Nestled in the woods behind 81st Street are the remnants of Bucolston Quarry. A brief stroll along the path leads to the mossy outline of a shallow pond and ruins of a stone cottage, its graffiti-covered chimney still precariously standing. Some rusted metal bits, both large and small, litter the woods amongst decaying leaves. A stone bridge arches over the creek.
The trail running from the end of 80th Place into the woods is used mostly by dog walkers nowadays. However, to local Cabin John boys in the 1950s (and perhaps a few girls), the old abandoned quarry and woods were a place of endless adventures and exploration, model boat races in the creek, and even home to a storied recluse with countless cats.
Bucolston Quarry was owned by Hugh White, a federal government lawyer who resided on Main Street (now 81st Street). It operated from 1926 to 1943. The quarry supplied the stone for the Calvert Bridge in Washington, DC, as well as an underpass in Silver Spring.
Dennis Carter spent his primary school years in Cabin John and moved to the house his father and uncle built at the top of 81st Street in 1950. Now living in Texas, he recently reminisced about his adventures in the quarry and woods behind his house, which he, his brother, and friends roamed as kids.
The small building along the dirt road was the “weighing station” and opposite was an “obscure elliptical pond which was always covered with layers of leaves. This is where we used to come and get tadpoles.” One night the weighing station caught fire, and Dennis remembers the fire trucks lined up along the dirt road below his house. His father “went down and helped put the fire out with my mother’s broom. Needless to say, there wasn’t much broom left when he returned.”
During one summer, Dennis and his brother built a dam in the creek and held toy boat races with other neighborhood children. They built cable cars from toy erector sets which traveled along a kite string rigged from his porch into the woods.
As with many childhood adventure stories, there was also the requisite mysterious figure in the woods who instilled fear into neighborhood kids. “We called him the ‘Cat Man,’” says Dennis. “I only saw him once when he cut across our yard, probably on his way to hitch hike up Persimmon Tree Road. All I remember about him was that he wore a large brimmed floppy hat and had a long coat” and lived in the weighing station with many cats.
Cabin John resident Paul Mazzi grew up on 81st Street and has lived here his entire life (except for his 1966-1969 stint in the army) and “can’t imagine living anywhere else.”
Paul was friends with Dennis’ older brother Fuzzy, and he too fondly recalls adventures in the woods. “The stone quarry was a most amazing place. For us young boys it was adventure on steroids.”
He describes two large ponds created by the excavated stone that measured about 30 x 40 feet across and up to a few feet deep. The nearby creek and rain water ensured the ponds were always full. “Snakes, salamanders, spiders, frogs, tadpoles—who could ask for anything better than that.”
Paul also remembers the recluse residing in the woods, albeit slightly differently as the cat lady, called “Cat Man” by Cabin John kids. Cat Man lived with many felines “in a ramshackle shack across from the weigh station. Everything was in a state of disrepair,” says Paul, “ and I saw the elderly lady only on rare occasions. We would sneak by the shack hoping not to be noticed and scolded.”
As he and his friends became older, the canal and river became far more interesting spots to explore.
Evan Mater, who died in 2021, lived on 81st Street his entire life. Evan knew the old quarry well, and once led a small group of neighbors on a tour of the woods many years ago. He even found the remains of his old 1949 Plymouth that he’d crashed into the quarry as a young man, in an attempt to create some cinematic smash-up that ended in a fizzle as the car rolled down into the hole. Wander far enough into the woods and you can still find it. (Bob Peterson, a neighbor, wrote about this excursion for The Village News in 2008).
Evan also shared his memories of Cat Man living in the woods looking after many strays. Cat Man apparently never returned after the weighing station burned in the fire, though the cats wandered the woods for many years after.
That timelessness of childhood adventure and wonder continues in Cabin John. When we first moved here, my school aged children loved to explore these woods too, poking around the old weighing station, building a dirt bike track, and searching for treasures with a metal detector. We never did come across any cats.
By Rachel Donnan