As a recognized place, Cabin John emerged only in the 19th century but of course there were inhabitants long before then. When the first European explorers appeared in the early 17th century, the native Americans living in the area were the Susquehannahs. Later the Piscataways, and still later, the Senecas occupied the land. By the middle of the 17th century, Maryland was becoming a settled colony, and Lord Baltimore, proprietor of the colony, was making land grants along the Potomac River. Several of these grants embraced what is now Cabin John. During the 18th century, farming predominated, particularly of tobacco. In the 19th century, the building of the C & O Canal in the 1820’s and 1830’s brought settlers to the Cabin John area, and the population further increased with the construction of the Washington Aqueduct in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Land ownership remained concentrated, however, and at the end of the century, three families owned virtually all the property in today’s Cabin John.
In 1912 the American Land Company, represented by J.S. Tomlinson, bought up a large tract of land in Cabin John, divided it into residential lots, and began a vigorous sales campaign of what it called Cabin John Park. Although many of the new owners built houses for summer occupancy only, the town’s year-round population grew steadily and a sense of community began to appear. A significant event was the founding, in 1919, of the Cabin John Park Citizens Association which immediately began to work for improved amenities for the community-better mail delivery, better street lighting, better telephone service. The 1920’s and 1930’s also saw many other community endeavors-the Cabin John Home Demonstration Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and, most visibly, the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department.
In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s Cabin John was faced with the possibility that several unused tracts in the community might be purchased by real estate developers interested in erecting high density housing. Concerned about what this might do to the ecology and life style of the community, the Citizens Association circulated a questionnaire in 1971 asking residents to express their views on the kind of Cabin John they wanted to live in. Then, based on the survey results, a community plan was gradually put together, with the invaluable assistance of the Montgomery County Office of Community Development. It included a zoned commercial area, previously lacking in the community, which resulted in the development of today’s shopping center. The Community Plan was agreed to at town meetings in March and April 1973 and later was incorporated legally into the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Master Plan. An outstanding example of a community determining its own future, the Cabin John Community Plan has been a major factor in preserving the Cabin John “way of life.”
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