|Perhaps it was coincidence, maybe it was fate. Either way, the presence of a cemetery on its western boundary seems appropriate, given the bloody early history associated with the Town of Colmar Manor.
In 1632, George Crawford was given a tract of land in the area by King Charles I of England. Crawford's son, Cecelius, who was also known as the second Lord Baron of Baltimore, took possession of the land after his father's death, and encouraged settlement upon it. Exactly who settled there at that time is uncertain, although the land on which Fort Lincoln Cemetery is situated was part of the original grant from Lord Baltimore to George Conn and remained in the Conn family for more than 200 years. A spring house was erected on the Conn property in 1683, making it one of the oldest structures in Maryland.
By the late 1700's Bladensburg, which lies across the Anacostia River, east of what is now Colmar Manor, was a thriving port town, and in the early 1800's the Baltimore and Washington Turnpike (Bladensburg Road) offered easy access from Washington to Bladensburg and beyond.
Within sight of the turnpike, just north of what is now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery, a small creek meanders toward the Anacostia River. The creek is sandwiched between two hills and is lined with many trees. It was along this creek, according to various accounts, that “gentlemen of the area have settled their political and personal differences since 1732.”
The Dueling Grounds, as the area came to be known, was the site of over 50 duels between 1808 and 1868. One of the most famous disputes was between Commodore Stephen Decatur and James Barron, that was settled there on March 22, 1820. Decatur, who had gained prominence during military operations against the Barbary Pirates off of North Africa in the early 1800's, and Barron, who had lost his command by a court martial in 1807, had been feuding for over 13 years. After exchanging angry letters and insults during that time, Barron finally challenged Decatur to a duel. Decatur was fatally wounded during the exchange of gunfire. Although Congress outlawed dueling in 1839, duels continued there until the 1860's. A plaque now marks the location of the Dueling Grounds.
Six years before Decatur and Barron fired buffets at each other, the same ground on which they fought was the scene of a more protracted and equally fatal conflict between American and British soldiers. On Aug. 24, 1814, British troops advancing toward Washington, D.C., met resistance from American forces under the command of Brig. Gen. William H. Winder. The subsequent dash resulted in the American troops making a hasty retreat toward Washington. Commodore Joshua Barney and a contingent of Marines and sailors fought a rear guard action on the heights of what is now the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. Barney was wounded and captured. Many soldiers on both sides were killed on the battleground around Bladensburg and what is now Colmar Manor.
By 1861, it was another war that brought military forces to the area. During the Civil War, the land that is now Colmar Manor belonged in part to the Shreve Estate. It was there and on the same heights where Commodore Barney had unsuccessfully fought the British 47 years earlier that Union forces constructed a fort to serve as an outer defense for the City of Washington, D.C. Because Abraham Lincoln visited the heights often and partook of water from the Old Spring House, the fort was named Fort Lincoln. During the war, the 3rd Massachusetts Heavy Artillery Battalion and Company E of the 4th Colored-troops reportedly encamped in and around the fort.
After the Civil War the area became much more tranquil. Members of the Shreve family, who had occupied the first dwelling built in what is now Colmar Manor proper, in 1817, continued to own the land. Although the original home burned down in the late 1890's, the last of the buildings from the original estate survived until April of 1958.
In 1912, the Maryland General Assembly passed an act to incorporate the Capitol Cemetery of Prince George's County, Maryland. The cemetery later became known as the Fort Lincoln Cemetery. Although not within the corporate boundaries of Colmar Manor, the cemetery over the years has erected memorials and plaques around its grounds commemorating the Battle of Bladensburg, the Dueling Grounds Fort Lincoln, the Old Spring House, and a stately white oak tree near the spring house which dated back before the War of 1812. Time finally caught up with the tree, and it had to be cut down. Fort Lincoln Cemetery's willingness to invite visitors to view the memorials and annual services held at the Battle of Bladensburg memorial on the grounds contribute much to keeping the area's rich history alive.
Part of the former Shreve estate was subdivided into building lots in 1918. The lots were 50 feet wide and 100 feet deep, and homes began to be built in the area. Within a short period of time the "town" had a population of 100, with 20 or more homes. Anxious to have a school located closer to the community, residents organized a citizens' association and immediately petitioned the County School Board for a one-room school house.
