Local History: The Cabin John Community Store

Like many Cabin John residents, my dog Toby and I know Alpine Veterinary Hospital well. This particular site along MacArthur Boulevard has served the Cabin John community for nearly a century. Long before it started welcoming pets through its doors in 1973, it was a center of Cabin John’s social life—a grocery shop and gas station that went by various names including Benson’s and Sid’s, as well as a soda fountain, barbershop, and laundromat.

Judge Charles E. Benson, an administrative judge and county commissioner, was one of the early residents of this area and played a substantial role in the development of Cabin John as a community. In 1907, he purchased part of Thomas Tuohey’s property along Conduit Road and Halifax Street (now MacArthur Blvd and 78th Street). Benson owned a number of structures including a store, stable, blacksmith shop, garage, and home. 

Benson’s shop was a vibrant neighborhood place; it was a meeting here in 1930 that led to the establishment of the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department. Judge Benson was also known to hold court in the back of his store, where he’d administer the occasional fine to drivers caught speeding along Conduit Road (or let them go).

Benson’s market later morphed into Cohan’s. In 1940, Louis Cohan and his wife Jenny lived in Cabin John where Louis was manager of a retail grocery. His 1942 draft registration card lists his employer as the “Community Store” of Cabin John and Charles E. Benson as his main contact. 

Shortly thereafter the market was known as Sid’s. “If you were looking for someone, that was where you went to find out where they were,” recalled Millie Ransome in 2011 while reminiscing to Judy Welles about Cabin John in the 1940s and 1950s. Here you could find out “anything about anybody.” Millie had grown up on 78th Street and frequented the market when she was a teenager. 

Recently, local Cabin John history buff Rich Hirsh came across an interesting find on eBay: a 1954 Sinclair Service Station promotional calendar for Lachman’s Cabin John Market, purveyor of “Meats, Groceries, Frozen Foods & Sundries.” The question is, who was Lachman?

Mary Morgal and Evan Mater, two long time Cabin John residents, remember this market and gas station as “Sid’s.” While the market bore a sign out front saying Lachman’s, customers in the 1950s never called it that. Whether or not Sid was the Lachman of the sign remains a puzzle; so far, no Sid Lachman, or any other Lachman, has been found living in or near Cabin John at that time. 

Evan Mater recently recalled the shop during the 1950s: “Gas pumps. And a big tank with kerosene. It was your basic small grocery store of the day…Next to the store, to the east, was a small diner. It was all one building, the diner and the store. Served the usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” He remembers a barbershop where he went for haircuts as a young boy, located downstairs below the diner. There was also a car and motorcycle repair shop run by Walter Spates located out back. 

While the gas pumps remained, rowdy teenagers who hung around the diner eventually led to complaints and its closure. The local kids moved on to the nearby Dickerson’s Grocery (once the Good and Quick and now the Captain’s Market), a short stroll down MacArthur and Cabin John’s only other gas station at that time. More importantly, according to Evan Mater, was the free air for your bike tires at Dickerson’s. “An important point to bicycle riding kids in that day.”

By Rachel Donnan

Contributing Writer

[See photos by accessing the article in the Village News Archive: 2021 May Newsletter]

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