The History of The J.A. Belt Building And Growlers
On July 11, 1889, Mr. John A. Belt, a leading merchant in Gaithersburg, purchased the prominent southwest corner of Diamond and Summit Avenues from J. Sprigg Poole for $200. On it he built the J.A. Belt building – one of the largest buildings in the county. The store and its public hall, known as Norman Hall, immediately became the pivotal structure of Gaithersburg’s social, cultural and governmental activities.
Because Mr. Belt assumed many prominent roles in civic, fraternal, and town affairs, including Postmaster and Town commissioner, Norman Hall presumed its first public functions as Post Office, Town Hall and Polling Place. It wasn’t long before it became the social and cultural center of Gaithersburg as well as housing the Town’s first library.
Because of its stage, it became the preferred location of theater, lectures, recitals, musical presentations and high school graduations. Belt’s finest moments were those where he hosted the Fraternal Order of Pentalpha Lodge No. 19k4, of Masons, which was formed in Norman Hall on July 7, 1893. Mr. Belt was an avid supporter of the Lodge, serving in many capacities and as Worshipful Master in 1897.
On September 18, 1903, John Belt was in Westminster when a fire began in a stock of brooms in the J.A. Belt building’s wareroom. The flames soon spread to several stocks of oil and flammables, then to a large stock of ammunition. The employees of the store were driven out by the exploding ammunition and had to leave the building without saving any property, goods or business records. The loss was estimated at twelve thousand dollars. Unfortunately, Belt never recovered financially from the loss of his stock and damage to his property. Thus, the store was managed by Mr. Marshall Walker until 1914, when the building was offered for sale at auction on March 21, 1914.
Following its sale, the Belt building has been home to many other uses, including: W. Lawson King’s Auto Showroom, George Woodfield’s Maytag Service, Walker’s Grocery, Frank Ciarrachi’s Restaurant, Clark’s Photography, MacMurray’s Floral Arts and Armand’s Pizzeria.
Today, the J.A. Belt building is considered the oldest commercial property in Gaithersburg. The building has recently undergone a complete historic restoration and is listed on the National Historic Registry. The marriage of the old and new in this historic building creates a unique environment well suited for the reproduction of our turn of the century tavern.