For over 150 years, College Park has been a center of education, experimentation, and exploration, a place where creative minds pursued innovations first in agriculture, then in flight, and today serves as the home of the flagship campus of the University of Maryland. The Maryland Agricultural College was founded here in 1856 to support scientific research and education in agriculture to bring prosperity to Maryland farmers. Fifty years later, in 1909, the Wright Brothers found College Park the perfect place for an airfield where they could continue their experiments with flight and train the first army pilots. Other forms of transportation also were important to the development of College Park, including the Baltimore-Washington Turnpike (now Route 1), Baltimore & Ohio Railroad (now CSX), and the Washington streetcar system.
Around 1820, the Baltimore-Washington Turnpike was the first transportation artery to be constructed through the area, enabling stagecoaches to travel more easily between Baltimore and Washington. In 1835, the B&O Railroad extended its line south from Baltimore to Washington, and the station stop in the area now known as Old Town College Park was dubbed “College Station” after the Maryland Agricultural College was established. Additional railroad stations were built at Branchville and Berwyn.
The Maryland Agricultural College was one of three similar academic institutions that preceded the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862, which supported the creation of 65 other agricultural and mechanical colleges around the nation. The driving force behind the creation of the college was Charles Benedict Calvert, owner of the vast Riversdale plantation (which extended over 2,200 acres including the southern portion of present-day College Park and part of the current University of Maryland campus). Calvert recruited other wealthy planters to support his vision for scientific experimentation to improve the productivity of Maryland farms and educate the sons of Maryland farmers. Although the college struggled in its early years and Calvert’s vision was slow to materialize, in 1888 the Maryland Agricultural Experiment Station was launched to conduct research on propagation, fertilizers, soil analysis, insecticides, and other practical topics. The Farmer’s Institute (later the Maryland Extension Service) began to disseminate the new scientific agricultural research in Maryland though seminars, displays, pamphlets, fairs, and contests. In the 1910s, the college began to evolve into a more broad-based institution of higher learning and was renamed the University of Maryland in 1920.
The electric streetcar accelerated the growth of the community as a “streetcar suburb” of Washington, D.C. by making it easy to travel to downtown Washington and other destinations on the system. The “Maryland Line” first opened service from downtown Washington to Hyattsville in 1899 and was extended to Berwyn in 1900 and then to Laurel in 1902. The streetcar system served the College Park community for nearly 60 years, ending in 1958; it was to be 35 years before the Metro “Green Line” service to College Park began a similar route in 1993. The demise of the streetcar system was due in part to the growing popularity of the automobile and bus transit, with the one-time Baltimore-Washington Turnpike evolving into Route 1, the nation’s first highway.