Tuesday, September 25, 2012

William Woodward, Sr., Owner of Belair Dies at Home in New York City

Belair Mansion, September, 2012
September 25, 1953 (59 years ago today): William Woodward, Sr., owner of the Belair Mansion and Belair Stud Farm, died at his home in New York City at the age of 77.  He bequeathed the Belair property to his only son, William Woodward, Jr. (Billy), with the hope that the "farm may mean as much to my son as it has to my uncle and myself, and that he may spend many happy days there maintaining the place in a modest  and simple way as has been our habit."  Little did the elder Woodward know that his son would die only two years later, setting the stage for the purchase and development of Belair by Levitt & Sons.

William Woodward inherited Belair from his uncle, James T. Woodward, in 1910.

Prior to his uncle's death, Woodward became involved in horse breeding when he purchased three mares from the estate of Governor Oden Bowie and a stallion.  He later purchased horses from France during World War I.  With the help of trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Woodward's Belair Stud was responsible for two Triple Crown winners (father and son pair Gallant Fox and Omaha) as well as other winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont Stakes and other major horse races.

The following two books were used as sources for this post.  Both books are available at the Belair Mansion and the Belair Stable Museum.

  • Belair Stud, The Cradle of Maryland Horse Racing, Kimberly Gatto, 2012
  • Belair from the Beginning, Shirley V. Baltz, 2005

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bowie Children Visit the Oval Office

From President Gerald Ford's daily diary, September 18, 1976
September 18, 1976 (36 years ago today):  Several Bowie children and parents visited the White House to participate in the filming of a President Ford campaign commercial.  According to President Ford's daily diary, the children included Rochelle Brown, John Clese, Darcy Hirshfeld, Shaun Sullivan, Laura Weintraub, John Hogan, Peter Muldoon and Karen Stonebreaker. A separate taping session was held with a group of senior citizens, but they were not from Bowie.  Filming took place in the Oval Office.  The President met with the children, parents and senior citizens in the Roosevelt Room following the filming.

Although several of President Ford's campaign commercials are available on the Internet, none of the on-line videos appear to be from this taping session.

Several still pictures were taken during the meeting by presidential photographer William Fitz-Patrick.  Full sized images can be purchased from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.  Low resolution versions of the pictures are included below.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fighter Jet Explodes in the Sky Above Bowie Race Track

F-86 Sabre Jet (photo by Jason Lefkowitz)
September 15, 1953 (59 years ago today): An F-86 Sabre Jet with flames shooting out of one of its engines was spotted in the sky above the Bowie Race Track.  The plane was carrying 24 live rockets and secret equipment.

Air Force First Lieutenant Walter T. Fay ejected from the plane.  Fay landed on a farm north of the track in Anne Arundel County.  "He suffered minor scratches and bruises," according to The Washington Post.

The fighter jet exploded on impact in an area described as the "woods off State Route 197, about 1 mile southwest of the track," creating a debris field a quarter mile wide.  Although the description of the location was not meant to be exact, Bowie's Whitehall section is located one mile southwest of the Bowie Race Track.  The Whitehall section was a mixture of woods and farmland in 1953.

An Aberdeen Proving Ground bomb disposal unit assisted in the clean-up effort.

The F-86 Sabre Jet was the most advanced fighter jet of the Korean War era.

The F-86 pictured here can be seen at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Virginia.  The picture was taken by Jason Lefkowitz, and it is shared via the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Rocket-Laden Jet Crashes Near Bowie
The Washington Post
September 16, 1953

F-86 Sabre Jet photo by Jason Lefkowitz
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

School Board Approves Plans for Somerset Elementary School

Former Somerset Elementary School bus loop, 2012
September 12, 1961 (51 years ago today): The Prince George's County School Board approved plans for the Somerset Elementary School, a 20 room school to serve residents of the new Belair at Bowie housing development. This decision came 11 months after the Levitt model homes opened on Sussex Lane, and one month before the first Belair at Bowie residents starting moving in.

Somerset Elementary School opened for classes in October, 1962.

Bowie City Council meetings were held at the school in the mid 1960s.

Low enrollment in the mid 1970s forced Prince George's County to close several schools in Bowie.  The 1976-77 school year was the last year for elementary school classes at Somerset, and the school closed for good after being used for special education classes during the 1977-78 academic year.

Single-story townhouses
During the first year that the school sat vacant, nearby residents complained about vandalism, broken beer bottles and "disturbances on the weekends," according to The Washington Post.

A plan to lease the school to Anne Arundel County was considered.  At the same time that enrollment in some Prince George's County schools was declining, enrollment in Anne Arundel County Schools was on the rise.  It was thought that Anne Arundel County could bus students to Somerset until a new middle school opened in 1982.

Somerset Park
Between 1983 and 1985, developer Ken Woodring created Somerset Condominium Park, a complex for independent senior living.  He converted the school building into 29 units, and he built 31 single-story townhouses on the former school grounds.  According to the project's architect, Phillips Schwartz, some former Somerset Elementary School teachers bought units in the building where they used to teach.  Buyers in the new condominium park were typically older residents from the community looking to move to smaller and more modern homes.

Unexpected School Jam Hits County
The Washington Post
September 13, 1961
Anne Arundel Considers Closed Prince George's School
The Washington Post
February 9, 1979

Bowie Seeks Occupant for School
The Washington Post
Thursday, April 19, 1979

Schools as Residences Put the Adventuresome In Class of Their Own
The Washington Post
May 2, 1987

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Strike Disrupts Bowie Area Grocery Stores

September 5, 1974 (38 years ago today): The Local 400 Retail Clerks Union walked out on negotiation talks with six grocery chains, beginning a strike that caused some Bowie area stores to temporarily shut down and others to reduce hours.  The Bowie Plaza Giant and the Pointer Ridge Giant were closed.  The Free State Mall Giant and the Grand Union at Hilltop Plaza had reduced hours.  One Bowie resident decided to take her business to the Crofton A&P rather than cross picket lines in Bowie (even though A&P was affected by the strike as well), and one resident expressed relief at having the services of a milkman.

Markets, Shoppers Tough Out Strike
Bowie Blade
Thursday, September 12, 1974