The research of Robinson & Associates, Inc., in preparation of Washington Grove’s Updated and Expanded Historic District Nomination to the National Register is gratefully acknowledged. It is the basis of the following.
Washington Grove’s initiative to seek incorporation as a municipality followed national trends. Starting in the early twentieth century, many camp meeting associations across the country began to transition into independent municipalities or transferred their assets to other local government entities. Although Washington Grove’s initial effort lost considerable momentum during the economic collapse of the Great Depression, the initiative was resumed in the mid-1930s. Finally, in 1937, the stockholders of the Washington Grove Association voted in favor of incorporation. The charter for the Town of Washington Grove became effective on May 30 of that year.
The Town’s first mayor, Irving (Roy) McCathran, and the citizens of Washington Grove were eager to put the deprivations of the Depression behind them. While the early municipal period saw a gradual decrease in the abandonment of properties and lots being listed for tax sale, deferred home maintenance that had started in the Depression continued to cause concern. In 1941, for example, two adjacent houses on Fourth Avenue that had not been occupied for several years were found to be “an actual and definitive menace to the health of the community” and nearly condemned. (The houses were ultimately preserved and, in the 1960s, were combined to become what is now 404 Fourth Avenue.) According to oral tradition, some houses in the Grove still retained canvas elements through the 1940s.
In an effort to increase municipal revenues and attract families to the community, the town began to sell off platted but unoccupied lots. As a result, Washington Grove experienced a boomlet of home improvements and new construction. Nationally, Minimal Traditional dwellings, which offered simplified versions of prewar Colonial Revival styles, were built in great numbers during this period, and this trend is reflected in Washington Grove. (The inventory of Washington Grove homes included in the National Register nomination document identifies 22 homes in the Minimal Traditional style.)
The Minimal Traditional style was developed largely out of necessity. During the Great Depression, banks collapsed, mortgages piled up, and many Americans lost their means to purchase new homes, bringing the housing construction industry to a virtual standstill. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) was established in 1934 under the New Deal programs of President Franklin Roosevelt to set standards for construction and insure loans banks made for home building. The FHA also produced their own technical bulletins on house design that proved influential. In fact, a number of these house plans were published in journals and pattern books in the 1930s and 1940s, promoting an economical take on the traditional house.
The FHA’s technical bulletin in 1940 was called Principles for Planning Small Houses, which laid out a number of recommendations for an economical, efficient home. Many of the basic forms and variations of what became the Minimal Traditional style were illustrated in the pamphlet. The FHA recommended simple compositions within limited variation in form. Unnecessary gables, dormers, and breaks in the roofline were to be avoided. Instead of adding ornamentation, character and variation could be achieved through the spacing and grouping of windows, use of materials, and design of minor details. “Porches, bay windows, and platform steps,” the bulletin states, “are useful as a means of making small houses more livable without adding greatly to their costs.” Efficient floor plans that maximized available space were advised, as higher building costs increased the difficulty in qualifying for FHA loan insurance.
During World War II, the relocation of workers for proximity to defense-related factories created an immediately pressing need for small houses that could be built quickly. Builder-developers constructed nearly 2.3 million homes, most in the Minimal Traditional style, for war and defense purposes between 1940 and 1945. Such small houses were also a response to the wartime reduction in the supply of building materials.
When World War II ended in 1945, the Minimal Traditional house again proved to be the solution to a pressing national need. Housing accommodation had to be provided for the 10 million returning soldiers and their families. Approximately 5.1 million new homes, many in the Minimal Traditional style, were built between 1946 and 1949. Because these houses continued to be promoted by the FHA, developers could get faster approval of loans for construction to start. Much of the postwar construction in emerging suburban communities like Levittown, New York, consisted of mass-produced Minimal Traditional-style houses. The World War II Cottage is a variation on the Minimal Traditional style. These houses were typically a single story, simple in form, and covered by a hipped roof.
Many Minimal Traditional-style houses were built in Washington Grove during this period and after World War II. Examples can be found on Washington Grove Lane, Ridge Road, and Pine Street. Examples of World War II Cottages are located at 108 Maple Avenue and 401 Brown Street. The latter, built in 1943, has a rectangular form under a moderately pitched, hip roof. These houses are representative of an important period of Washington Grove’s development, when the new municipal government supported residential growth that responded to the needs of American families. In their simplicity of form and affordability, these houses represented a continuity in design from the camp meeting era.
Note: If you would like to see Washington Grove’s complete 2020 Updated and Expanded Historic District Nomination, follow this link to the Maryland Historic Trust’s website. The original historic district nomination, submitted in 1978, has been included as well at the end of the linked .pdf document.