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Beltsville’s Dawnrose History

Mark Roby Helping Uncover Photographs
Mark Roby Oct 2020 Uncovering Old Photographs

If these walls could talk, what a story they would tell. Last year I wrote an article, Behnke These Old Wallsabout finding some long-ago photos behind some office walls. Last October, Frank Gosman’s daughter Shelley McNeal contacted me about the article. She was so excited to see old pictures of her father and hoped she could have a few. Glued to the wall, the photographs could not come off. Shelley contacted her cousin Sharon Roby Daniels to see if she could take pictures of the pictures.

Tearing Down Walls

Walking into an empty building, stripped metal and wiring, it looked like a war zone. Drywall and furniture that no one wanted laying all over the floor, making it hard for us to get to the room where the photos were. Sharon and her brother Mark Roby came prepaid to tear down some more of the walls to see any more Frank Gosman photos. With a crowbar in hand along with our cameras, the walls started coming down. What a mess, but what a sight to behold. Photos after photos of the good old days when Frank had his County Music Jamboree called the Tin Dipper.

The old George Jones song, Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes, kept playing in my head as more and more pictures showed up. Who were these people? Of course, I recognized Roy Clark and some local folks along with Frank. We found a photo of Frank’s daughter Shelley when she won the Miss District Of Columbia. There were many of the local favorite D & D Band (The Dawnrose Drifters). Then I saw pictures of the Grand Ole Opry. Frank was very much involved at the time with the Country Music Association. Photos with Frank and his different guests on his radio show CSA Jamboree 1540 WLMD that was broadcasted right there in the Dawnrose Building were everywhere. I wondered to myself, who were the guys in the Stan Dee Band? Their names, Brad, Perry, Ronnie, and Donnie, were on the drum, but who were they? Did they go on to play in other bands? Maybe someone reading this knows?

The Minuteman Building

While chatting with Shelley on the phone, she told me about the small room’s history with the fireplace facing Rt 1. In the kitchen was a stained glass window. That was once a Minuteman building, used during WW 2 as a place for soldiers to watch for enemies. When her dad built Dawnrose, she told me that he kept the Minuteman building, basically building his right over the top somehow.

One of my uncles recalls that it was there as does my mother, Sonja Behnke Festerling. Mr. Kennedy was involved with the building according to my mother. Mom and her husband mentioned to me that Frank use to play the drums in the little building around 1968.  Shelley asked me if I knew whatever happened to that stained glass as she had her wedding reception back in 1970 at Dawnrose. She told me that since her church did not have any stained glass, they had some of their wedding photos taken next to it. Unfortunately, no one seems to know where it ended up. 

Alfred Millard, Behnke’s former president mentioned when Behnke Nurseries purchased Frank’s property, the county had us take the front part of the building down. The small building was removed then.  As for the stained glass, who knows? Maybe her father took it with him to his farm. I guess we will never know. However, I wanted to learn more about precisely a Minuteman and why there was a building. I found an excellent opinion piece from the Washington Post that explained it the best. After reading his article, you can scroll down and read what Gov. Herbert L O’Conor said to Maryland’s people on March 10, 1942.

Frank Gosman’s Daughter Shelley Remembers 

I asked Shelley to give me a little history about her father and why Dawnrose came to be. Below is what she wrote to me. As you can see, Shelley is very proud of her father and his history in Beltsville, along with his contribution to the music industry.

“Dawnrose Farms started in our backyard on Roby Avenue around 1959. Dad had quit working as a milkman for Sealtest Dairy and decided to pedal his fresh farm eggs and produce door to door. The business boomed, and before long, he had five refrigerated trucks on the road selling fresh meat and chicken, along with his eggs. The Health Department told him he couldn’t cut up meat in the lower level of our two-story chicken house, so it became time to move the business. That was 1962. He had learned to lay brick at the University of Maryland in the late ’40s and built three buildings with that skill – our house on Roby Avenue, the large chicken house, and eventually, Dawnrose Farms butcher shop on Rt. 1

Butcher Shop To The Big Dipper

In 1968 he turned one side of the building into the Tin Dipper night club. He jokingly said, “I knew if I built my nightclub, I couldn’t get fired as the drummer anymore, I was wrong. I eventually had to quit playing the drums to manage the club.”

