Hyattsville began as a small farming community in the early 1800’s. In 1812, the Baltimore Turnpike was approved and built, it ran through the entire town. By 1835, the railroad connected Washington to Baltimore, making Hyattsville (not yet named this) a stop along the way. Christopher Hyatt bought a section of land right along the railroad tracks in this area in 1845 opening a post office and delivering mail. He officially named the town “Hyattsville”. Telegraph wires were installed along the sides of most of the properties in Hyattsville making it the ideal young suburb. The post civil war economy broke up many large plantations in the area, and the rising cost of housing in Washington, D.C. caused people to flock to neighboring areas to look for a more affordable way of life outside of the city. Hyattsville became a blossoming suburb of mostly white families. By the late 1800’s, Prince George's County only had two towns at the time with populations greater than 1,000 , Hyattsville being one of them. The city was the first in the area to get a newspaper, phone lines and electricity. By the turn of the century the electric streetcar system connected Washington to Hyattsville causing more people to flock to the suburb. The invention of cars affected Hyattsville very much when the Carte Motor Car Corporation opened a factory in town. Hyattsville’s main street, Maryland Avenue was also dubbed Route 1 in 1925 part of the Route that connects Maine to Florida. This brought hundreds of tourists and new residence looking for jobs at the factory as well as traveling through.
Hyattsville’s history of segregation started early with its first school built in 1915. Andra Damron in her book Hyattsville describes the school as having 3 floors, 12 classrooms and was completely white. Education was not the only thing segregated. Housing was also a large issue. The Hyattsville Preservation Society states, “In the 1920s and 1930s, land restrictions that were known as ‘restrictive covenants’ became commonplace in the sale of real estate as a means to further reinforce racial segregation”. This meant that most deeds to homes stated that current and future owners of the homes could only be owned and inhabited by white families. In 1927, Magruder Park was donated to the city but under the condition that it was only for the use of white residents. Throughout the 1950’s, as most of the farmland was being sold to build shopping malls, high schools, and housing developments, farmers and plantation workers were being slowly pushed out by the suburban lifestyle.
In 1955, the Eastern Shopping Centers Inc. bought 52 acres of land for 10 million dollars to build a shopping center. Andra Damron’s book Hyattsville says that the center was completed by 1959 bringing a new wave of people moving to the suburbs for reliable retails jobs. By 1962, most of the town was still segregated except for Death Catholic High School’s integrated basketball team with four black players on the 13-man team. This team was lead by Morgan Wootten, a basketball coach from North Carolina who has the second most wins in the history of basketball as the head coach in any division or level. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame making him one of three high school coaches ever to do so. DeMatha High School was a key part of Hyattsville’s history. It was founded in 1946 as a seminary but after the demand for a secondary school by white residence in the town, the high school was created. The school is still highly acclaimed as the only Trinitarian college prep school in the united states. DeMatha has always been an all male secondary school except for one graduating class of 1990 which included 21 girls that came from DeMatha’s sister school, Regina Catholic high school that was shut down in 1989.
The mid to late 1960’s was an extremely difficult and volatile period for the United States due to resentment over racial injustices, the war in Vietnam, increased crime, and a disrespect for authority. Violent crime increased in Hyattsville, which shared a long boundary with D.C., as the District of Columbia police pushed some of the inner city crime out to the suburbs. The Hyattsville police were successful in reducing the number of armed robberies with an aggressive program of patrolling by uniformed and unmarked police cars.
The assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4 1968 resulted in three days of serious riots which scorched and leveled many areas of the city. 11,600 troops as well as fire departments from neighboring counties were brought in to help the DC Police department fight the numerous fires. Prince George’s County did not suffer too much looting or riot damage due to the strong enforcement already installed to fight soaring crime. Checkpoints were also set up by Washington police and the federal troops to control movement of individuals along every major street leading into Maryland. Hyattsville was extremely racially segregated by tradition and culture during the late 1960s.
The Historic District of Hyattsville is extremely significant because Hyattsville is a town with such rich history. Hyattsville Preservation Association’s nomination of its first historic district to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 along with HPA’s expansion in 2004 inspired preservation and restoration of Hyattsville’s architectural heritage. Downtown historic Hyattsville is clustered around Baltimore Avenue (Route 1) and runs parallel to the train tracks. Driving north on Baltimore Avenue, you’ll see small clusters of newly built shopping and business centers that include restaurants like Busboys and Poets, Chipotle and Jimmy Johns. Behind these businesses are newly built apartments and condo developments. On the left side of Route 1 there are four or five square blocks of new built row houses with a synthetic cozy neighborhood feel. South of these developments there are older historic buildings including banks, auto body shops, general stores, and old movie theaters. The further right and a left you go away from Route 1, the more older craftsman style and victorian era houses you’ll find.There are small parks at each end of the main strip of Route 1.