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La Plata Town

La Plata Town Hall is located at 305 Queen Anne Street, La Plata, MD 20646; phone: 301-934-8421.

Beginnings [1]

The area that was to become the Town of La Plata was situated close to the intersection of several important early roads, including the Port Tobacco-Bryantown Road (later Main Street, then Charles Street), the Old Piscataway Road (later Kent Avenue), and a colonial-era trail (later Hawthorne Drive, MD 225). The majority of the land in the area was held by the Chapman and Matthews families. It was from these families and several others that a right-of-way for the railroad was purchased. Until the construction of the railroad and the La Plata station, the area was not likely to be developed as a town despite its proximity to several crossroads. The land was privately held, and its close proximity to the then county seat of Port Tobacco provided no impetus for the owners to sell profitable agricultural land. But Port Tobacco was already in decline, due in large part to the loss of shoreline on the Port Tobacco River because of its siting. The bypassing of the town by the railroad, accelerated Port Tobacco's decline. A fire which destroyed the courthouse in 1892 completed the process.

The construction of the railroad encouraged growth around La Plata station. The area soon became a commercial center and people began to build homes there. The Chapmans donated 1 square mile of land for the site of the town's construction and for the town roads. As early as 1873 the Matthews family began to sell lots from the Hermitage land bordering the Port Tobacco and Piscataway Roads. In 1888 there were approximately 120 residents, and the town was incorporated. The first residential development occurred around the railroad tracks, on Oak Avenue and Railroad (Maple) Avenue. These homes were mostly 2-story wood-frame buildings, built in traditional vernacular forms, such as the I-house and front-gable houses. They featured the decorative time associated with buildings from the Victorian Era. Buildings were also constructed on Kent Avenue, including the La Plata Methodist Church, built in 1890, and the pre-existing church parsonage, built ca. 1880. In 1894 the state legislature voted to move the county seat from Port Tobacco. A competition was held between the towns of Chapel Point and La Plata. La Plata won the bid, and the county offices were located in the new La Plata Town Hall until the courthouse was built. The new courthouse was dedicated in 1896. A hail was built the following year, and La Plata was firmly established as the new county seat.

At the turn of the century La Plata was a prosperous town with new government buildings, multiple businesses, and fine houses along the railroad. Int the first several decades of the 20th century, a new residential area began to develop north of Charles Street. The lane next to the courthouse led from Charles Street to "The Hermitage," the Matthews family farm. Beginning around 1905, the Matthews began to sell lots along this lane. A house was built in 1905 for Mr. and Mrs. William Howard. Adrian Posey, a prominent La Plata businessman and publisher of the Maryland Independent newspaper, built a row of five 2-story, wood-frame houses on the east side of Washington Avenue, directly behind his bank building. Other families including the Clarks and the Chochranes, built large wood-frame homes along the street. The prominent "Chillum" was built by the Digges family in 1915. More houses were built in the 1920s, and the side streets were developed in the 1930s and 1940s.

In 1904 the Christ Episcopal Church was moved to La Plata from Port Tobacco. The church was taken apart, moved stone by stone and rebuilt on a site in La Plata that duplicated its original location next to the courthouse in Port Tobacco. The interior was destroyed by a fire in 1906, but the church was soon restored. A gothic bell tower was added to the church at that time.

Ground was broken in 1922 for a new concrete highway which would later become the Robert Crain Highway. Located west of La Plata, the highway provided easy access to Baltimore. After the Governor Harry W. Nice bridge was built over the Potomac River in 1940, the Crain Highway (US 301) became the principal New York to Florida road for commercial and pleasure transport. The increased opportunities for business brought about by this new transportation corridor contributed to La Plata's growth throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

By 1926 the population had risen to 500. The town had several well-established enterprises, including the La Plata Mill and Supply Company, an oil company, a bottling works, and smaller businesses such as a movie theater, stores, banks and hotels. In 1926 a tornado destroyed the Chapman Farm, La Plata, and the elementary school. The tornado killed 15 people. After the tornado the school was relocated to a parcel behind Christ Episcopal Church.

The railroad continued to play an important role in the life of the community, as both freight and passenger line. Farm equipment and automobiles were shipped by rail, as was coal, oil and tobacco. Passengers had easy access to Washington, D.C. and all destinations on the east coast. Passenger service ended in 1949.

  1. Susan L. Taylor, P.A.C. Spero & Company, La Plata Historic District, Charles County, Maryland, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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