In 1790, Prince George's County, along with the Commonwealth of Virginia, relinquished most of the land for the ten-mile square that would become Washington, D.C., the new Nation's Capital. George Washington chose a site on the Potomac and shrewdly negotiated the best price for land from local planters.
Following the Civil War, Washington became a boomtown and Prince George's County's population skyrocketed. Suburban communities such as Hyattsville, Bowie, Mount Rainer, and Brentwood developed along streetcar and railway lines, offering an easy commute to growing numbers of government workers. In the middle 20th century, many government agencies were relocated to the suburbs — partially due to Cold War fears of a nuclear attack on the Capital City — and plans began for the Circumferential Highway" (later known as the Beltway) to encircle the City.
The previous Woodrow Wilson Bridge, built in 1961, was designed to accommodate 75,000 vehicles daily. By 2006, the old bridge was carrying over three times that many vehicles, and frustrating many commuters. It was ceremoniously demolished that year to make way for the new bridge.
This 1962 photograph shows the cloverleaf at the intersection of Indian Head Highway and the unfinished Beltway. The Beltway would open in 1964,
linking the suburbs of northern and southern Prince George's County.
At first development in Prince George's County occurred along rail and streetcar routes. From 1930 to 1970, the advent of the car brought explosive growth and an elevenfold increase in population. At one time in the 1960s, Prince George's County was the fasted growing county in the United States. Today, suburban homes occupy the fields where the county's historic cash crop, tobacco, once grew.