Grace Episcopal Church
Grace Church, located at Grace Church Road and Georgia Avenue, predates the establishment of Woodside Park by about three quarters of a century. Land was obtained from the Wilson family for the church in 1855. Construction on a modest church building was begun in 1857, but the structure was probably not completed until 1863 and perhaps even later.
One local legend says that when General Jubal Early marched his Confederate forces down what is now Georgia Avenue in 1864 he stopped at the church and asked why it had no roof. He was informed that there was no money to build one. Some sources say he sent $100 (1997 equivalent: $1,020) to pay for a roof on his return to the South, but research by Joyce E. Nalewajk has determined that it was actually Union General Ambrose E. Burnside and not Confederate General Early who contributed $100 to finish the church building after "ladies of the parish" sent a message to him "imploring him not to destroy their little chapel" as his men raided the countryside as they pushed the Confederates back from Fort Stevens.
The cemetery adjacent to the church contains the bodies of 17 Confederate soldiers (three officers and fourteen privates) who had been killed either on their way to or at the battle of Fort Stevens in D.C. Some say they were killed in a skirmish at the church. In any event, the 17 soldiers were buried in a row of separate graves along the south side of the cemetery. In 1896 the Confederates were reburied in a common grave at what became the southwest corner of the cemetery with a monument constructed there in their memory paid for by "Southern sympathizers of the community," according to Mildred Newbold Getty's history of Grace Episcopal Church (which serves as the source of much of the information presented here). Although the graves may have been moved in anticipation of the construction of the trolley line, they were not moved during the construction of the trolley line as some sources indicate. The trolley line was graded in front of the church between June and September 1897.
In 1867 the church bought additional land behind the church for $200 (1997 equivalent: $2,250) from John C. Wilson to build a rectory but soon backed out of the deal and had its $200 returned. The Vestry apparently took this action because John C. Wilson and his wife had been Northern sympathizers during the war. An alternate site for the rectory was procured across what is now Georgia Avenue from Richard Wilson, another heir to the Wilson Farm who had been a Southern sympathizer. The land returned to John Wilson was repurchased by the church in 1924 from the Woodside Development Corporation for $1,700 (1997 equivalent: $5,700) to extend the cemetery. The cemetery was never extended, however, and the current (third) Grace Church building is now on this land.
On June 6, 1896 the original church building was destroyed during choir
practice when a member of the choir slapped at a moth and accidentally
knocked over a kerosene light. Despite the efforts of a bucket brigade
bringing water from a well at the rectory across Brookeville Pike, the
church burned to the ground within an hour. Construction of a new
church building was promptly begun. A brown shingled structure was
completed in 1897. The new building was soon lighted by electricity since as a condition of
granting a right-of-way for the trolley line to be constructed in 1897 the church demanded and got
free electricity service from the trolley company for as long as the trolley company operated.
Despite the modern electricity service, the new church building still left much to be desired. It had
no running water; water had to be carried from the rectory. The furnace was also a problem; it did
not heat adequately and often filled the church with smoke. An addition was built in 1927 and a
new heating plant was installed which warmed the entire building.
In 1933 or 1934 the church needed to raise money to replace its worn out organ, which had been acquired second-hand from the National Park Seminary in Forest Glen in 1917. The church Women's Guild sponsored a horse show in Rock Creek Park near East-West Highway as a fund-raiser. Arrangements were made with local politicians to sell beer at the horse show, but the politicians forgot to tell the police to look the other way. Two policeman appeared at the horse show and promptly arrested two of the organizers and carted them off to the station house where they were charged with "selling beer without a license." A $25.00 (1997 equivalent: $300) license fee was paid and the organizers were released, but the church then found itself to be the not-so-proud holder of a year's license to sell beer. The church surrendered its license and received a refund for all but 1/365 of the license fee.
Many changes took place following World War II. In 1950 the State
Roads Commission began widening Georgia Avenue to 6 lanes and paid
the church $7,000 (1997 equivalent: $46,200) for additional right-of-way.
The right-of-way taken, however, had been the same area reclaimed from
the trolley company when it went out of business, so little of the actual
church grounds were lost. Membership boomed. A new parish hall was
completed in 1951. Ground was broken for the third (and present) church building on July 24,
1955. The building was completed in late 1956 at a cost of $425,000 (1997 equivalent:
$2,496,000). Even the new church building and the old church did not provide enough space for
church activities, which after 1960 included a day nursery school and then a kindergarten and
elementary grades. To provide additional space the old church was removed and the current
Parish Hall and school building was constructed on its site. This building has served as the
primary meeting space for the Woodside Park Civic Association since its completion in 1968. In
1975 the rectory north of the Parish Hall on Georgia Avenue was demolished to provide a larger
playground for the children. In 1983 the church acquired the Souder property adjacent to the
church property on Georgia Avenue.
