Becraft Antiques – The Craft Shop – A Brief History  Helen “Dolly” Becraft Irvine


 
It all began in November of 1946.  Mr. Becraft bought the property as an investment while he was a salesman for Cushman Realty.  Mrs. Becraft was overjoyed that there was an old building on the property – empty and unused.  The building had been previously used as an apple packing shed.  She asked to use part of that packing shed to start a shop, which would feature hand-made articles from Maryland and Virginia.   Senator Harry Byrd was a friend of Mrs. Becraft’s family from Virginia, and the Senator sent her a load of apples to sell to get the money to start the store!  Many of the goods were consigned pieces as there was not much money to be spent on such inventory.  The call for consigned handcrafted goods immediately brought results from Montgomery County homemakers and Shenandoah Valley craftsmen.  Artisans brought everything from cookies to furniture.  The Montgomery County Farm Women’s Market brought hand work.  Dolly was 12 at the time.  The store was known back then as the “Wayside Kraft Exchange”.  When the State of Maryland was clearing the land for Interstate 270, they offered local residents the opportunity to cut trees down at no cost.  So, one Christmas, Mr. Becraft and Dolly’s then-boyfriend (who eventually became her husband of 59 years and counting and who still works full time running the family real estate brokerage: Becraft Realty) cut loads of Christmas trees and sold them for $1.00 a piece at the store to help raise funds to buy the merchandise to sell -- and those of you who know Dolly well, will not be surprised to know that Dolly still has the original “Christmas Trees for $1.00” sign squirreled away at the shop!
 
RT. 355 at the time was then a simple country two-lane road.  The Gaithersburg town limits were closer to the bridge.  Dolly was even able to ride with her horse and sleigh on Route 355, right in front of the store!  The business grew so much that a new structure was built behind the old building in 1952.  The new building was 30’ x 100’, and the total cost was $7000.  Most supplies came from Macks at the Rockville junkyard.  They were tearing down good areas of DC and Macks had wonderful marble fireplaces, doors, windows, and supplies. One day, Mr. Becraft saw a truck full of bricks going down 355 in front of the store… he chased it down because he knew the bricks had come from the 18th century building that the County had torn down to make room for the “new” Rockville jail.  He was able to purchase those bricks, and with them were able to build that  much-loved large Williamsburg replica cooking fireplace in the center of the store.
 
Dolly herself graduated from Gaithersburg High School in 1952 and went to New York City that same fall for Parson’s School of Design and NYU.  After Parson’s, there was a post-graduate design program in France and Italy, then back to decorating from Gaithersburg.  Dolly and company furnished many model homes for Pepco Gas Company and builders such as WC and A and Miller, Kettler Brothers, etc., as well as many restaurants, offices, a few banks and consulted on historic  restoration projects .  All generations of the family enjoyed and studied at many Antiques Forums in Williamsburg, Deerfield, Pennysbury, Winterthur, etc.
 
Carol was born in 1964 and found a part time home in the play pen of the design office.  She later grew into the business, just as Dolly had.  Mrs. Becraft’s health failed in the 1970’s.  Mr. Becraft, who had continued his real estate and insurance endeavors with an office in the building, passed away in 1981.  The bombshell for the store was in the 1980’s when the State of Maryland took away land for an expanding 355 – taking away signage, the front parking lot, and an important entrance to the building. 
 
Over the years, the family has done it all – antiques shows, lectures, TV appearances and enjoyed many truly wonderful clients.  Washington was a small town back in the 50’ and 60’s and non-partisan.  So the women would all come together, whether it was Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, or Mrs. Robert Dole or Mrs. John Glenn…  Any time at the shop you might see David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, and the wonderful people of the era. The family  antique glass interests lead  to the purchase of the Amelung mansion property in Frederick County.  The Smithsonian and Colonial Williamsburg were excavating there at the time.
 
The store was the first Henkel-Harris furniture dealer and also sold Kittinger, Statton, Clore, Biggs, Craftique, Hickory Chair, and numerous other handcrafted furniture lines. They also carried Haviland, Spode, Royal Worcester, Mottadeh, Red Cliff, Royal Copenhagen, and oodles of other fine china. Glassware was by Heisey, Imperial, Blenko, Wheaton, Hawkes, Steuben, and lots of other fine glass makers. Brassware featured pieces from Virginia Metal Crafters and Baldwin and
Williamsburg hand-wrought iron. Pewter and Sterling came from Steiff, Kirk, Gorham.
 
Much of the glass and china is antique.  They spent many years buying entire estates – from the attic to the basement – so that meant getting everything from the 17th and 18th century pieces, all the way down to the contents of the kitchen cabinets. It made for a diverse and varied store… 
 
Sadly, at the age of 84, Dolly has decided it is time to semi-retire and close down the store (but will continue in the real estate business).  She has decided to sell some special pieces at the shop that were never, ever going to be for sale, alongside some of the treasures unearthed after digging into the store warehouses. She will very much miss her daily contact with treasured clients and friends and staff – and that wonderful brick fireplace, which she burnt on a daily basis – but looks forward to some of her special treasures at the store moving on to wonderful new homes for the next generations to enjoy.



 

   
   
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