twentieth century, the intersection of Route 1 and Main Street continued to serve as a travel hub, becoming the site of the Greyhound and Trailways bus stations. Route 1 remained unpaved until 1932 when concrete was laid by the Work Projects Administration (WPA). A long-time fixture at the southwest corner of the intersection was the Laurel Pharmacy (now Laurel Jewelry).
Athey and Harrison Feed Store
309 Main Street
This building, part of the original properties of Millard Schooley, was a hardware store in the early 1900s. It became the Athey and Harrison Feed Store when Snowden Athey and Frank Harrison became partners. Millard Schooley’s daughter, Daisy, operated a five and dime store adjacent to the hardware store. His other daughter was the wife of Frank Harrison. At Frank’s death, Martha became Mr. Athey’s partner. When Mr. Athey retired, Martha asked her son (by a second marriage), Turner Ashby to join her in the business. In 1945, the building became the Ashby and Harrison Feed Store, supplying feed and hay to the Laurel Race Course. In 1969, it was purchased by Lawrence Gayer for Gayer’s Saddlery, a leather and equestrian supply business. Ronald Sargent, an employee of Gayer’s, was sent to England for a course in saddlery and returned a Master Saddler. He purchased the business from Mr. Gayer in 1999 and renamed it “Outback Leather” in honor of his previous business, which was located behind his brother’s office on Main Street.
357 Main Street
The News Leader Building was built in 1938 by Bowie McCeney, attorney and councilman, after taking over the newspaper from James Curley. Curley had founded the paper in 1887 and served as editor for 41 years. McCeney ran the News Leader from his law office here. McCeney was publisher for 40 years; his editor Gertrude Poe who served 41 years in the job. The News Leader eventually became the Laurel Leader and moved to 615 Main Street in 1985. The Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company also occupied 357 Main Street for a number of years. During WWII, it played a major role in local communications and some of the equipment can still be seen in the basement of the building.
TURN RIGHT ON AVONDALE STREET.
Avondale Mill site
foot of 4th Street at Patuxent River
The Avondale Mill was built on this site in 1845 by the Snowden Family, which owned much of the land in the Laurel area at that time. Initially a flour mill, it later produced cotton cloth and a special type of lace-print cloth. George Wheeler owned the Avondale Mill in the 1860s and 1870s. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, B.F. Crabbs owned the mill and it was referred to as “Crabbs Mill.” The dam for the Avondale Mill was at the foot of Post Office Avenue. Gates could be raised to allow water to flow into the millrace that ran parallel to Main Street. From 1915 to 1917, the Southern Embroidery Company used the mill to produce lace-print cloth and, among other things, turned out chevrons for World War uniforms. During World War II, the building was used to manufacture tractors. In 1961, the City of Laurel purchased the Avondale Mill and approximately 17 acres of riverside property. In 1979, the Avondale Mill was put on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, the mill burned in 1991 before restoration could begin. Today the site is part of Laurel’s Riverfront Park.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
Citizens National Bank
390 Main Street, southeast corner of 4th Street
Built in 1890, Citizens National Bank was the first federal bank in Prince George’s County. While the bank was built at a cost of only $3,000, the bank vault cost an additional $2,750. Citizens National Bank survived the Depression and the bank closings of 1933; the bank reopened immediately after the bank closings and not one customer lost a deposit. The building was enlarged in 1910, 1948, and 1960. Citizens National Bank became an affiliate of the Mercantile Bankshares Corporation in 1973. In 2007 the bank was acquired by PNC and changed its name.
400 Main Street
This showcase house on Main Street was built in 1866 and has been the home of five generations of the McCeney family. It was built on the former Talbott estate, which was purchased by Thomas Jefferson Talbott in the early 1800s. The frame house, which features joists secured with wooden pegs (a construction technique of the time), was purchased by George Patterson McCeney and his wife Margaret Sadler McCeney in 1929. Mrs. McCeney was the daughter of Robert H. Sadler, Sr., who operated a pharmacy at 420 Main Street. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant traveled to Laurel and bid $150 per acre for the property, but his bid was considered too low. The kitchen wing was added prior to 1879 and the east porch was added about 1905. In 1930, the street-level entrance was added to provide public access to Dr. Robert S. McCeney’s medical office. Dr. McCeney practiced there until 1987.
420 Main Street
Built in 1871, this classic example of Victorian architecture was the pharmacy and family home of Dr. Robert H. Sadler, Sr. His son, Robert “Bert” Sadler, Jr., was a talented photographer who recorded images of people and places in Laurel in the early 1900s. A unique collection of 1,300 of Bert’s glass negatives, as well as many of his black and white photographs, is preserved at the Laurel Museum.
Odd Fellows Hall
419 Main Street
This lodge was constructed for use by the International Order of Odd Fellows, a secret, benevolent, social society founded in England. The Odd Fellows society was first introduced to the United States in 1818 from a Manchester Unit, and the Grand Lodge of Maryland was constituted in 1821. The architecture of this pre-Civil War building is unique. It has an unusual second story facade of projecting brick pilasters that support paired brackets under a low hip roof. Odd Fellows Hall was an apartment building for many years.
