Early Silver Spring and Sligo
Before European settlement, Silver Spring was the home of Algonquin Indians of the Piscataway Nation, who used the area for hunting grounds and may have had small settlements. When English colonists came, the area was a part of Virginia. It became a part of Maryland when Charles I granted the new Maryland colony to the first Lord Baltimore in 1632. As the population grew, Maryland was subdivided into ever smaller counties. The land which would eventually become Silver Spring was a part of Charles County until 1695, when it became a part of the new Prince Georges County. It then became a part of Frederick County in 1745 when that county was carved out of Prince Georges. Finally Montgomery County was created on October 1, 1776, from a part of Frederick County.
Two land grants were of particular relevance for Silver Spring. The area that became downtown Silver Spring more or less south of Colesville Road was granted as "The Girls Portion" in 1688 to Henry Darnall. It contained 2.775 square miles. The northwestern boundary of the tract more or less paralleled Colesville Road or an extension of its route from Sligo Creek Park almost all the way to the intersection of Oregon Avenue and Military Road in the District of Columbia. Its eastern boundary ran from Sligo Creek just north of Colesville Road almost to Piney Branch Road at Mississippi Avenue. It paralleled Piney Branch Road to about Military Road, where it slanted west to meet its northwestern boundary. The tract included all the area that became downtown Silver Spring and the northern part of Takoma Park, but about two-thirds of the parcel became part of the District of Columbia.
The area more or less north of Colesville Road, including Woodside Park, was granted as Labyrinth. Labyrinth was a 2,112 acre (about 3¼ square mile) irregularly shaped tract originally granted by Lord Baltimore, the Lord Protector of Maryland, to William Beall, James Beall, and James Edmonston in 1732. The tract was resurveyed in 1744 and repatented by William Beall and James Edmonston in 1750. When resurveyed, the tract was calculated to contain 2,069 acres. While the word "labyrinth" today has a connotation of something very difficult and complex, perhaps even hopeless, at the time the word connoted a striving toward perfection and hopefulness in overcoming difficulty. The modern connotation, however, accurately describes the shape and boundaries of the tract. It is best (but very inadequately) described as "U" shaped. The sides of the "U" are extremely irregular. The right side of the "U" extended from what is now Myrtle Street in the District of Columbia to slightly north of University Boulevard at Inwood Avenue in Wheaton. The southeast boundary was the property line for "The Girls Portion." A "beak" of the northern extension of Labyrinth went almost to Four Corners, but a large irregular area north and east of the Sligo Creek Golf Course was not included. The west boundary of the eastern side of the "U" was somewhat more regular. It went, more or less, straight north, passing just west of the modern intersection of Brookville Road and Seminary Road. At Dennis Avenue, however, the boundary shifted east to about Huntly Avenue. The bottom and left side of the "U" are straighter but even stranger. Most of the bottom of the "U" is a narrow strip about 600 foot wide that extends almost 2½ miles west from about Sixteenth and Myrtle Street in the District of Columbia to the intersection of East-West Highway and Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda. The strip jogs down roughly 600 feet at about the intersection of Woodbine and Summit Streets in Chevy Chase. It also has an irregular shaped appendage that extends down, more or less along modern Brookville Road, to Chevy Chase Circle at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Western Avenue. An approximately 250 foot wide appendage from this appendage extends almost ½ mile west into the Chevy Chase Country Club half way to Wisconsin Avenue at about Oxford Street. The western side of the Labyrinth "U" is a 500 foot wide strip that extends more than 1¼ miles north from East-West Highway and Wisconsin Avenue to almost the northern edge of the National Naval Medical Center grounds. It then has an extension, also about 500 feet wide, that goes just over one mile straight west and ends about two blocks west of Old Georgetown Road along Oak Place. Surveying the tract must have kept a small army of surveyors occupied for some considerable period. The long narrow strips and irregular boundaries of Labyrinth probably resulted from an attempt to claim gaps discovered between previous land grants which had been intended to be contiguous but which in reality were not because of poor surveying.
Surveying in the 1700s was not an exact science. There were many errors, as the differences between the 1732 and 1744 surveys of Labyrinth point out. The errors were often carried down into more modern deeds. For example, the deed to Alton Farm, which was subdivided to create Woodside Park, indicates that the entire farm was a portion of the Labyrinth land grant. Modern plotting of colonial land grants, however, indicate that a strip of the farm along Colesville Road west to about half way to Fairview Road had actually been a part of "The Girls Portion." The Alton Farm mansion probably was right on the boundary between "Labyrinth" and "The Girls Portion."
The lack of precision in surveying the land grants did not affect settlement of the area. There was some rural settlement in what is now Silver Spring after the land grants. A short-lived post office called Simpsonville was established in 1816. But the real development of Silver Spring began with Francis Preston Blair. In 1842 Francis Preston Blair, who was editor of the Washington Globe from 1831 to 1849, went horseback riding in the wilderness beyond the Maryland-D.C. line. He came across an attractive spring in which silvery mica flakes gleamed. He liked the area and later purchased several hundred acres. He built a large house which he named "Silver Spring." He moved out of Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington in 1854, gave the house to his son Montgomery Blair, and lived in "Silver Spring" until his death in 1876. The house was demolished in 1955 to make way for the post office at 8051 Newell Street, but the site of the silver spring, if not its free flowing water and mica, has been retained in a small park at East-West Highway and Newell Street, about two blocks west of Georgia Avenue. Francis Preston Blair's son, Montgomery Blair, established a home called Falkland near his father's "Silver Spring." He was counsel for Dred Scott in the infamous Supreme Court case and later served as Postmaster General in Abraham Lincoln's cabinet.