He was advertising his butcher shop on WDON radio. Tom Cat Reeder was the salesman that worked with him. Dad kept complaining that the radio announcers weren’t pronouncing the cuts of meat correctly. Tom Reeder suggested he come to the station and do the ads himself. Before long, he was doing a live, 30-minute radio show from the Tin Dipper every Sunday afternoon, playing music and advertising both businesses. People came from all over the Maryland and DC area to find his club after hearing him on the radio.

I was crowned Miss DC in June of 1969, and became a contestant in the Miss USA pageant. Mom and Dad hosted a party for me at the Tin Dipper. A year later, I was there on June 20, 1970, the year my dad built a second story onto his building. The upstairs club, The Big Dipper, seated about 300 people and was opened three nights a week in its heyday. Frank did a live radio show on WISZ for nine years and hosted an amateur singing contest every weekend. The big winner of the year won a recording session in Nashville that dad sponsored. He even had a live tv show for two years. But it got too expensive to continue.

He closed the business around 1980. Francis (Frank) Gosman was an amazing entrepreneur who enjoyed thinking of new ways to make money. He was sharp-minded, funny, and the hardest working person I ever knew. Also, he was fond of Behnke’s owners and admired Albert & Rose Behnke very much.” by Shelley McNeal 

Photographs To Enjoy

Here is a link to a photo album of all the pictures I took before leaving the building. I will love it if anyone recognizes anyone for them to leave a comment. Maybe you were in some of these old photos? Or your parents? I hope you enjoy this little road down history lane and perhaps took the time to listen to George Jones while you look through the photographs. ~ Stephanie

Mark Roby looking at all the old photographs behind the walls of Dawnrose.
Mark Roby helped uncover the hidden photographs
Shelley & Fred McNeal
Shelley & Fred McNeal June 20, 1970
Minuteman House Building
Close up of the Minuteman building
View Of Behnke Nurseries
Behnke Nurseries Property late 1950's with the Minuteman Building / House on the right side

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has 41 Comments

  1. Dear Stefanie, this remind me that since 1971, I landed in a nursery community whom I realized later, that that community really was my family, seeing the closeness of all who were employed there, with Ira, Leo, Helmut, Sonja, at the helm of the business. Others like Ike, Al and Hellen, Alfred, Bill Gamon?, Dan Johnson, John Reed and “Hans, Jos, Henk and Marcel, myself” (introductions from the Netherlands.). Remembering also a Girj ,Jony Schubart with her German shepard,(had dates with her not her dog) vagely remember a brother and sister and a guy who sometimes had to drive Mr. Behnke. and not to forget Gegory Gonzalis the fugitive from Cuba. Don Prosise was an other one working part time. Then al our Highschool students like Lynn, Lora, Donna and…. Steve, the Tungs? etc.
    Fondly remembering the upstairs dans evenings at Dawn Rose. Great bands with f/e Lonnie Donagan who took a take in Dublin with Van Morrison in Dublin ( the skiffle sessions).
    Fondly too, the downstairs, Lunch, and dinner time with music, food, beer, and topless entertainment. Sneaking a date once in a while. Good times.

