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The land around Wheaton was home to the native Piscataway people. By 1600, incursions by the Susquehannock and other Iroquoian peoples from the north had almost entirely destroyed the Piscataway and other Algonquian settlements above present-day Great Falls on the Potomac River.
Wheaton’s European settlement started with two tracts of land east of Rock Creek patented by Col. William Joseph in 1689. Robert Brown arrived from Ireland in 1761 and purchased part of the Hermitage tract in 1797.
Although most of the farmland in the area has been developed, a large tract of woodland has been preserved in the 536-acre Wheaton Regional Park and Brookside Gardens.
Three roads cut through the original farmland: Brookeville Pike (now Georgia Ave.) was a toll road from Washington DC to Baltimore. Veirs Mill Rd. was a coach road from Wheaton to Rockville and beyond to ferry crossings on the Potomac River. Old Bladensburg Rd. (now University Blvd.) connected Georgetown, Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Bladensburg.
A small business area developed in the triangle formed by the cross section of these roads. The business district became known at Mitchell's Crossroads for Mitchell's Tavern which stood on the corner of Georgia Ave. and University Blvd. until it was destroyed by fire in 1940.
In 1826, the area post office was named Leesborough but it was renamed in 1869 for Union Brigadier General Frank Wheaton who led a charge against Confederate sharpshooters firing on Fort Stevens on the evening of July 12, 1864. Earlier that day, President Lincoln had visited Ft. Stevens and came under fire while viewing the battle to repel Confederate General Jubal Early's attack on Washington. 59 men under Wheaton's command were killed and 145 wounded.
Wheaton is the highest point above sea level in the greater Washington area and it drains into both Rock Creek and the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River, two tributaries of the Potomac.
This vantage point enabled Wheaton to become the site for the first television transmissions in the U.S. in 1928 out of the home of Charles Jenkins on the corner of Georgia Ave. and Windham Lane. Many communications towers still rise above the Wheaton skyline.
Another result of Wheaton's relatively high elevation is that its Metro station has the longest set of single-span escalators in the Western Hemisphere (508 ft.)
Today Wheaton is known for its diverse cultures, ethnic restaurants and small businesses and for the area's longest standing shopping mall. Construction started on Wheaton Plaza in1956 and by 1960 it had become the largest shopping center in the Washington Metropolitan area and remained so until Tysons Corner opened in 1968. John F. Kennedy paid a visit to the mall during his 1960 presidential campaign. Today the mall is known as Westfield Wheaton and with dozens of new stores, restaurants and movie theaters it remains the biggest attraction of visitors to the Wheaton area.
Wheaton is having a renaissance with the availability of more than 1500 new apartment units, the opening of the Wheaton Library and Community Recreational Center and the development of the downtown triangle with a 14-story LEED Platinum county office building and town plaza that is the site of the annual Wheaton Arts Parade & Festival. Click on this link to learn more about what's going on in Wheaton.
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