Francis Preston Blair wanted to promote the area around his new home and lobbied for the establishment of a post office. He succeeded, and the Silver Spring post office was opened in 1861. Two years later its name was changed to Sligo, which was the name of the area near the intersection of the Brookeville Turnpike (Georgia Avenue) and the Colesville and Ashton Turnpike (Colesville Road). In 1899 another post office called Silver Spring was opened closer to Blair's home while the Sligo office remained open as well. The area in the vicinity of Blair's Silver Spring estate, i.e., from the D.C. line up to or perhaps above the railroad overpass on Georgia Avenue, came to be known as Silver Spring whereas the area around Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road retained the Sligo name well into the Twentieth Century. C&P Telephone had a Sligo exchange, and the name appeared as late as 1958 on a highway map of the state issued by the Maryland State Roads Commission, but most use of the name seems to have ended in the 1930s.
For many years the general Silver Spring area consisted of little more than farms and then summer homes and country estates of wealthy Washingtonians. There were roads to Washington, Georgetown, Baltimore, and the settlements to the north (Olney and Brookeville), but transportation difficulties limited the area's development. Growth was slow even after the B&O Railroad's Silver Spring station (1873) and other stations were opened to serve the area. An 1879 directory stated 50 people lived in Sligo (apparently including Silver Spring). In addition to the Postmaster, the directory listed two blacksmiths, a carpenter, a miller, two physicians, and 10 farmers.
An article in the Evening Star of July 27, 1889 described the area as both a major distribution
point for farmers because of the B&O station and as the site of many country estates of prominent
people. "The beautiful rolling country of the Silver Spring area, though not platted out by the real
estate operator, is dotted over with the attractive residences of people who have established
charming country homes with spacious surroundings of lawn, park, forest, and farm." Francis
Preston Blair had started the trend to establish such estates in the area, but after passenger service
began on the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad in 1873, more and more country estates
were established by the wealthy. The railroad made it possible to live in Silver Spring and still
work regular hours in Washington. Among the estates in the 1890s were the old Blair and Lee
estates; "Bleak House" owned by Washington's "Boss" Shepherd; and the estates of prominent
developer B. H. Werner, Major Getty, Wright Curtis, Colonel C. O. B. Bryant, former Secretary
of the Treasury Hugh McCulloch, former Collector of the Treasury John F. Cook, and Mrs. H.
M. Hutchinson. Mrs. Hutchinson was the millionaire widow of the President of the Alaska Seal
Skin Company. There was even a widely publicized rumor in January 1889 that President-elect
Benjamin Harrison had purchased Mrs. Hutchinson's estate and was planning to use it as a
summer White House. When Mrs. Hutchinson debunked the rumor, the Evening Star said "if
General Harrison were in search of a country residence . . . he could not go to a more desirable
locality than the vicinity of Silver Spring; . . . for many years it has been the country retreat of
many of the wealthy citizens of this city, and is famous for its handsome places."
The Metropolitan Branch, the Trolley Line, and Early Suburban Development
Real estate developers began platting Silver Spring's first "suburban" developments several years after the opening of the B&O's Metropolitan Branch made commuting to Washington possible. The first reported suburban development was in 1887, when, as the Evening Star reported, "Mrs. John Wilson has divided her place into 5 and 10-acre building sites. Mr. J.C. McDowell has purchased one of these lots and is putting up a house for his own residence." There was little other interest in these large lots, however, and the subdivision cannot be regarded as the start of suburban development in Silver Spring. Some of the lots later became part of the Silver Spring central business district; others eventually became Griffith's Addition to Woodside Park. Other parts of the Wilson Farm were not subdivided for residential use until the 1950s.
In 1899 Benjamin F. Leighton purchased and subdivided the farm of another member of the Wilson family immediately across Georgia Avenue from what is now Woodside Park and created "Woodside." This subdivision, adjacent to the B & O railroad and served by a new station, successfully attracted home builders and buyers to its smaller, more typically urban, lots. This was the first true suburban development in any modern sense in Silver Spring.
Later there was some residential development along what was then called Blair Road (now Sligo Avenue) and other streets parallel to it off what is now Georgia Avenue. Even as late as World War I the residential area of Silver Spring proper (as opposed to the suburban developments such as Woodside [old Woodside, not Woodside Park], Linden, and Forest Glen) consisted principally of houses on Sligo, Silver Spring and Thayer Avenues east of Georgia Avenue, with some scattered dwellings on Georgia Avenue and a few on Colesville Road. Most of the area was still either used for farms or country estates. The Thompson Farm covered much of the area now bounded by Georgia Avenue, Colesville Road and Bonifant Street, east to about Dale Drive. The old farm house is on the north side of Pershing Drive just east of Cedar Street and was used by the Academy of the Holy Names for many years. Much of this land was sold to builders about 1919. Bonifant Road (now Street) was the access road to the Bonifant Farm (at Dale Drive, about where Montgomery Blair High School was located before its replacement was built at Four Corners), and to the Nolte Farm (a 21 acre truck farm) to the east near Piney Branch Road.
The rural nature of the area even as late as 1918 can also be seen from the fact that J. Everett Schrider, who built his home at 1515 Grace Church Road in 1940 and was a president of the Woodside Park Civic Association, lived as a boy on a 22 acre dairy farm about where the Ascension Episcopal Church is now located (633 Sligo Avenue). In 1918 his family was milking 17 cows including a Guernsey named Rosey which was exhibited in the County Fair.
Even the construction of the street railway (trolley) line out Georgia Avenue and then up a right-of-way that later became Seminary Road to Forest Glen did little to spur growth. Much of the little "suburban" growth that occurred took place in Leighton's Woodside development, Linden and Forest Glen rather than in Silver Spring proper.
Although the trolley line served as an incentive for suburban development, the service was inconvenient for a number of years; until 1911 riders had to transfer to other trolley lines to go all the way downtown. Even after that a separate fare (5¢, later raised to 8¢) was required to ride in Maryland. The trolley stopped running north of the District line on December 15, 1924. The immediate cause of the end of trolley service was the construction of the first B&O Railroad underpass for Georgia Avenue. Work on the underpass was to begin in 1925. In May 1924 the trolley company proposed replacing the trolley cars with buses, but this was met with massive citizen opposition and was not approved by the Public Service Commission. Nevertheless service had to be converted to buses while the Georgia Avenue underpass was under construction. Trolley service was to resume after the underpass was completed, and the underpass was built with one lane for the trolley tracks. Once the "temporary" buses were running, however, the trolley company again petitioned the Public Service Commission to permanently replace trolley service with buses. The Public Service Commission granted this request on March 15, 1927. Removal of the tracks and equipment was approved less than a month later. The trolley right-of-way along Georgia Avenue was taken over by the State in June 1927.