    1. You know once a Behnke always a Behnke and you my friend will always be one of Behnke’s Best! Thanks for sharing your memories and the names of so many of the other Behnke Bests that have been so much a part of what made the nursery what it was. Sound like you had a pretty active social life! Take care and enjoy retirement

  2. What a walk down memory lane. I’m 81 in March but have so many memories of “Goose” Gosman, Peggy and Shelley. I lived on the U of MD Plant Research Farm on Cherry Hill Rd., my folks Mr. and Mrs. Todd. That farm is now Orchard Center and Riderwood. Don’t like that progress but am so glad I grew up in the country. Bought a pink dogwood in memory of my dad and Al Millard planted it at the Meth. church for me as he and Dad were friends. My folks and Guy and Edna Roby were friends and think I even baby-sat for Shelley long, long ago. Also think my mother worked at Behnke’s for a while with African Violets. Thank you for a wonderful article of all those memories.

    My folks and Alfred and Rose were great friends. My little harmony group sang at the Christmas celebration at Behnke’s so my memories go on and on. Great times. Also with Ed Wooten who lived across from your folks in Burtonsville. Those indeed were the good ol’ days.

    Another memory – I worked with the youth when Behnke’s had a garden connected with our church and we planted, weeded and had fun. Gonna’ shut up now as could go on an on. Thanks again for the memories.

    Remember bringing our 100 apple pies the youth made at church and Behnke’s let us sell them there. A lot of work but thanks to Behnke’s we had an out let to sell them.

    1. thank you so very much for sharing. I really was hoping to hear memories like yours. It sounds like you have so many great stories you could tell. I will make sure Alfred reads your post.

    2. my cousin tracy hinton sang there made 2 sons we sat outside so we could listen cause we were just kids that woman could sing her heart out , she sang at my moms furnerl

  3. Stephanie, I just subscribed to your newsletter as I was searching on Google and found your link. My mother, Carolyn Stroud, worked at Behnke’s for many years in the Christmas shop with Ele and in the Garden shop with Helen Gardner. I remember the “staging” of the Christmas shop was in the upstairs of the Dawnrose building. I used to stop by and visit when I got out of class at University of Maryland. They were pricing and sorting all the treasures for the Christmas shop. It was such fun to get to “shop” long before the shop opened. I actually worked in the Christmas shop for several years while in college. I learned to make bows while working there and think fondly of Behnke’s every time I make one even this long past. I have some terra-cotta angels that Ele gave me for a wedding present and think of her each holiday as they still are a part of my Christmas decorating. Such fond memories.


    Kim Stroud Perez

    1. Good Morning!
      Thank you so very much for sharing. I remember your mother and I too loved helping in upstairs Dawnrose. It was so much better than when we use to have to price things upstairs in the warehouse. Whew was it hot up there!. I will your note with Aunt Ele who is now living at Ryderwood and loves to hear from the ladies she worked with!

      take care and thank you for subscribing

    1. I think having these types of memories or stories like you say written down is something that is needed everywhere!

  4. Stephanie, thank you so much for your interesting installments – I had no idea about Mr. Gosman – but I do remember the ‘night club’ next to Behnke’s Wish I had gone there now, especially since I was living about 1 mile away in 1969.
    Now, I will have to learn more about the Minutemen. Heard about people in Laurel acting as ‘Minutemen, ” but thought they were independent renegades during the 1960s. I have so much to learn,

    say hello to your mom – I know she doesn’t remember me – but maybe Tom Hoffmeister, who passed in 1999, Sonja was one of his favorite people.

    thank you
    Pepper Scotto

    1. Of course, Mom remembers you and your dad! It’s those short term memories that get her! I hope you take the time to read the article in the Post about the Minutemen. Read all the way down to what the Gov. of Maryland asked of everyone during this time.
      I never went to the night club either but went to the butcher shop for the best sandwiches many times.
      Take care,

  5. Thanks so much for sharing. I don’t know any of these people but the articles are so interesting about this place. So cool to see the walls of photos. If you want to identify people, have you considered putting a blurb on Nextdoor and attaching a link to here? I know you reach a lot of people through your Behnke’s blog but you may be able to reach even more on Nextdoor. Who Knows?
    Do you know what group sponsored the Miss Polaris Pageant? What was she supposed to have stood for?
    Also, I’m having so much trouble picturing where things were. Perhaps next time I see you, you’d be willing to clarify the positioning of these building changes through time for me.
    Jaycee Cooper

    1. Thank you for taking the time to write. A quick search and I could not find anything about the Miss Polaris Pageant. Time to dig a little deeper unless someone out there can help us out on this. I would love it if you could share this on the Nextdoor site. If anyone else wishes to do so too that would be wonderful. I might not be the best person to clarify but I sure can find someone who can!
      take care

      1. The Miss Polaris contest was to celebrate the opening of a business development near Baltimore. It was a one time event.

