Bowie's rural roots offer visitors a peek into the area's past


Bowie has come a long way from its days as a rural railroad station on the line between Washington and Southern Maryland.

The area was originally part of 10,000 acres deeded to Lord Calvert in 1658. The acreage - later christened Belair - was purchased by provincial Gov. Samuel Ogle, who established his estate and racehorse stables there in 1743.

In the 1870s, the railroad came to this rural area, known as Huntington. The train station and later the town were named in honor of local resident and Gov. Oden Bowie.

In 1898, New York horse breeder William Woodward bought Belair and re-established the thoroughbred stables there. The nearby Bowie Race Course was built in 1914 as a way for Woodward to showcase his prized horses. (The track later became a training facility.)

Though the railroad brought visitors and commerce to Bowie, and the racetrack and Woodward's horses brought national acclaim, the city was still largely a rural outpost until the 1960s. That's when 2,000 acres of the Belair Estate were sold. Developers long aware of Bowie's proximity to Washington (12 miles), Annapolis (15 miles) and Baltimore (20 miles) - began building houses, and a bedroom community was born.

Today, Bowie is the largest municipality in Prince George's County and the fourth-largest city in Maryland. It's home to 50,000 residents, almost 2,000 acres of parks and open space and museums, sports venues and shopping areas.

The mansion and stable were donated to the city by developers in 1964. The city also runs the railroad station museum. (Unless otherwise noted, the city-owned museums are open noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday or by appointment for groups of 10 or more.)

Bowie is also home to the Bowie Baysox, the Class AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

What to see

Belair Mansion (12207 Tulip Grove Drive, 301-809-3089): Built in 1745 as the Colonial estate of Ogle, Belair also became the home of Ogle's son, Gov. Benjamin Ogle. Later purchased by Woodward, the mansion was enlarged in 1914. The Georgian-style buildings have been restored, and the estate is on the National Register of Historic Places. The museum's collection includes paintings given to the Ogle family from Lord Baltimore, engraved silver, furnishings and other items. The museum's popular teas include mansion tours. The next tea is a Valentine's Day event, Feb. 13. Call for reservations.

Belair Stable Museum (2835 Belair Drive, 301-809-3088): From the 1930s through the 1950s, Woodward operated one of the country's top racing stables at Belair. The stable produced Gallant Fox and Omaha, father and son Triple Crown champions. Belair was also home to Nashua, the 1955 "Horse of the Year." When the stable closed in 1957, it was the oldest continually operated horse farm in the United States that was still raising horses for racing. Some racing enthusiasts believe even today that the Belair bloodlines can be traced in every noted American racing thoroughbred.

Bowie Ice Arena (3330 Northview Drive, 301-809-3090): Home to a hockey club, a figure-skating club, a high school hockey team and the Washington Junior Nationals hockey team, as well as a regular schedule of lessons and private training, the arena also holds daily public ice-skating sessions. Don't miss the family public sessions - up to five members of the same family skate for just $12 plus skate rental. There are also regularly scheduled pickup hockey and figure-skating sessions. The Hockey Club's annual tournaments are this month and next month. The Figure Skating ISI Valentine's Invitational is Feb. 13.

Bowie Playhouse (6314 Crain Highway in Whitemarsh Park, 301-262-6200): The playhouse is home to two permanent production companies. 2nd Star Productions will open the Marx Brothers farce Room Service on Feb. 25. A children's show, not yet announced, will be staged in March. The Bowie Community Theatre will offer An Inspector Calls by J.B. Priestly in April.

Bowie Railroad Station and Huntington Museum (8614 Chestnut Ave., 301-809-3089): In 1872, the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad built the first railroad station as part of its lines between Washington and Southern Maryland. The buildings that house the museum were built in the early 1900s and later restored and moved to the museum's present location.

Freeway Airport (Church Road off Route 450, 410-792-0380): An introductory flight lesson with a Federal Aviation Administration-certified instructor costs $60. If you let them know when you're booking, you can bring a friend along for the ride. Freeway offers lessons and certification as well as a two- and four-year degree program in conjunction with Community College of Baltimore County, Catonsville. Plane rentals are available. Some pilots offer sightseeing flights by appointment.

Radio and Television Museum (2608 Mitchellville Road, 301-390-1020): Radio from the crystal sets of the 1920s and the earliest televisions. The vast collection of artifacts is displayed at Harmel House, home to one of the first Jewish and later African-American businesses in the area. Open 1 p.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

Where to eat

Retro Tea and Gifts (13015 Ninth St., 877-708-7387): Enjoy tea or lunch at this tea-themed antique and gift shop in the Bowie Antique Depot. Open Thursday through Sunday afternoons. Reservations recommended.

Rip's Country Inn (3809 Crain Highway, 301-805-8901): Homestyle favorites including steak, seafood and chicken at a combination restaurant-hotel-liquor store that's a local landmark.

Tia's Tex-Mex (16461 Excalibur Road, 301-805-2286): Margaritas, fajitas and more. This Texas-based chain has only one other Maryland location.

Where to shop

Old Town Bowie (Ninth, 10th and 11th streets and Chestnut Avenue): Antiques shops abound. There are also other small businesses in this revitalized section of town.

Bowie Town Center (Route 197 and Northview Drive, 301-860-1818): Promenade-style shopping center that offers more than 50 national chain stores, a nine-stand food court and a number of restaurants, including DuClaw Brewing Co. and Olive Garden.

Getting there

Take Interstate 97 South to Route 3 South. Follow to a right on Route 450 West. Continue to Route 197 (Collington Road). Route 197 leads to historic Bowie. The mansion and other attractions are off Route 197.

More information

Call the city of Bowie at 301-262-6200, or visit www.cityof For the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce, call 301-262-0920, or visit

For more regional trips, see Page 32.

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