The desire for taxing authority to raise funds for street improvements, street lights, police patrols and other necessities prompted residents of the budding "town" to petition for incorporation in 1924. For reasons which are not readily available, on April 9, 1924, the Maryland General Assembly defeated a bill which, if passed, would have granted a municipal charter to the "Town of Colmar Manor."
Not to be deterred, "town" residents again sought incorporation in 1926, and on Feb. 4, 1927, the Maryland General Assembly approved the incorporation of the Town of Colmar Manor. Town elections were held in July of 1927, and John S. White, a local attorney, was elected mayor. White's son, who grew up in Colmar Manor, was John Sylvester White, who became an actor, perhaps best known for his portrayal of the principal, Mr. Woodman, in the television show "Welcome Back, Kotter."
Because of its proximity to the Nation's Capital, the town's name was derived from the "Col" in Columbia and the "Mar" in Maryland. Streets originally were named after President Woodrow Wilson, members of his cabinet and other prominent men of the era. They were later renamed to conform to the street system in the District of Columbia extended.
In 1931, the Lenox subdivision, east of the incorporated boundary line, was added to the town. At that time, an $80,000 bond issue was authorized, and concrete streets, sidewalks, curbs and gutters were installed, along with a surface drainage system. Two years later, trees were planted along the paved streets, and in 1934 a concrete block municipal building was erected for meetings of the Mayor and Council, as well as for use by the town's civic, charitable and fraternal organizations. Early residents had sought a one-room school house prior to incorporation, but in 1935 they got more than they bargained for. In June of that year the County Board of Education authorized work to begin on a $30,000 brick school with four rooms and a recreation room. The school was formally opened in September and dedicated on Oct. 12, 1935. There reportedly were 107 pupils when the school opened under the principalship of Miss Cook.
The community outgrew its meeting hall, and in 1959 a new municipal building was constructed. The new building not only had administrative offices for the town government and police, but also had kitchen facilities and a large auditorium suitable for public meetings, supplemented by a raised platform. The basement was outfitted with a gymnasium and a regulation basketball court.
The town's northern boundary, Bladensburg Road, had, after World War II, gradually been transformed from a mecca for family shops, such as a bakery, grocery stores, shoe shops, etc., into a haven for various drinking establishments and liquor stores. Many of the homes in the community became rental properties rather than owner-occupied homes.
By the early 1960's the Mayor and Council were looking for affordable ways to refurbish both the homes and the businesses in the town.
In 1966, Mayor Robert A. Yost and the town council sought and won approval from the Maryland General Assembly for the town to take advantage of urban renewal programs available at the time. As a result of the efforts of town officials, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized a massive urban renewal project for the town, awarding over four million dollars to do the work. By town estimates, the total amount of money pumped into the revitalization effort eventually reached over eight million dollars.
Along Bladensburg Road, dilapidated business buildings were torn down and new fast food establishments were constructed in their place. Streets were improved and homes began to get facelifts. The "crown jewel' in the revitalization efforts of the town, in the minds of some, was the construction in 1987 of the Colmar Manor Shopping Center, a busy strip shopping center which contains a badly-needed food store, drug store, laundromat and other convenience shops. Part of the 5.2 acres on which the shopping center was built had previously been the site of a liquor store and a vacant lot. A plumbing supply company on that site had been razed earlier after being destroyed by fire. Joseph Anthony, the town's first African-American mayor, was in office when the shopping center opened.
Today, the town continues to garner its resources to provide for the needs of all of its residents. Public improvements, code enforcement, special projects for the handicapped and the elderly and public safety top the list of priorities set by municipal officials. In 2006, Colmar Manor re-established it’s own municipal police department.
Many projects are on the drawing board, one of which is Colmar Manor's partnership with the towns of Bladensburg, Cottage City and Edmonston in the Port Towns Community Development Corporation (PTCDC). Since all four municipalities abut each other and lie along the Anacostia River, they are natural allies in a concerted effort to collectively revitalize their business and residential communities.
The small stream that once bore witness to countless duels still meanders toward the Anacostia, but the bloodshed and violence that marked the town's early history have disappeared. They have been replaced by the grit and determination of the residents of Colmar Manor to face the challenges and to meet the needs of the community as they arise.
Portions of the above text are from
Proud Past, Promising Future: Cities and Towns in Prince George's County, Maryland
and were included with the permission of author George D. Denny, Jr.