The B&O passenger service had remained important even after trolley service began. The B&O service was more expensive but a trip downtown took only 20 minutes compared to 45 minutes on the trolley. The B&O ran many regularly scheduled passenger trains through Silver Spring to downtown Washington. In 1917 besides the Silver Spring station on Georgia Avenue, there were stations at Fenwick Street, Woodside, Linden, and Forest Glen. Fares in 1917 were reasonable for commuters. A round trip ticket from the Fenwick station cost 30¢ (equivalent to about $3.70 in 1997 dollars), but a commuter could purchase a monthly pass for $5.05 (1997 equivalent: $62.60), which would reduce the per trip cost to about 11.5¢ (1997 equivalent: $1.42, which is somewhat less than Metro's rush hour fare from Silver Spring to Union Station). The Fenwick station was closed in 1923. The Woodside Station burned in February 1928 and was not rebuilt.
Commuter rail service to and from downtown Washington is still available. The service provided
by the B&O has now been taken over by the Maryland Department of Transportation's MARC
trains. Metro began providing rail service to Silver Spring on February 15, 1978, just over 53
years after the last trolley run, when the Silver Spring Station opened as the temporary end of
Metro's Red Line. Ironically, Metro's line on to Forest Glen and Wheaton passes directly under
the "Triangle," (the area between Georgia Avenue, Seminary Road, and Seminary Place) which
was an important stop on the trolley, but only an emergency entrance to the tunnel marks the
Highways, the Automobile, and Later Suburban Development
Road transportation was less important than train and trolley transportation to new suburban residents until the popularization of the automobile. One observer stated that the Brookeville Turnpike (now Georgia Avenue) in 1900 was a mud hole with trolley car tracks along the east side and a toll gate that charged two cents for a horse and carriage. The gate was slightly south of what is now Colesville Road, about at Trinity Place, which is on the west side of Georgia Avenue between Colesville Road and Wayne Avenue. The road was originally built before 1815. It was taken over by the Union Turnpike Road Company, which was chartered in 1849 to build a road from Washington to Brookeville, and operated as a turnpike until the State purchased it in 1913.
Despite the "mud hole" description, at the turn of the century the Brookeville Turnpike was narrow and flint-rock surfaced. It was also one of the best roads in the county. Indeed, most of the best roads in the county were in, or led to, Silver Spring. The Brookeville Turnpike and the Colesville and Ashton Turnpike (now Colesville Road) comprised all but 8 miles of Montgomery County's total of 45 miles of improved stone, gravel, or macadam roads in 1899. These roads were good, however, only in comparison to the county's 790 miles of unimproved dirt roads. The turnpike undoubtedly had its share of mud holes and the meeting or passing of vehicles often forced one vehicle off the "improved" road altogether.
The Colesville and Ashton Turnpike, now Colesville Road, was operated by a company chartered in 1870. The road ran from the Brookeville Turnpike northeastward, probably on the route of an earlier road. A family named Allen lived in a toll house near what is now Dale Drive and operated the toll gate until about 1913. The toll house was then used by several taverns and restaurants. Since 1930 the old toll house (now expanded) has been used as Mrs. K's Toll House Restaurant.
The common acceptance of the automobile made highways and streets increasingly important to suburban residents. By about 1900 the District's Seventh Street Pike (now Georgia Avenue) had been paved north to the Maryland state line. In 1913 the Maryland State Roads Commission purchased the Brookeville Pike from the District line to Ashton from the Union Turnpike Company for $20,000 (1997 equivalent: $322,500). The toll gate was removed on November 3, 1913. Soon thereafter the road was resurfaced, and in 1923 a two to three foot wide concrete shoulder was added; paving concrete shoulders along narrower roads was a common road widening method of the time. Seventeen street lights were installed along the Pike and other Silver Spring streets in 1916, but they were turned off at midnight to save money. Despite the fact that there was a crossing guard (reportedly a man with a wooden leg at least some of the time), the Georgia Avenue grade crossing of the B&O--now CSX and Metro--tracks was considered dangerous. It was eliminated in 1926 by the opening of the underpass, which was popularly called the "subway." The new underpass soon proved to be less than satisfactory. It had two standard width lanes separated by piers from one narrow lane. Not only was it dangerous for traffic because of the way the narrow lane originally planned for the trolley line was adapted for automobile traffic, but it was also prone to flooding.
The underpass was entirely rebuilt and widened when Georgia Avenue from East-West Highway to Colesville Road was rebuilt six lanes wide in 1948. The underpass reconstruction alone cost $1.4 million (1997 equivalent: $9.2 million) and included a $100,000 (1997 equivalent: $660,000) sewer to prevent further flooding. The widening project was long overdue. Traffic on Georgia Avenue was among the heaviest in the State in 1938; the road averaged 15,000 cars a day. Plans for widening Georgia Avenue and the underpass were approved in 1941, but World War II caused the project to be postponed. The new underpass finally opened to tremendous enthusiasm. A crowd of 70,000 people watched the governor cut the symbolic ribbon. There was a mile long parade. Further road improvements followed. Georgia Avenue along Woodside Park was widened from two lanes to six lanes with a median in 1950.
The Georgia Avenue underpass was again modified starting in 1973. This time the railroad was changed, not the street; Metro widened the underpass so its tracks could be built between the B&O tracks. The work was done in a way to make the new construction almost indistinguishable from the 1948 bridge. The underpass was cosmetically renovated in 1991. Among other improvements, an abstract skyline of Silver Spring was painted on its south side.
