Mount Rainier celebrates its centennial

Jimmie Rice, with photos of himself and his late wife, Ann, decades ago, has been a resident of Mount Rainier for most of its history. Since arriving in the Depression, he has stuck with the city through periods of decay and rejuvenation. "Once you get used to [a place], it's your home," he says.
Jimmie Rice, with photos of himself and his late wife, Ann, decades ago, has been a resident of Mount Rainier for most of its history. Since arriving in the Depression, he has stuck with the city through periods of decay and rejuvenation. "Once you get used to [a place], it's your home," he says. (Raphael Talisman/the Gazette)

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By Elahe Izadi
The Gazette
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jimmie Rice has seen a lot in the nearly 80 years since the Great Depression forced his family to move from University Park to the more affordable Mount Rainier, which is celebrating its centennial this year.

He has seen dirt roads turned into pavement, the advent of metal piping and the city age and be revitalized.

"I've been in lots of places in my three years in the Army [during World War II], and Mount Rainier is the place to be," said Rice, 92, who is one of the city's longest-tenured residents. "Once you get used to [a place], it's your home."

Incorporated in 1910, Mount Rainier has begun staging activities to celebrate its centennial.

According to the city's Web site, Mount Rainier began as a subdivision on 100 acres of the Thomas Clemson family's farm, purchased by developers after the Civil War. Local tradition tells that the city bears the name of Washington's tallest mountain because the land surveyors who staked out the land hailed from the Pacific Northwest.

In addition to a dinner honoring longtime residents and Mount Rainier Day, which is set for May 15, residents have pitched in to commemorate the city's first 100 years.

Cheryl Fountain, a three-year resident, helped organize an exhibition of historical photos, documents and artifacts at her business, Fountain Framing, on Rhode Island Ave.

Since opening the Mount Rainier Centennial Exhibition, Fountain has seen an uptick in foot traffic to the area, as well as in her business.

"It's been interesting, it really has been," she said. "They're excited, they're happy . . . our centennial exhibit only comes once."

The exhibit includes photos from the 1910s through 1970s and depicts sites such as the old body shop that now houses the police station, the trolley that once ran through the city and the Mount Rainier Carnival, which eventually became Mount Rainier Day.

Fountain said Mount Rainier was once "a haven for the businessmen and politicians working in [Washington,] D.C. They'd come to Mount Rainier for weekend getaways," for its country-like atmosphere. But from the 1930s through the 1970s, the city primarily was blue collar with "a lot of people struggling to live and make it day-to-day."

The exhibit also chronicles the darker moments in Mount Rainier's history, including meeting minutes from the city's Ku Klux Klan chapter and threats sent in the 1980s to the city's first African-American elected officials.

Fountain said today's Mount Rainier is a much more diverse and accepting place than the once-segregated community.

"I see everybody working together to make the city better, people from all races, and I think it's really good that we not forget where we used to be and where we are today," Fountain said. "Too many times people like to ignore the ugly past of America's history."

The city commissioned updating a 1985 version of a Mount Rainier history book, which City Councilman Bryan Knedler (Ward 2) is editing. He said the work will contain new information from the past 25 years and earlier, because the Internet has made information easier to find.

One addition will be details on a 1935 crime mystery that made national headlines. A woman was murdered two days before her wedding, Knedler said, and was buried in her wedding dress. The case never was solved.

Knedler said one of the big themes in the city's history is not just how progress has ebbed and flowed -- the city experienced a downturn from the Great Depression through the '70s and revitalization efforts kicked off in the 1980s -- but also how much some things haven't changed. Now as then, the easy access to the District has been a draw.

"People still come to Mount Rainier for that same reason, that they can have a nice home and still get into to town to work quickly and easily. That's how the town started," he said.


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