|Takoma Hall circa 1910 (author's collection).|
In addition to beautiful and spacious Queen Anne houses that sprang up on the development’s new lots, a small commercial strip developed along the railroad tracks that had the look and feel of a frontier town. At its heart was an elegant little train station, designed by railroad architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin (1837-1916) and completed in 1886. Just to the east of the railroad station stood Watkins Hotel, a three-story frame structure that burned in 1893, the year after it was built. In its place rose Takoma Hall, constructed by the Masons as a meeting place for clubs and fraternal societies that also saw many other uses, including as a school, church, and bowling alley. In March 1895, the Washington Post noted approvingly that a comic opera entitled "Our American Minister" was playing at Takoma Hall, offering “plenty of good singing, bright costumes, and catchy music.”
More raucous than the comic opera was the exhibition of the Capital Poultry and Pigeon Association in January 1913. Every variety of chicken, from “ponderous Cochins, Brahmas, and Orpingtons” to little “red-game bantams” was on display at Takoma Hall, 1,000 birds altogether. The fighting gamecocks—such as a white Plymouth Rock capon, worth $1,700, that was displayed in the “freak” section of the show—were big draws. On the last day, two prize-winning black Cochin bantams, upon being taken out of their cages to be photographed, plunged into a frantic fight and had to be separated before either was seriously hurt. Meanwhile, an estimated $500 worth of eggs, laid throughout the show, were dropped and broken on the floor before it was all over. Despite these chaotic moments, the show’s organizers pronounced the whole affair a tremendous success and promised to bring even more birds the following year.
|Another view of Takoma Hall, from the Library of Congress.|
Diana Kohn and others at Historic Takoma, Inc., have researched and written extensively about the rich and fascinating history of Takoma Park, including Takoma Park: Portrait of a Victorian Suburb (1984) and the recent Images of America: Takoma Park (2011), available at Historic Takoma's website. The organization recently moved into new headquarters at 7328 Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland, and plans to hold a grand opening this fall.