First United Methodist Church of Laurel
424 Main Street
Methodists, who organized as a congregation in Laurel in 1840, established the first Methodist church in Laurel in 1842 and occupied two other locations before construction of the First United Methodist Church of Laurel on this site in 1884. The building was enlarged in 1909, 1950, 1962 and 2001. The church lost its original wooden steeple in 1977 due to deterioration, but a new steeple was erected in 1979. The steeple continues to serve as a beacon on Main Street.
429 Main Street
This pre-Civil War brick building, named for long-time resident and mill worker, Thomas Tapscott, has many unusual architectural features. The windows are highlighted by elliptical arches and the round head window in the gable is formed with decorative brick. In its early years, the building was both a bakery and a family residence. The original brick ovens, built into the walls, are still in place in the northwest corner of the basement.
Laurel Mill Playhouse
508 Main Street
This group of buildings on the south side of Main Street is typical of the commercial buildings in Laurel at the turn of the century. They date from just after the largest fire in Laurel’s history, which took place December 13, 1899. The fire began in Mengerts Bakery in the alley behind Main Street, and eventually engulfed 12 buildings and the Presbyterian Church. The event prompted the establishment of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and a water system in 1902. The Cordelia Bakery occupied this building in the mid-1900s, and their ovens can still be seen in the basement. The middle building in the picture is John O’Brien’s Store, which later housed a photography shop, antique store, dance and meeting hall, and an artist’s studio. Now the Laurel Mill Playhouse, it is the home of the Burtonsville Players, which has been providing community theatre to the quad-county area for more than 35 years.
St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church
522 Main Street
St. Philip’s Church was built in 1848 through the efforts of Horace and Louisa (Snowden) Capron and parishioners. It was probably the first building in Laurel designed by a professional architect. It houses a bell from St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore that rang to warn of the approaching British in 1814. An old cemetery can be seen behind the church. The newest addition, the Ministry Center, was added to the east side of the church in 1999, and won a Masonry Institute award the same year.
531 Main Street
This building, originally the Washington and Berwyn Electric Railroad Station, was the northern terminus of an electric trolley system that ran from Laurel to Washington (the southern terminus of the trolley was G Street near the Treasury Building.) The railroad operated from 1902 to 1925; service was on the half hour, the fare one way was 20 cents. In 1937, the building was rotated 90 degrees to make the longer side parallel with Main Street. It has been a popular tavern for many years.
Stone Machine Shop
612 Main Street
Built in 1895, this building has 26-inch stone walls made of fieldstone from an earlier machine shop demolished nearby. It is an example of adaptive reuse of an industrial building during this period. Initially serving as a machine shop for the repair and manufacture of machines for the Laurel Cotton Mill, it later became a rug factory and warehouse. In 1940 the building was purchased by Clyde L. Miles, Sr., who remodeled it to accommodate a grocery store and an ice cream shop on the first floor and apartments on the second floor. In the 1950s, the Clyde L. Miles Real Estate office took over the space occupied by the ice cream shop. Miles’ son-in-law, J. Richard Compton, M.D., remodeled the building in 1958 and maintained his medical practice there until 1978 when the building was purchased by the present owner.
Lovely Old Ladies of Main Street
708-714 Main Street
This stone duplex was built between 1936 and 1840 by Horace Capron, owner of the Laurel Cotton Mill. It is one of a group of stone houses built for mill supervisors and their families. Dr. James G. Gray, a physician, resided here in the late 1800s and put his signature on a door in the house. An inscription on a cornerstone at the rear of the building indicates that the addition was constructed in 1890. Both 708 and 710 Main Street were purchased by Michael and Mary Kraeski in 1919 from Mt. Vernon Mills in Baltimore, which at that time owned the Laurel Cotton Mill. Later they also bought 712 and 714 Main Street. The home at 708 Main Street has been occupied by four generations of descendants of the Kraeski family.
TURN LEFT ON ST. MARYS PLACE.
St. Mary’s of the Mills Catholic Church
114 St. Mary’s Place
First a Jesuit Mission from Georgetown University, the original St. Mary’s Chapel was built by Dr. Theodore Jenkins in 1843. St. Mary’s is the oldest church in continuous use in Laurel. It was enlarged in 1890, and the Parish School was established in 1893 in a frame addition to the original chapel. The current St. Mary’s School was built in 1953 to the north of the chapel. Architect John Walton designed the large 1959 church addition, and a new rectory was built in 1965 connecting to the church. The bell in St. Mary’s stone tower was acquired in 1890 from the Laurel Cotton Mill, where it once rang in an open frame tower. It is reported that the ringing of the bell at the mill was so loud that workers wrapped the clappers in cloth to dampen the sound. One of Laurel’s champion trees―a Magnolia acuminata―can be seen in the church cemetery. In 1974, the Maryland Forest Service estimated that the tree was 150 years old. In its shadow are the graves of Dr. Theodore Jenkins and his family.
RETURN TO MAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
809-811 Main Street
This brick and stone mill worker’s house is typical of the rental housing provided by the Laurel Cotton Mill for its workers. Built about 1840, two families lived in the west half of the duplex (811) and two families lived in the east half (809). Each had 6 fireplaces that were used for heating and cooking. The family on the first floor entered through the front door and accessed their basement kitchen by way of an inside staircase. The family on the second floor entered through a side door (still visible as a window) and accessed their basement kitchen by way of an outside staircase. All of the door and window frames in the building are original. They and the floors are made of cypress.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.