Although Colesville Road had extended northeast from Georgia Avenue since at least the 1860s and perhaps much earlier, it was not built southwest from Georgia Avenue to Sixteenth Street until 1927. Indeed Sixteenth Street itself had only very recently been extended above Alaska Avenue in the District at this time. It had taken a major effort in the House of Representatives' District Committee led by Maryland Congressman Frederick N. Zihlman to get it extended. Sixteenth Street was extended farther north to where East-West Highway intersects it by 1928. The street stopped here until about 1956 when it was extended northward to Georgia Avenue.
Before the extension of Sixteenth Street and Colesville Road, the suggested route to Woodside Park from downtown Washington shown on promotional brochures and maps was Sixteenth Street, Alaska Avenue, and north on what is now Georgia Avenue.
East-West Highway (then called the Bethesda-Silver Spring Highway) was built in 1928 and 1929. A 1930 map shows it going no farther east than Sixteenth Street, so a traveler from Bethesda to Silver Spring would have to go south on Sixteenth Street to Colesville Road and then up Colesville Road to "downtown" Silver Spring. That was a great improvement over the previous routes, however, which would have required either going through Kensington or into the District and using Military Road to Sixteenth Street. By 1933, the Bethesda-Silver Spring Highway was the busiest road in the county, carrying an average of 4,147 cars a day.
The last major highway work in Silver Spring was the construction of the Beltway. The road was
initially constructed with two lanes in each direction, but has now been widened. The first section
to be opened in Maryland was the two-mile segment between Georgia Avenue and University
Boulevard. Governor Tawes cut the ceremonial ribbon on December 20, 1961. The section west
of Georgia Avenue opened in 1964. Neighborhood residents who were teenagers at the time
report drag racing on the unopened Beltway from Georgia Avenue to as far as River Road until
the police put a stop to the practice.
Commercial Development in Silver Spring
Silver Spring's growing road network and traffic congestion reflected increased commercial and residential growth after the popularization of the automobile. What is now downtown Silver Spring slowly became the area's commercial core. There was minimal growth in the first 15 years of the Twentieth Century. Major Gist Blair, grandson of Francis Blair, once had a large home on the west side of Georgia Avenue between Wayne Avenue and Bonifant Street, about at the location of the former main Silver Spring post office at 8412 Georgia Avenue. He wrote that in 1917 Silver Spring consisted of 75 dwellings, 10 stores, a mill and a national bank. He concluded rather prophetically, "Its growth and prosperity are assured". His count excluded such "far-out" developments as Woodside and Forest Glen.
The bank, which had only been in operation since 1910, was the Silver Spring National Bank. It later merged with the Takoma Park National Bank and became Suburban National Bank and then Suburban Trust Company. Ultimately it was merged into Nations Bank.
The post offices serving the area were consolidated in downtown Silver Spring beginning in 1904 when the Woodside post office closed. The Sligo post office closed in 1907 and the Linden post office closed in 1917. The post office closings furthered the trend toward development of a commercial core in downtown Silver Spring.
The first hotel in downtown Silver Spring, the Silver Spring Hotel, was built in 1911 in the triangle formed by Cedar Street, Houston Street, and Easley Street. It was later used as the Bullis School and is now owned by the Park and Planning Commission.
From 1916 to 1923 the Kengla Brothers operated a slaughter house in the rear of their residence on the north side of Colesville Road between Georgia Avenue and Fenton Streets, a few doors west of Fenton, about where the J.C. Penney store was later located. There were pens in the rear to confine animals awaiting slaughter. The proprietors operated a meat market in downtown Washington as well as selling fresh meat locally.
The first chain grocery store opened in 1917 when a Sanitary Grocery opened on the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road, where the Lee Building is now. The store counted among its customers a dog which would walk in with a bag of change (and presumably a shopping list) in its mouth and proudly walk home with his purchases carried the same way. An A&P opened a few years later nearby. For a time in the mid-1920s there were A&P and Sanitary grocery stores located next to each other in two different blocks along what is now Georgia Avenue. One set was near the post office and the other was near the B&O station. But even with the availability of "modern" grocery stores, many of the residents kept a cow to provide fresh milk and hens to provide fresh eggs and meat. Those who had a cow might sell fresh milk to one or more neighbors. It was common practice in the warm weather to "tether out" the cow beside the road or in a vacant lot. At least one resident raised one or two pigs every summer for fall slaughter.
Silver Spring began a period of rapid growth after World War I. The years from 1924 through 1927 were banner years for construction in Silver Spring. The completion of the Georgia Avenue "subway" under the B&O tracks led to a building boom. During 1924 and 1925, Griffith and Perry built an office building and warehouse for their coal and feed business just north of the B&O station. The Hunter Brothers built a new hardware store and showroom immediately to the north of the Griffith and Perry property. The Silver Spring National Bank also built a new building in 1924. Other new stores and restaurants were also built. Some houses facing Georgia Avenue were converted to use as stores. In 1927 the old County Office Building on the south side of Colesville Road near Georgia Avenue, the Armory, the Masonic Temple building on the southeast corner of Georgia and Wayne Avenues, the National Institute of Dyeing and Cleaning buildings (now Metro) on the east side of Georgia Avenue just south of the railroad underpass, the North Washington Realty Company Building at the District Line on Georgia Avenue, the Maryland News building at Georgia and Sligo Avenues, and several buildings on the west side of Georgia Avenue north of the railroad station (including the Seco theater, later Roth's, at 8242 Georgia Avenue) were all constructed.
By the 1930s there were over sixty stores along Georgia Avenue from the B&O station north toward and even slightly beyond Colesville Road. As the Depression eased, commercial activity increased. The art deco style Silver Spring Shopping Center and Theater complex on the southeast corner of Colesville Road and Georgia Avenue opened on October 28, 1938 to considerable public acclaim, including a special section in the Washington Post. The shopping center had cost $300,000 (1997 equivalent: $3,353,000) to build. It originally included an A&P grocery store and a Kresge's among its 19 businesses. It also had a Gulf gas station in the front parking area and a tunnel connecting the front parking area to the parking area in the rear. Before construction of the Shopping Center, the site had most recently been the Glen Cottage Orchard and a beer garden; before the repeal of prohibition in 1933, it had been a poultry farm and, according to one early resident, "a regular trash dump."
