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For a historic African American town in Prince George’s, tradition and change

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Where We Live | North Brentwood in Prince George’s County, Md.

North Brentwood, a small community nestled between Hyattsville to the north and Brentwood to the south, celebrates its 95th anniversary as the first African American incorporated municipality in Prince George’s County this year. (Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post)

North Brentwood, a small community nestled between Hyattsville to the north and Brentwood to the south, celebrates its 95th anniversary as the first African American incorporated municipality in Prince George’s County this year.

Capt. Wallace A. Bartlett, a white commander of units of the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, established the community toward the end of the 19th century. After moving his family from the District to a 206-acre farm northeast of the city, Bartlett joined two other men to form the Holladay Land and Improvement Company. They designed a residential suburb around his home. The northern part, now known as North Brentwood, featured less-desirable lots near the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River that were marketed toward African Americans.

Bartlett “gave the higher elevated land to white soldiers and the lower lands to black soldiers,” said Petrella Robinson, mayor of North Brentwood. “The black land was prone to flooding.”

“The first settlers said this place was a pitiful site because it was swampland,” said Evan Dame, a town council member.

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Robinson remembers the flooding. She is the third generation to live in the bungalow her aunt purchased in 1946.

“The water came into this house,” she said gesturing around the room. “My great aunt Maggie Landrum opened up the attic for us to go up so we wouldn’t have to go out in boats.”

Flooding continues to be a problem in North Brentwood.

“Last year’s record rainfall caused myriad flooding issues for numerous residents,” Dame said. “Pumping stations have mitigated it, but not resolved it. Finding a solution for our flooding is one of the most important and difficult tasks the mayor and town council have on our agenda.”

The first lot was sold to Henry Randall, an African American from Anne Arundel County, in 1891. Members of the Randall family purchased adjoining lots, eventually forming the Randalltown neighborhood.

Randalltown was renamed North Brentwood in 1924. The town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The North Brentwood AME Zion Church and the Peter Randall House were designated historic sites.

The Mapping Racism Project, funded by the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, designated the local landmark Sis’s Tavern as a historic property. The town owns the building and plans to transform it into a community and arts performing space, a nod to when such artists as Duke Ellington and Pearl Bailey performed there after their sets at the Howard Theatre in the District. Later this year, the town will celebrate its reopening as part of the year-long North Brentwood anniversary celebration.

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The Prince George’s African American Museum and Cultural Center, founded in the early 1980s in collaboration with the North Brentwood Historical Society, documents the town’s history and hosts visual and performing arts programs, talks and local gatherings.

Remnants of North Brentwood’s segregated past, such as the gray metal guardrail at Windom Road and 39th Place that was built in the 1950s to separate the white community of Brentwood from the black community of North Brentwood, still exist.

“We’re not in the same place as we were a long time ago,” said Robinson, “but we will not take it down.”

“Brentwood is collaborating with us on a project to use it as a teachable spot,” added Dame.

The guardrail may remain, but North Brentwood has become a more blended community.

“The demographics have changed, and we’re a mixed population,” Robinson said. “It’s still predominantly black but also Latino, Asian and white.”

Living there: North Brentwood stretches across 72 acres, or 0.10 square miles. Most of the houses are modest Cape Cods and bungalows built in the 1930s and 1940s on large lots and sidewalk-lined streets. Over the years, other styles, including A-frames, ramblers, Colonials and Craftsman homes, have been added.

New houses are popping up around North Brentwood. On Dame’s block, two lots were subdivided and four single-family houses were built and quickly sold for $600,000 each.

“Like many areas in Prince George's County, it’s experiencing a flurry of activity and growth,” said Lisa Burdyn, an agent with Keller Williams. “The median home value is approximately $340,000, which is a 6.9 percent increase compared to last year, and houses sell on average within 40 days after listing and close at nearly 98 percent of the asking price.”

According to Burdyn, three houses are for sale, ranging from a three-bedroom, two-bathroom farmhouse for $348,000 to a three-bedroom, three-bathroom A-frame house for $531,000.

Two houses are under contract, ranging from a four-bedroom, two-bathroom Cape Cod for $338,000 to a four-bedroom, three-bathroom cottage-style house for $380,000.

In the past year, six homes sold, ranging from a two-bedroom, one-bathroom Colonial for $191,000 to a five-bedroom, four-bathroom Craftsman for $595,000.

Schools: Thomas Stone Elementary, Hyattsville Middle, Northwestern High.

Transit: The closest Metro stations are West Hyattsville and Prince George’s Plaza on the Green Line. WMATA bus service connects the neighborhood to the Rhode Island Avenue-Brentwood Metro station.

Route 1 Ride is a circulator traversing U.S. Route 1 through North Brentwood, Brentwood, Mount Rainier, Hyattsville and College Park.

Crime: According to the Prince George’s County Police Department, there were four thefts from autos and one assault in the past year.