Oh, Bowie, how I misjudged thee! Visited your south side a handful of times, suburban sprawl and chain restaurants. Little did I know you have a charming north side, dotted with historic places, parks and wetlands.
Yep, we cruised over to Bowie (“Boo-eee”) last week. My previous visits to this bedroom community about five miles east of the Beltway were to see the AA Giants at the Bowie Baysox. Always enjoy going there, a very nice ballpark, but otherwise, not much to write home about.
When I was planning out this trip, one of the first things I noticed about Bowie’s Old Town was its shape. The vast majority of towns in our area are laid out in the grid system. This part of Bowie is too, but it offers several asymmetrical twists. Lanham-Severn Road runs on a straight line from the Beltway before making a boomerang-shaped turn that crosses the railroad tracks. The MARC service line (the nearest stop is at Bowie State) cuts through the center of town, forming a north and south side. The locals must love the peace and quiet provided by the no through streets.
Choosing to see the south side first, we parked at the corner of 11th and Chestnut, the town’s small center of gravity. Steps away are the Visitor’s Center, Railroad Museum, Old Bowie Town Grille and the Fabian House.
A docent greeted us, a courteous gentleman who took the time to answer all our questions. The welcome center presents the history of the town in a most excellent manner. Published works for sale include, “Town of Bowie, Maryland, 1870-1960,” and “Baltimore and Potomac Railroad, The Pope’s Creek Branch.” Available gratis is, “The Historic Town of Bowie, A Self-Guided Tour.”
Also, when we inquired about more information on Collis Porter Huntington, the docent was kind enough to make a copy of an article by Stephen Patrick (“Huntington Section of Old Town Bowie Shares a History with the Transcontinental Railroad).”
When it comes to small towns, or large for that matter, I’m always interested in how the site was chosen. In Virginia, the basis was often proximity to the water or an old Indian path. Bowie’s roots were planted in a different manner. Patrick’s article and the Pope’s Creek Branch booklet by John M. Wearmouth touch on this. A provision in the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Charter allowed for a spur line to Washington, as long as the distance was less than 20 miles. The junction of the spur line to the nation’s capital and a mainline to Southern Maryland created a crossroad rail community. Congress granted permission for such a railroad into Washington, D.C. It opened July 2, 1872.
Huntington Railroad Museum
In the 1850s, the Bowie family, prominent in Maryland politics, created the Baltimore and Potomac railroad. The line was laid down after the Civil War. In 1870, developer Ben H. Plumb purchased the farmland and laid out the lots. Advertising pamphlets touted the new town as “Huntington,” named after Collis Porter Huntington. The railroad magnate had grand designs for a line from New York to Florida, then to San Diego and finally Sacramento. Poor financial times in the 1870s wrecked his deal. In 1883, the town asked the Maryland legislature for a name change. They went with Bowie, named after the family.
Trollies rolled into town starting in 1908. MARC serviced here until 1989, when the station was dropped and Bowie State University added. The museum opened in 1994.
Shops and Eats
We saw nary a chain in these parts, and sure didn’t mind. Next door to the welcome center, you can find some good eats at Old Town Bowie Grill. A bit too dark on the décor, but friendly service and decent grub.
Ice cream and a comfy parlor setting await at the Fabian House, a few steps from the main intersection. The house was built in 1896 for the Joffe Family who operated the Joffe General Store.
Pressed for time, you could skip the other side of the tracks but that would mean missing Mama Cocoa’s Delights. Lovers of chocolate, we didn’t. Walking in, we spotted Tamarra Thomas behind the counter, the owner and a Bowie resident, who I had seen recently on News4. She won the “Sweet Genius” contest on The Food Network.
There’s a lot more to see in this part of Prince George’s County, so we really just whet our appetite. With the chocolate melting in our mouths, we headed back to Virginia with good thoughts. Bowie, we’re pleased to say, is much more than just a boring suburb!