World War II stopped further commercial development, but Silver Spring became a major suburban shopping area in the post-war period. The Hecht Co. opened its Silver Spring store on November 1, 1947. The store was the first suburban department store in the Washington area and one of the first in the country. It had 160,000 square feet of selling space and was located at Fenton Street and Ellsworth Drive. A small portion of the store was added later to front on Colesville Road, at the far end of the block from the Silver Spring Shopping Center. Hecht's made every effort to publicize its new store. The grand opening celebration was covered live on both WGAY [AM] radio and Channel 4 television, then know as WNBW. Charles Dulcan, Hecht's vice-president and general manager later said "Our original plans were compounded of business judgment and a gamble. But it also took courage to bring the full facilities of a streamlined, air-conditioned, multi-million dollar department store to a residential area that was only beginning to feel its oats."
The importance of the Hecht store would be hard to over-estimate. The store was the first department store outside of downtown Washington, and its opening signaled the growing importance of the suburbs and the rise of the Washington metropolitan area as we know it today. No longer was shopping centered only downtown; in fact, while stores in Washington closed on Saturdays during July and August, Hecht's ran full page ads promoting shopping on Saturdays at their Silver Spring store. There were special sales. Some ads played up the fact that the store was air conditioned. At least one full page ad had a large drawing of the store with snow drifts and icicles hanging off the sides of the roof as the hot summer sun beat down on a crowd of happy shoppers heading for the store. "Refreshing as a dip in the ocean! Invigorating as a lake breeze! That's how pleasant it is to spend your Saturdays strolling . . . through the air-cooled aisles of The Hecht Co. Silver Spring. What's more, here's a whole extra shopping day to enjoy!" In July 1950 Hecht's introduced its bargain basement, "the first complete suburban Downstairs Store in America--right in the heart of Silver Spring!" with $250,000 (1997 equivalent: $1,625,000) worth of merchandise and the "same lower prices which have made our Washington Downstairs Store so famous! Come and see Thrift glorified in a great
new suburban Downstairs Store."
Other commercial development followed. Joseph R. Harris, a women's clothing retailer, built a store across Ellsworth Drive from the Hecht Company store in 1949. The Hahn Shoe store also opened in 1949; the Lee Building, which has been on the same site (northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road) since 1987, follows the architectural example set by the Hahn building. Sears closed their store at 5928 Georgia Avenue in the Brightwood Area of D.C. and moved to a new store at 8455 Colesville Road (between Ramsey Avenue and Second Street) in October 1949. A month later the Bank of Silver Spring opened its new building at 8665 Georgia Avenue. This was the first bank in Montgomery County to have a drive-in window. The building was later used by the Chambers Funeral Home and is now the District Court. The J.C. Penney store opened across Colesville Road from Hecht's in 1950. Jellef's, another major retailer, was located on Colesville Road between the Shopping Center and Hecht's. The Eig Building at 8641 Colesville Road, which had offices, stores, and a Hot Shoppes, opened in 1951. Downtown Silver Spring also had a number of "dime" stores and many other well-known merchants. By 1949 Silver Spring was home to 60,000 residents, and the Washington Times-Herald reported that about 420,000 people drove to Silver Spring to shop. Silver Spring had the second busiest business district in Maryland; only downtown Baltimore surpassed it. Indeed, with the exception of downtown Washington, nothing surpassed Silver Spring between Baltimore and Richmond.
All those shoppers needed parking. The Shopping Center and J.C. Penney provided their own parking, but more parking was needed even before the Hecht store opened. The first public parking lot in the county was opened in Silver Spring in 1945. By 1950 there were nine lots with 6,000 free parking spaces. Many more lots and garages soon followed, but the property owners in the Parking District ultimately decided to pass part of the costs of the parking on to drivers, and parking meters were installed.
With the rise of the suburban shopping centers with free parking in the 1960s the Silver Spring shopping area lost its luster. Wheaton Plaza was fully opened in 1960. Within three years it had become the fourth largest grossing shopping center in the United States, drawing much of its sales away from downtown Silver Spring. Sears built a new and larger store in White Oak. Montgomery Mall opened in 1968 and not only was the Washington area's largest shopping center, it was also the first to be fully enclosed. More customers were lured away from Silver Spring. Jellef's, David's mens wear, the Pfaff sewing machine store, Mazor Furniture, and Carpetland all left in the summer of 1979. The Hecht store closed near the end of 1987. The J.C. Penney store remained open somewhat longer. The Silver Spring Shopping Center and the Silver Theater were stripped of their art deco decoration and architectural elements in August 1984 by their owner who was trying to prevent the property from being determined to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Lloyd Moore, a developer who had an option on the site, then terminated the leases of most of the remaining businesses in the Center, further damaging Silver Spring as a viable shopping area.
While Silver Spring may have declined as a shopping area, it grew in importance as a central business district and high density residential area. There was a major building boom in Silver Spring in the early 1960s. In 1963 alone, the eleven story, 162 room Sheraton Silver Spring (now Quality Inn) opened at a cost of $2.5 million (1997 equivalent: $13 million); the first of the Blair Apartment high rises on Colesville Road opened; the office building at Sixteenth Street and Spring Street was completed; and the Summit Hill Apartments opened. The World Building on Georgia Avenue was also under construction, as was the American Bank of Maryland building (later First American and now First Union bank) on the northeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Cameron Street. The World Building, with its radio tower rising from the roof for WGAY, was completed in 1964. The WGAY transmitter was so large it had to be lifted to the penthouse by a crane parked in Georgia Avenue. Only after the transmitter was moved into the building from the roof was it discovered that RCA had shipped the wrong transmitter. The crane had to be brought back to remove that transmitter and lift up the correct one after it arrived. A sewer capacity moratorium eventually brought the building boom of the early 1960s to an end.
