Bethesda Community – Montgomery County

In, 2009, Forbes magazine placed Bethesda, Maryland on two of its sought-after lists. They deemed the neighborhood as one of America’s “most educated small towns” and, also, ranked the town second on its list of “America’s Most Livable Cities.” followed suite and anointed Bethesda as one of the “top-earning” towns in The United States. With all of these accolades, the bar set on Bethesda is quite high, and it meets it time and time again.

Bethesda is situated on a major thoroughfare that was originally the route of a Native trail. Here, Native Americans hunted game while traversing through the area. Between, 1805 and 1821, the route was developed into a toll road called the Washington and Rockville Turnpike. The road facilitated easier trade from Rockville to Georgetown of tobacco, wheat and other products. It was 20 feet wide and veered off from an older Georgetown Road running straight toward the county seat towards Rockville. A small, wooden tollbooth appeared with the task of charging travelers 12 and one half cents for a score of sheep or hogs, six and one half cents for every horse and rider and 25 cents for a coach or stage with two horses.

By, 1862, a small settlement grew around the tollhouse and one general store – Darcy’s Store. The government declared the area was populated enough to support its own post office and established such in William Darcy’s store. Darcy served as postmaster until Robert Franck took over the position. Then, in 1871, Franck petitioned for a naming of the village – Bethesda – which would be called after a local church, The Bethesda Meeting House, taking its name from Jerusalem’s Pool of Bethesda. (In Aramic, Bethesda means “House of Mercy” and in Hebrew “House of Kindness.”)

Throughout the 19th century, Bethesda was a small village consisting of a post office, blacksmith shop, church, school, store and few houses. In, 1878, the population numbered only 20 – among the population one attorney, one doctor, two blacksmiths, one carpenter, one carriage maker and one storekeeper. But, in 1890, the streetcar line was introduced, which caused Bethesda to boom.

The trolley was critically acclaimed. In Bethesda, its terminus was at Alta Vista, north of Cedar Lane. The railway company then built an amusement park as an incentive for weekend and evening riders. The park became one of the District’s most visited entertainment centers and featured roller coasters, a Ferris Wheel, bowling alleys, shooting galleries, a concert and dance hall and a hotel.

By, 1900, the trolley extended into Rockville and subdivisions began to appear in Bethesda. Old farmlands became the buzzing neighborhoods of Drummond, Woodmont, Edgemoor and Battery Park. Several wealthy families built large, beautiful mansions such as James Oyster (Strathmore, 1988); George Hamilton (Hamilton House, now Stone Ridge School, 1904); Gilbert Grosvenor (Wild Acres, 1928) and Merle Thorpe (Pooks Hill, 1927 which became the home-in-exile of the Norwegian Royal Family during World War II.)
During the 1920s, Bethesda buzzed. On July 8, 1930, the village’s first traffic light was installed at the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and East-West Highway. The state ordered a counting of cars and in the same year a study was completed which found 6,000 vehicles traveling along the East-West Highway and Old Georgetown Road and 8,000 automobiles on Wisconsin Avenue.

Following World War II, Bethesda underwent great expansion. The Federal Government installed the National Medical Center (1940-42) and the National Institute of Health (1948.) These two campuses drew government contractors, medical professionals and other businesses into the area to keep up with the new demands. Soon, a residential and commercial boom ensued, which was consistently maintained well into the 21st century.

Today, Bethesda is home to the headquarters of multinational and domestic powerhouses. Lockheed Martin, Coventry Healthcare and Marriott International are all based here. PNC Bank, Capital One, Charles Schwab and Fidelity all have regional offices here. Bethesda Row, a trendy and hip shopping area in the neighborhood, features such shops as Barnes and Noble, Apple, Aveda, LuluLemon and dozens of other shops and boutiques.

Fine dining is never an issue in the community. Seasons 52, a fresh grill and wine bar concept eatery, Newtown’s Table, which features a Bison Rib eye and Green Papaya, serving the best Vietnamese coffee in the area, are all found on Bethesda streets. As are a plethora of Starbucks, CVS, Giant and Whole Foods stores. They intermix with local coffee, dry cleaning, stylists, doctors, dentists and CPA firms.

One feature of Bethesda is its distinction as one of the Madonna of the Trail Monuments sites. These monuments, erected by the National Old Trails Association (working together with the Daughters of the American Revolution) are a series of 12 statutes dedicated to the spirit of American pioneer women. The remaining 11 monuments are found in Springfield, OH; Wheeling WVA; Council Grove, KS; Lexington, MO; Lamar, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Springerville, AZ; Vandalea, IL; Richmond, IN; Beallsville, PA and Upland, CA.

Of course, Bethesda is also home to the Congressional Country Club. This course is recognized as one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. It has hosted four major golf championships, including the 2011 United States Open.

There is much to see and do in this neighborhood. Residents flock to its townhouses, its condominiums and its single family unit homes. Long neighborhoods provide a residential community that is close to the action of both downtown Bethesda and Washington, D.C. The convenience and diversity create a magnet which pull Washingtonians straight toward its direction.


Originally, this neighborhood was home to the Paleo, Archaic and Woodland Native American tribes. They lived nearby on the banks of the Potomac and followed the Seneca Trail, also known as the Great Indian War and Trading Path. This trail, which is now Old Georgetown Road, ran from Upstate New York through the Mid-Atlantic and south into Alabama and North Bethesda was a stop along the way.

Tobacco became the lifeline of this area and by the early 19th century, most of what is now North Bethesda fell within the parameters of a plantation owned by a slave-owning family named Riley. The plantation specialized in tobacco and scholars maintain that one of the slaves on the plantation, Josiah Henson, was the inspiration for Harriet Beacher Stowe’s monolithic work Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The plantation would eventually dissolve and parcels of the land would be sold.

As the streetcar and railway lines moved into Montgomery County during the late 19th century, North Bethesda flourished. By the early 20th century, the neighborhood laid its own trolley tracks on the line connection Georgetown and Rockville on what is now Fleming Avenue. Development boomed and, after World War II, North Bethesda grew in leaps and bounds. Partially due to the success of Bethesda proper, which drew residents into its boundaries and partially due to the automobile, which made the neighborhood more accessible than before, North Bethesda found its number of residents rapidly increasing.

As the decades flew by and the neighborhood became a proper suburb, shops, boutiques, specialty firms and restaurants moved in to fill the needs of its new residents. White Flint Mall moved into the area and provided a one-stop shopping center full of both chain and local shops.

Today, North Bethesda still calls residents to live in its single family homes, apartments and condominiums. Development along Rockville Pike has spurred even more growth. The accessibility of the neighborhood (its proximity to I-270 and the Capital Beltway as well as its direct route into Washington via Rockville Pike/Wisconsin Avenue) are a key feature as even more people move into the area. The area is becoming trendy and it is certainly expanding in its reputation.


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