Cafritzes Donate Boundary Marker to Riversdale Museum
The granite pillar had stood on the grounds of the old McAlpine Mansion since the mid-19th century.
For over 150 years, the half-ton boundary marker sat lodged in the earth of what is now known as the Cafritz property, situated on the north end of present-day Riverdale Park.
Hewn out of granite and inscribed with an "R," the weathered monolith once marked a 203-acre subdivision of the Riversdale Estate.
As the site was transformed over the decades—from the private grounds of MacAlpine Mansion to the Longfellow School for Boys to housing for ERCO factory workers during World War II and returning GIs in the postwar era—the marker stood fast, dutifully marking a long-forgotten line.
On Friday, six men, a metal sled, and a Ford F-350 pickup finally uprooted the stone and transported it to its new—or rather, old—home: Riversdale House Museum.
"It's really a privilege to be able to present something like this to the town and preserve the history of the area," said developer Calvin Cafritz, speaking later that day outside of Riversdale Mansion.
He his wife, Jane Cafritz, officially bestowed the marker to the museum in a ceremony attended by town officials, local residents, and members of the team now working to reshape the Cafritz property into a mixed-use development.
"As a former history major, I appreciate the significance of the gift," Mr. Cafritz told the small crowd.
According to Riversdale Director Ed Day, the marker relates to an 1853 map of the estate commissioned by the Calvert family. The hefty stone—like three others in the museum's possession—was designed to be difficult to move and would have required a block-and-tackle system to install, Day said.
Ward 1 Councilman Jonathan Ebbeler said he became aware of the marker's presence after reading a report on the Cafritz tract from the Prince George's County Historic Preservation Commission.
"I figured that it would be something that would be a benefit to the community if it was donated," said Ebbeler. He later approached Day about the possibility of receiving the artifact.
"There has been significant concern from the preservationist community and from myself that because there's complete access to the site, that things will just walk away," he added.
Day was enthusiastic about the idea, but it took some time to sort out the details.
"It's not exactly a simple transaction. … The legalities and mechanisms had to be worked out, and they were over the past few months," Ebbeler said.
The pieces finally fell into place early last week, he said, just as the developer's archaeological study of the site wrapped up.
Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer thanked the Cafritzes at Friday's ceremony, hailing the donation as a symbol of the town's rich history.
"This is the place that binds together the Riverdale of the past, the rebuilding of Riverdale as a railroad suburb in the 20th century, and the transforming Riverdale of today, of which the Cafritz project will be a wonderful and major part," Archer said.
After some brief remarks, participants—some dressed in business attire—strained to lift the stone into a vertical position before posing for photos on the mansion's front lawn.
Day said he's not sure yet how the stone will be put on permanent display. Two others currently mark the entrance to the gardens on the east side of the grounds.
"It would be nice to put it in the visitors' center, but I don't know what the load level is for the floor," Day said.
"At this point, we're accepting it into our collection and will decide later on what to do with it," he added.
Ebbeler said the site may yield other donations in the future, given its many uses over the years.
"It's expected that if there are things of significance and we have a receiving party, an event like this is likely to occur again in the future," Ebbeler said.
Friday's ceremony fell just five days ahead of Wednesday's key hearing before the District Council, when council members will weigh evidence and testimony on a controversial redevelopment proposal for the site.
The Cafritz team is seeking to have its 37-acre parcel rezoned from single-family detached residential (R-55) to mixed-use town center (M-UTC), easing the way for the construction of more than 900 units of housing, a 35,000-square foot Whole Foods, a 120-room hotel, and additional office and retail space.
Though the plan won conditional approval from the Prince George's County Planning Board, critics charge that the development would pose extreme fiscal, environmental, and infrastructural pressure on the surrounding communities.
Ebbeler, who supports the development, said the timing of the ceremony was determined by the logistics of donating the marker and wasn't linked to the date of the hearing.
"I'm sure that if it happened right before the Planning Board vote or right after the Planning Board vote, people would say the same thing," he said.
"It may get through, it may not get through," Ebbeler added. "Either way, I think the Cafritz family agreed and our community agreed that the donation would be of significant value to our community."