In the 1980s commercial Silver Spring started to rebound with a boom in office building development. Developer Lloyd Moore built the first new office building in perhaps 15 years at 1100 Wayne Avenue in 1982. 8484 Georgia Avenue opened in 1984. The Silver Spring Business Center opened in 1985. It was followed by the Lee Building at Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road and the three building Silver Spring Metro Center complex, both in 1986. Regardie's magazine featured Silver Spring as a "rediscovered treasure" in a special May 1986 "Regional Report." Foulger Pratt built a complex of buildings for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration just west of the Metro station along East-West Highway in the early 1990s. New high rise apartment buildings were also finished in 1992. Both Lenox Park, opposite the Metro station at Colesville Road and East-West Highway, and Alexander House at Second and Cameron Streets opened. The Hecht store has now been reconstructed and enlarged to become the City Place shopping mall, which opened in the spring of 1992. Caldor built a new department store on East-West Highway adjacent to Acorn Park and the original Silver Spring. Other new stores have also opened along Colesville Road and other downtown streets, but general redevelopment has been held up by aborted plans for first the retail mall Silver Triangle project and then the American Dream mega-mall project. In 1997 plans for a new "Downtown Silver Spring" were announced. This Foulger Pratt project was smaller and more locally oriented than was the American Dream.
Besides downtown Washington and downtown Silver Spring, one other commercial area served
Silver Spring residents in the early years of the Twentieth Century. It was the "Triangle," as
Montgomery Hills was then known. The name came from the fact that the trolley tracks of the
Washington, Woodside, and Forest Glen Railway and Power Company, which came up the east
side of Georgia Avenue, turned west and crossed the turnpike at what is now Seminary Road on
their way to Forest Glen. The Triangle was the area between the trolley line, the turnpike route to
Georgetown (now Seminary Place), and the turnpike on south to Washington (now Georgia
Avenue). The trolley line stimulated construction of a general store and livery stable at the
Triangle in 1900. Country people could leave their horses while they went downtown on the
trolley. The tudor-style Montgomery Hills Shopping Center replaced the general store in the late
1920s. A Sanitary Grocery was located on the corner of Georgia Avenue and Columbia
Boulevard (Seminary Road). It moved as a Safeway store to 9315 Georgia Avenue and then to
9440 Georgia Avenue, where the Staples store is now. A grocery store which became Snider's
was also built there. Other shopping strips followed after World War II, including those along
Georgia Avenue near Montgomery Hills. Shopping strips were also built in Wheaton and at
Woodmoor in Four Corners in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Besides transportation and the availability of goods and services, suburban development requires education for residents' children. While the children of more affluent early Silver Spring residents went to schools in the District of Columbia or even Rockville by way of the B&O Railroad from its opening until 1909, most Silver Spring children attended the two-room, two-story Sligo School that had been on the south side of Colesville Road near Fenton Street (now the site of the City Place shopping mall) since around 1860 when public education began in Montgomery County. Children also attended other one or two room schools, such as those built at Linden and Forest Glen in 1899. These schools apparently were of less than satisfactory quality; they certainly were over-crowded. Some children went to small private schools operated by an individual teacher in her home.
Residents of Woodside and other new suburban developments grew increasingly dissatisfied with educational opportunities for their children. In 1904 they began efforts to consolidate the small schools. In 1906 the Home Interest Club became involved, raised $5,000 (1997 equivalent: $84,000) to build a new school, and found buyers for the old schools to be closed. A site on the southwest corner of Georgia Avenue and Ballard Street valued at $3,000 (1997 equivalent: $51,000), was also donated. But a total of $16,000 (1997 equivalent: $271,000) was needed for the project. A mortgage was obtained by the Woodside School Association for $8,000 (1997 equivalent: $135,000), and the school was built. After a special law was passed by the Maryland legislature authorizing the county commissioners to accept the gift of a school subject to a mortgage, the county accepted the completed school subject to its $8,000 mortgage.
As a result of this extraordinary citizen effort, Woodside School (now the site of the county government's Silver Spring Center) opened to considerable acclaim in 1909 as the first consolidated school in Silver Spring. It was judged to be the county's finest public school and was "a modern structure throughout, with especially good facilities for lighting and heating." Indeed Woodside School was one of the first structures on the west side of Georgia Avenue to be built with electric wiring and electric fixtures. The school was also innovative in other ways; it was the first in the county to have student Safety Patrols to help younger students get across the street.
The new school was ready just in time for an influx of new students who previously attended schools in the District of Columbia. D.C. schools were then thought to be of much higher quality than Montgomery County schools, but in 1911 the D.C. schools started charging tuition; in 1912, they excluded non-resident students entirely. School enrollment boomed in Montgomery County.
From the beginning of Woodside Park, most neighborhood elementary school students attended Woodside School. Indeed the school was somewhat of a selling point for the new subdivision. In 1925 an early version of today's "gifted and talented" program, an "upgraded room," was apparently begun at the school after Board of Education discussion of the matter. Soon the school needed more space. Five more classrooms, a cafeteria, and a kitchen were built in 1924, and lots for a playground were purchased in 1927. A report in 1950 stated that the building was in fair condition and was overcrowded with 529 students. It also noted that "no art is offered here." The building was improved both in terms of curriculum and facilities. A new building was built in 1957 and a gymnasium was built in the 1970s.
Because of declining enrollments and demographic changes in the 1970s, Woodside School sent its fifth and sixth grade students to Oakland Terrace School in 1976. In 1978 Woodside was paired with Woodlin School on Luzerne Avenue west of Second Avenue. Woodlin was not entirely unknown to Woodside Park residents since the school, which opened in September 1945, already served Woodside Park residents on the north and east side of Dale Drive and their neighbors in Woodside Forest. Kindergartners and students in grades one and two were sent to Woodlin. From 1979 through the spring of 1982 Woodside School served fourth, fifth and sixth grade students from both its own attendance area and that of Woodlin, while younger students from both schools were taught at Woodlin. Woodside School was closed in the fall of 1982 and all its students were sent to Woodlin. Six portable classrooms were used while a five room addition plus a gymnasium were completed. This addition, which also brought enclosed connections between the various buildings that make up the school, was completed in 1984. Starting in 1986 sixth grade students were sent to middle school at Sligo rather than remaining at Woodlin. Enrollments continued to increase and portable classrooms were again needed while another addition was constructed. One of the portables caught fire while unoccupied before school started one day in the spring of 1989; classes were held in the "all purpose room" (cafeteria) for the rest of the term. The addition opened in the fall of 1989, complete with a new library as well as additional classroom space.