  6. Thank you so much for taking the time to write more about my dad’s business, along with its connection to Behnke’s. I loved it! And all those photographs – wow! My father wanted to leave his mark on country music, and I’d say he succeeded. S

    1. Shelly, thank you for providing so much of the background for this article. As you can see from the comments above your father left his mark in our town. Thank you also to your cousins Mark and Sharon for helping tear down the walls to uncover the past.
      Take care,

  7. Very enjoyable story to read, I remember going to the Dipper Night Club a few times back in the late 70’s didn’t they have a Mechanical Bull there at one time?

    1. Yes, they did have the Mechanical Bull. I am not sure where they had it but I heard that many people enjoyed it a lot. Glad you enjoyed the story.

      1. Frank got a mechanical bull shortly after Urban Cowboy came out. For awhile it was back by the bar and then it moved to the dance floor. I think it became an insurance risk.

  8. Stephanie,
    How cool, thanks. Shelley is a good friend of my sister’s and her brother, Scott, was in my class, but I didn’t know all this great stuff about their dad and the Tin Dipper. I was probably too wrapped up in MoTown. Would be great to know who some of those folks in the pictures are.
    Thanks for continuing your emails.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and to write. I loved my Motown too! LOL Glad, you are enjoying the emails

  9. WOW!~ What a blast from the past! So many memories. Dannie Dove (Frank’s brother-in-law) sent this to me and he was the one who introduced me to Frank and the Tin Dipper. I started playing there as a solo and ended up forming a band that Frank dubbed “Big John and the Little People”. We played downstairs on weekends then moved to the “Big Dipper” and shared the stage with Stan Dee, Ron Harris, Tracy Miller, Bill Cochran, Arvin Noel and others. I will definitely keep these pictures in my archives. Frank and I were close and I feel fortunate that I got to see him shortly before he died at his daughter, Julie’s house. Thanks for the memories!

    1. Thank you so much for adding more to this history. When you are looking at the photo’s if you hold your curser down near the bottom right you can add comments if they are of people you know or even you! My step father remembers around 1969 before Dawnrose was built listing to him play the drums in what we are assuming was the Minuteman Building.

    1. Downstairs was the Tin Dipper. That’s where it all started. Country bands pretty much every night of the week and the radio show was on Sunday (WDON) Lots of talent passed through, some good,some not so good but it was always a good time. It later became a stripper club. The Big Dipper was upstairs. We played there many Friday and Saturday nights. Crowds were usually pretty good, especially when Maryland lowered the drinking age to 18 for a brief time.

      1. It sounds like you know a lot of the history of Frank’s place. Are you in any of the photos? There were so many more photos that we had not uncovered but many were destroyed due to time and dampness.

  10. i was hired to work at behnkes (my first job) in 1964) 40 cents an hour.part time. i was 13 then… in 8th grade. Ira was the boss, very nice man…he worked there for years.. Helmuth lived in the building upstairs. i never worked so hard…but it was great. i also worked for frank gossman at dawnrose farms…60 cents an hour..i was a short order cook in the carry-out which later became the tin dipper night club..i spent many nights enjoying the sounds of stan dee and tobacco road band…what history…i lived just 1 street over…garrett ave….all the memories and pictures are great….would loved to have seen the old picture wall in the old tin dipper…before it was torn down. many thanks to the behnkes….

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