Bethesda Historical Society

The Wilson Store, aka Community Paint and Hardware

Wilson Store aka Community Paint Hardware

The Building

The Community Paint and Hardware building, constructed in 1890 on the site of the original Rockville Pike Toll Booth which was abandoned in 1887. Parts of the Toll Booth may have been incorporated into the new structure, which is probably the earliest commercial building left standing in the Bethesda Commercial District, and the only surviving structure truly reminiscent of the initial development of the area. Thus, its importance to the present business district cannot be disputed.

The building’s architectural detailing, with its decorative bracketed cornice, is reflective of the late Victorian styling which has not been found elsewhere in the district.

This building was originally the general store and post office of Alfred Wilson. It was Bethesda’s only store in 1900, when it housed a post office and grocery counter, and sold dry goods, hardware, fuel and animal feed. A stucco covering was added during the early 20th century when that became a popular way to update the look of buildings, especially commercial buildings, but this does not detract from the authentic appearance of this turn-of-the-century general store.

Community Paint and Hardware is a typical example of a two-part commercial block building. It is two stories tall with a horizontal division in two distinct zones: the commercial space on the first floor with its plate-glass storefront and the residential space above. This building form was common in the mid-nineteenth through mid-twentieth century. In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region in the late nineteenth century, similar two-part commercial blocks tended to be built in crossroads communities, outside of central business districts.

The frame building is three bays wide and three bays deep with a one-story, shed-roof storefront across the facade. Stucco covers most of the exterior of the building, while the southern side elevation has stone cladding. The windows are six-over-two, double-hung, wooden sash with fixed shutters. The southernmost window on the second floor of the front facade is a paired window, while the other windows in the building are single windows.

Bethesda Community Paint Hardware 1998

The Wilson Store 1998

The storefront is comprised of large plate glass windows, each topped with a two-light transom. Paneled columns separate the plate glass windows. A paneled cornice with decorative brackets and dentils tops the facade. The roof is a low-pitched shed roof, sloping towards the rear of the building.

When Community Paint and Hardware was built Bethesda was a small crossroads community. That same year (1890), the Tennallytown and Rockville Railroad Company streetcar line was extended along Wisconsin Avenue and commercial and suburban development came to the area. The B&O Railroad’s Georgetown Branch extended through the community in 1910, helping spur additional development (Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission 1994: 1225-226, 233).

The establishment of the National Institutes of Health in 1938 and the Bethesda Naval Hospital in 1940 brought additional growth to the area, as did the arrival of a Metro-line in the early 1980s. The redevelopment of its original location in the 1980s lead to the closure of the hardware store in early 1986.

In March 1988, as part of the redevelopment of its original site, the building was moved fifty feet to the south. Only the front three bays of the then-nine-bay-deep building were moved; the remaining, rear, portion of the building was demolished. Until 2017, the building was used as a bank branch amidst modern development along Wisconsin Avenue in the heart of Bethesda’s commercial district.

The building is noted and listed in Montgomery County’s Master Plan for Historic Preservation and is a locally protected historic site. Based on its assessment for integrity during this survey and evaluation, the Community Paint and Hardware is historically significant as the only remaining commercial structure from Bethesda’s early commercial history. Its vernacular style and small scale speak to the Bethesda’s late nineteenth century history as a small, crossroads community.

Wilson Community Paint Hardware 2012

The Wilson store in 2012 when it was a branch of Sequoia National Bank

Though not known to have been associated with any individuals who are important within the history of Bethesda, it is significant as a good example of vernacular, commercial architecture. Community Paint and Hardware retains integrity of materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Character-defining elements present in this building include the two-part commercial block form, the larger windows of the first floor, and its vernacular style. The building is also significant even as a moved property because it was moved a short distance from its original location and because it is the only remaining building representing Bethesda’s early commercial development.

[Adapted from Maryland Historical Trust Determination of Eligibility Form for M: 35-14-07 — Community Paint and Hardware 7250 Wisconsin Avenue (2012)]

The Store’s Owners and Place in the Community

In 1890 Alfred Wilson left the teaching profession to pursue entrepreneurial ambitions. He built a new emporium in the style of the era with a sloping roof over the front porch, married Miss Minnie Poole and made a home for them in quarters over the store. Before long brother Herbert left the family farm on Wilson’s Lane to enter into partnership with Alfred at his flourishing shop.

The Wilsons had to fetch their stock themselves from the District of Columbia because wholesalers refused to deliver goods so far from town – 90 minutes each way was considered good time. The Wilsons stocked everything from groceries to kerosene, and from dry goods to notions, harnesses and hardware.

The Wilson’s store also served as Bethesda’s post office from 1895 to 1905. One of the Wilson’s regular customers described the store in those days as “an old-fashioned country store with the post office in the corner, groceries on one side, and hardware and dry goods on the other. There was also a telephone – one of the few within miles. If someone wanted to get in touch with a Bethesda resident over the telephone, they rang Wilson’s store. In Wilson’s we bought our food, our ‘wrappers’ (as ladies dresses were then known), our red flannel underwear, gingham, sewing materials and novelties. In the winter the store supplied our coal and wood. From it we also obtained oil for our lamps, feed for the chickens and tools for the farm. In the evenings the young men of the community walked to the store and parked themselves around the huge ‘iron belly’ stove.”

By the time that automobiles were common, the Wilsons were selling tires, gasoline and motor oil next to the hay scale. The store was becoming uncomfortably crowded, so Herbert built a two-story brick shop just south of Alfred’s store where he maintained a grocer’s business, while Alfred specialized in hardware and dry goods.

Wilson Community Paint Hardware 2012

The Wilson store in preparation for its move in 2017

Alfred Wilson was ultimately chosen by his constituents to be Bethesda’s Justice of the Peace. He sold his hardware store to George Bradley in 1922 and left the area for a brief time after his wife’s death. Mr. Bradley re-faced the store front with a coat of stucco, and hired the brothers Broadhurst to be his shop clerks. In the mid 1920’s the store housed Bethesda’s first public library.

The Depression forced Mr. Bradley out of business in 1931, at which point Ralph and Henry Broadhurst assumed control of the store. A friend recalled that Henry’s aim to run things differently dated from the day he witnessed Mr. Bradley refuse to help a lady carry a can of kerosene across a muddy Wisconsin Avenue.

Twelve hour days and six day weeks ultimately rewarded the Broadhurst brothers with the financial wherewithal to purchase the store outright in 1933, and they renamed it Community Paint and Hardware. They survived the Depression, although often taking in less than $10 a day. Ralph made deliveries and managed most of the manual labor, while Henry attended to the store and the finances.

When the Depression receded and Bethesda began to grow again the Broadhurst brothers bought adjoining lots and enlarged the store by building onto the rear of the structure. As the store grew, the success of the Broadhurst hardware business also grew, thanks to a well-earned reputation for honesty, friendliness, cooperation and expertise. The hardware store was a Bethesda institution until it closed in 1986.

Wilson Community Paint Hardware 2019

The  Wilson store at its current location, 4538 Middleton Lane, Bethesda

Sources

William Offutt, Bethesda: A Social History (2005)
Molly Sinclair, “Hammer Falls on Bethesda Hardware Store” The Washington Post Page D1,D7  January 26, 1986
Maryland Historical Trust Determination of Eligibility Form for M: 35-14-07 — Community Paint and Hardware 7250 Wisconsin Avenue (2012) 
Robert Dyer@Bethesda Row, Historic Community Paint & Hardware store moved in Bethesda (Videos + Photos)   August 20, 2017