For many years Woodside Park students beyond elementary school grades went to Montgomery Hills Junior High School on Brookeville Road at Seminary Road, just west of Second Avenue. The building was constructed in 1937 as the first school building designed for junior high school use in Montgomery County. Six classrooms were added in 1947 and a gymnasium was added in 1948. In 1950 there were 585 students and two buildings, with a third under construction. Subjects offered included "English, social studies, math, algebra, Latin, art, music, home arts, and physical education." The PTA sponsored monthly dances and there were a variety of extra-curricular activities, including a student council and athletic teams. This school was closed at the end of the 1975-76 school year and leased to the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, which initiated classes there in September 1976. Students that would have attended Montgomery Hills Junior High were sent to Newport, Kensington, and Sligo Middle Schools. Woodside Park public school students now attend Sligo Middle School, which is located on Dennis Avenue just west of Sligo Park. Sligo was constructed in 1959 and was renovated in 1990.
Woodside Park students have attended many high schools. Before Takoma-Silver Spring High
School opened in 1924, students took the train to Rockville to attend Richard Montgomery High
School. Some may have continued to do so even after Takoma-Silver Spring opened. When
Montgomery Blair opened in 1936, it began serving Woodside Park students. Montgomery Blair,
located at Dale Drive and Wayne Avenue, was within walking distance of Woodside Park. In
1950 the school had 1,136 students, an academic building, a commercial building, a gymnasium,
and a new football stadium. There was a major renovation in 1966. At this writing Woodside
Park's public high school students are assigned to Albert Einstein High School on Newport Mill
Road north of University Boulevard in Wheaton. Einstein opened in 1962.
Another Silver Spring educational institution, the library, was begun in 1931 by the Women's Development Club of Silver Spring as a children's library with 600 books in the East Silver Spring Elementary School. It was open for two hours on two afternoons and one evening each week. In 1932, after more books had been donated, the library also offered books for adults. Annual dues of $1.00 (1997 equivalent: $11.70) were instituted and delegates from 18 civic organizations met to formalize the library's operation. Assistance was received from the Montgomery County Superintendent of Schools, the Maryland State Library Association, Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Library and the D.C. Public Library. Students in Montgomery County schools made bookcases and magazine racks. The library moved to the Blair House in the Jessup Blair Park near the D.C. line about 1935. The library's hours increased to 12 per week. In the late 1930s a bill was passed in the State legislature allowing tax support for the library but there was only enough money for some salaries. Volunteers were still needed to staff evening hours and a branch which was operated in the Willis Motor Company for a time during World War II. In 1949 the tax rate was 4¢ per $100 of assessed valuation, but because of Silver Spring's rapid post-war growth some new residential areas were not taxed. Residents of these areas could use the library free, but residents of other non-taxed areas had to pay a fee of $1.00 a year to use the library. The library's budget was about $25,000 (1997 equivalent: $168,000)) a year. In 1949 the library was open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday hours were 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Competing library service was also provided by Brentano's in the Silver Spring Shopping Center. Brentano's offered a rental collection, which was claimed to include "every type of current work available." Brentano's also offered books for sale. A branch of the Silver Spring Library was opened in Four Corners at the Marvin Memorial Church in 1948. A Wheaton branch was opened in 1950. In July 1951 the Silver Spring Library Association agreed to transfer all its assets (including the two branches) to Montgomery County, which took over operation of the libraries.
The current Silver Spring library building opened on January 26, 1957 at 9101 Colesville Road
just across from Noyes Drive on land donated by the Hecht Company. Other sites had also been
considered for the library, including the northwest corner of Georgia Avenue and Ballard Street,
where the Woodside United Methodist Church is now located. That site was rejected as too
expensive because the owner claimed he would "hold out for $1.00 (1997 equivalent: $5.89) per
square foot if it took ten years." The selected property on Colesville Road was the alternative that
next best met the selection criteria, and the price was certainly right. The library was closed for six
weeks for renovation in 1973. By 1976 library technology was changing. The library was one of
two county libraries that then made Super-8 films available for home use; it was one of three that
had access to "Dialog," an on-line computer information system. The library was again closed,
this time for about a year, in 1988. The building was renovated and expanded with the addition of
a larger periodicals area, but back issue storage was eliminated as was most of the book storage
area in the basement. Much of the basement was given over to bookmobile use. The reference
room was eliminated in favor of a large "quiet room." Only a small reference collection was
There was no organized fire protection until 1915 when the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department (originally the "Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Company") was established. Organization of the Fire Department had been precipitated by a fire that destroyed the Silver Spring post office in May of that year. Money was solicited door-to-door, and the first "truck" was built from wheels made out of discarded drain grills found at the Hunter Brothers hardware store. Other equipment consisted of two ladders and 15 hand extinguishers. Hoses were unnecessary since there was no public water supply. The ladders were stored in a shed behind the Silver Spring Armory, then at the southeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Silver Spring Avenue. After the 1927 dedication of the new Silver Spring Armory, the old armory on the southeast corner of Georgia Avenue and Silver Spring Avenue was converted for use as a fire station. The Department moved into its new station with its two trucks, the newest of which could pump 350 gallons per minute. In 1944 the Department was the first in the area to equip its trucks with two-way radios. By the late 1940s the Department had eight pieces of equipment, including a relatively scarce ladder truck. It also operated a rescue squad vehicle. The Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department now also operates a station on Seminary Road in Montgomery Hills. Land for that station was acquired in 1957 after its acquisition was proposed by Page Hopkins, President of the Fire Board and son of Woodside Park founder Charles W. Hopkins. This station was opened about 1960 and is the closest fire station to Woodside Park. It was renovated in 1992.
The Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department also provides rescue squad service for Woodside Park residents. In the early 1950s crews were not trained as well as they are in the late 1990s. In December 1950, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph C. Williams, later of 9017 Alton Parkway, were headed to George Washington University Hospital for the birth of their fifth child, but as the Washington Post put it, "their start was a little late." Mr. Williams pulled the car into the firehouse on Georgia Avenue as the baby arrived. Private Preston Wheeler took the wheel and Captain Robert Vernie crouched in front to support Mrs. Williams and the new baby. "Off they all dashed to Washington Sanitarium. County police rode ahead and cleared the way with sirens." Mr. Williams told the Post: "It's all right now, but it sure was rough. None of the rescue squad men knew what to do and that made it unanimous. They were swell, though. We made it through all right."
The Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department has not always been the only fire service in the area,
at least if a Fox Movie-tone newsreel can be believed. In 1928 "the Women's Volunteer Fire
Department of Silver Spring" also served the area. According to the Maryland News:
The Women's Volunteer Fire Department of Silver Spring, under the capable direction of Mrs. Clay V. Davis, fire chief, gave an excellent performance in a realistic fire-fighting act performed for the Fox Movie-tone people last Saturday afternoon.
In the first act, Miss Helen Dolan [of Woodside Park] and Mrs. E. Cissen, each captain of a truck, skillfully drove the rubber-coated members of the department in a wild dash to the scene of the fire. A small shack, typical of a boy's clubhouse, had been built on Silver Spring Avenue for the occasion. Gasoline was poured on this, and the place was set on fire and the company went into action.
Volunteers from a large crowd of children who had been attracted to the scene were called for and asked to rush out of the building. Miss Virginia Sheppard and Billy Rouse were chosen for a "close up" rescue and did a superb piece of work.
Orders were obeyed with exactness and celerity which would do credit to seasoned veterans and the fire was soon under control. Many of the fire-fighters were drenched to the skin, but in the excitement of putting out a real fire without the aid of "mere man" were "thrilled to death and didn't care."
The members who featured in this act were Mrs. Clay Davis, who is fire chief; Mrs. J. Jovenal,
president of the Auxiliary and a lieutenant; Mrs. J. G. Glover, vice-president; Miss Helen Dolan,
captain of No. 3 truck; Mrs. E. Cissen, captain of No. 2 truck; Miss Isabel Hewitt, lieutenant;
Mrs. Hall, Mrs. Bender, and Miss Gates. The company has about sixteen active members and are
pioneers in this activity.
Silver Spring first had a police force on July 4, 1922, when Officer Guy L. Jones took up his duties. The Maryland legislature had created the Montgomery County Police Department only a few months earlier. Before that time, deputy sheriffs both handled police matters and served civil papers. They were paid on a fee per service basis. There were also a few constables with authority only in particular election districts. Even after the County Police Department was established, there was little police presence in Silver Spring. Initially the County force had only five officers plus the police chief. They patrolled on motorcycles from their office in the Courthouse, but only Officer Jones was regularly assigned to Silver Spring. Anyone arrested was handcuffed and made to ride behind Officer Jones on the motorcycle all the way to the Courthouse.
A review of the police day book from the time indicates that the Silver Spring officer was not particularly busy. Indeed no crime at all was reported in Woodside Park between September 1924 and September 1927, the period for which records are available. There was not much crime in the rest of Silver Spring either, although Officer Jones investigated when a house on Grace Church Road in old Woodside was entered--nothing taken--in 1924. An old Woodside resident's bicycle was stolen from in front of the Sanitary Grocery Store on Georgia Avenue in 1925. Crime seemed to pick up in 1926. A Buick parked at the Toll House Tavern was stolen; a house on Colesville Road at Spring Street was entered and a beaded bag with cash, an automatic pistol, and a pair of new low tan shoes were stolen; and two truck tires left at the side of the Hunter Hardware store on Georgia Avenue disappeared. There was more crime, especially housebreakings, in Chevy Chase and Bethesda than in Silver Spring.
The first police station in Silver Spring was established in 1927. Initially a rented store front was used, but in December the station was moved to the newly completed County Office building on the west side of Georgia Avenue at Trinity Place, just south of Colesville Road. The new station had three cells for women and six for men. Fourteen more officers were hired to man this station and a station also established that year in Bethesda. Since the force had no radios, a flashing red light was placed on top of the station to alert officers to call in from call boxes placed around the area when they were needed. Legislation in 1927 ended the policing role of the deputy sheriffs; their role was restricted to serving papers.
The enlarged police force was handy when the Silver Spring National Bank was robbed in 1928. The robber hired a cab in the District to take him to the bank and wait while he held up the bank. He fled the bank in a hail of bullets fired by cashier Fred Lutes, dropping a considerable amount of money as he went. He made it to the cab, which then took him to Takoma Park, where he got out and escaped on foot. Incredibly, he was captured when he telephoned for another cab later that day. The driver recognized him and called police.
Radio communication came in the early 1930s when patrol cars equipped with radio receivers replaced most of the police motorcycles. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department broadcast police calls for Montgomery County officers using their station WPDW at the high end of the AM radio band, but there was no way for the officers to respond by radio to the calls. Two-way radios were not installed in police cars until 1943. Eighteen officers were assigned to Silver Spring in 1941. In 1950 forty-four uniformed policemen and five plain-clothes detectives were assigned to the station. In addition to the Captain's car, there were ten radio-equipped police cars and two motorcycles. Privates received $2,500 (1997 equivalent: $16,500) per year. Crime was not a serious problem in the late 1940s. From July to December 1949 the biggest problem was drunkenness and disorderly conduct, with 279 arrests (reportedly mostly of construction workers from the South temporarily working in the area). There were 65 assaults, but only 7 housebreakings, 11 thefts under $25.00 (1997 equivalent: $168), and 9 larcenies over $25.00. The current police station at 801 Sligo Avenue opened in early 1962.