Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

For new Lyttonsville residents, an enlightening look at the past

Black History Month exhibit shows neighborhood’s beginning as a community started by a freed slave

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
Charlotte Coffield and other Lyttonsville residents helped put together an exhibit on their historic African-American neighborhood in Silver Spring. The exhibit is displayed at the Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Center, named after Coffield’s sister.
From a primarily African-American community of self-built homes and a one-room schoolhouse, the Silver Spring neighborhood of Lyttonsville has become a modern, diverse area in the past 30 years, but some of the newer residents are not aware of the area’s rich history.

That lack of awareness prompted community members, with the help of the Montgomery County Planning Department, to put together an exhibit at the neighborhood’s Gwendolyn E. Coffield Center, just in time for Black History Month.

‘‘We wanted to put together some information on Lyttonsville,” said local resident Patricia Tyson, who worked on the display. ‘‘Where did it get its name from, who were the people who lived here?”

Lyttonsville, now a 68-acre area in west Silver Spring, was founded Jan. 3, 1853, when Samuel Lytton, a freed slave, received a parcel of land from a white landowner.

The community’s school started in the Pilgrim Church in 1896, eventually expanding to a two-room school with a portable classroom. Its modern equivalent became Rosemary Hills Elementary School, which opened in 1970.

Many residents of Lyttonsville lived until the 1960s without running water and plumbing. Urban renewal in the 1970s brought development of new houses and a more diverse neighborhood. However, the higher prices of the houses forced some of the descendants of the original residents to move away.

Elmoria Stewart, whose family has been in Lyttonsville since 1919, estimates that around 12 families remain who are descended from the original residents.

‘‘All the new people had absolutely no idea” about the history of Lyttonsville, Stewart said.

The exhibit includes a copy of the original 1853 deed of the land to Lytton and an issue of the Montgomery Sentinel from before the Civil War, with ads for slaves.

Charlotte Coffield, a longtime Lyttonsville resident with the Lyttonsville Civic Association, would like to put up markers in the community in honor of Lytton. The exhibit became a first step in the process of revealing Lyttonsville’s history, she said.

Coffield, Tyson and other community members donated pictures and other artifacts. ‘‘Because the information was so scattered, it was hard to find,” Coffield said. ‘‘There have been other efforts in the past to get the information together ... [so] we were able to get historic information that way.”

‘‘We will keep this and build on what we have,” Tyson said.

Though the Coffield center, named after Charlotte Coffield’s sister, opened in 2000, this is the first year it has had a Black History Month display, one which is different because it focuses on its surrounding community.

‘‘Black history can be so broad,” center director Ronald Martin said, ‘‘but [this is] actually in Silver Spring, in this community.”

The exhibit has been going up in pieces in the last two weeks.

‘‘I think it’s a beautiful exhibition,” said Helen McLendon, senior program director at the center. ‘‘I think it tells the story very well about Lyttonsville. It shows back when there was just the one-house school ... and how they acquired the land and their homes.”

The display will be up until the end of February.

‘‘We’re hoping that what will happen is that this will kind of start a tradition of outlining the history [in Lyttonsville],” Martin said.

If you go

An exhibit on the history of Silver Spring’s Lyttonsville Village will be open throughout February at Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Center, 2450 Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring, during community center hours. Part of the county’s observance of Black History Month, the exhibit includes photos, artifacts and newspaper clippings arranged to cover schools, community life and churches, and urban renewal in one of the first pre-Civil War African American communities. Call 240-777-4900.