St. Luke Lutheran Church
St. Luke, located on Colesville Road between Highland and Dale Drives, occupies the opposite corner of Woodside Park from Grace Church. It is also much newer. St. Luke, which is a congregation of the United Lutheran Church, was organized in January 1940. Services were held in the Masonic Hall at the southeast corner of Wayne and Georgia Avenues and beginning in July 1941 at the Silver Theater on Colesville Road east of Georgia Avenue. The church sought a permanent home and purchased the Spire property (40,505 square feet) on the northeast corner of Colesville Road and Highland Drive for $6,300 (1997 equivalent: $71,900), which was 15¾¢ per square foot, on October 15, 1940. Rezoning so a church building could be built was then sought. The church's zoning committee worked with the Civic Association to secure approval of the zoning change. Meanwhile the U.S. entered World War II, and civilian construction projects were severely limited. In the summer of 1944 a contract for construction of the church building was put out for bid with the approval of the War Production Board. Ground breaking took place on November 26, 1944 and the cornerstone was laid on May 20, 1945. Construction was finally completed and the building was dedicated on April 7, 1946. The building soon proved to be too small. The Christian Education wing was completed in 1954. Three years after this addition was completed, the Christian Day School was founded as a pre-school for three and four year old children. Another addition was completed in 1978, but there has been no additional building projects since that time.
The church acquired additional property through the years. 1000 Dale Drive was purchased in
1959. 9108 Colesville Road was obtained in 1964, thus completing the church's ownership of the
property on the north side of Colesville Road between Highland and Dale Drives. Also during the
1960s the church acquired 905 and 919 Highland Drive as well as 1006 Dale Drive. The house at
905 Highland Drive was demolished. Property at 8918 and 9014 Colesville Road was obtained in
1974. In 1977 the church built a 68 car parking lot between the house at 9014 Colesville Road
and Highland Drive.
The Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah
The Woodside Synagogue Ahavas Torah, at Noyes Drive and Georgia Avenue, traces its origins to fifteen families of young Orthodox Jewish professionals who moved into the Summit Hills Apartments at Sixteenth Street and East-West Highway in the early 1960s. Because of the distance of the nearest synagogues on Sixteenth Street in the District, they decided that a synagogue was needed among the apartments. Summit Hill management, which had closed the complex's party room because of noise complaints, not only agreed to reopen the party room for use as a synagogue but did so at a rent of only one dollar per year.
By the late 1960s the membership had increased to about 150 families. The congregants actively built up the community. They created a nursery school and helped open Yeshiva High School in 1964. Members were also instrumental in moving the mikveh (ritual bath) from downtown Washington to Woodside Park (8901 Georgia Avenue) in 1968 after the riots.
By 1970 many of the families had outgrown their apartments; many moved to Woodside Park and other nearby neighborhoods. Avrom and Sarah Landesman of 1201 Ballard Street began using their basement as an auxiliary site for worship services. In 1974 the congregation purchased the home at 1401 Highland Drive for synagogue use. In 1977 the old Hopkins/Thompson home at the corner of Noyes Drive and Highland Drive (1319 Noyes Drive), which had once served as the headquarters of the Woodside Development Corporation, was purchased for use as a synagogue. In 1982 the lengthy process of establishing an eruv (defined physical community boundaries) for the congregation was completed. As the congregation grew, the Hopkins home became too small to meet its needs. An expansion project to create a new sanctuary and fully equipped kitchen was completed by Passover of 1983.
Just before Passover in 1986 disaster struck. An arsonist set the building on fire. When passing
motorists saw flames shooting from the windows, they sounded the alarm, and members from all
over the community rushed to the scene. They sent the fire fighters first to rescue the Torah
scrolls, which were carried safely out of the smoking building. But while the congregants watched
helplessly from the street, many books burned and the synagogue suffered severe smoke damage.
Investigators quickly determined that the fire had not been accidental, but synagogue officials
informed the many camera crews on the scene that no one from the neighborhood could have set
the fire for anti-Semitic reasons. The community, both Jewish and non-Jewish, responded with an
outpouring of sympathy and aid, offering space, equipment, and funds to rebuild the synagogue.
The synagogue was not only repaired, it was enlarged. The Civic Association supported the
congregation's request that the county grant a special exception for certain zoning requirements
so the enlargement could go forward. While the reconstruction and enlargement were in progress,
worship services were held at the Hebrew Academy and at the homes of Melvin and Linda Rishe
at 9011 Alton Parkway and of Fred and Miriam Gross, 1212 Noyes Drive. The project was finally
completed in the spring of 1988. When asked to comment on the changes in the synagogue over
its almost three decades, Avrom Landesman, who was President not only at the beginning but also
when the current site was purchased, had one thing to say: "The rent was a lot cheaper the first
Silver Spring Seventh-day Adventist Church
The Silver Spring Seventh-day Adventist Church, located at 8900
Colesville Road, on the northwest corner of Colesville Road and Noyes
Drive, was originally organized in Washington D.C. as the Mt. Pleasant
Church in 1928. The site for the church was purchased in 1945, and the
church moved to Silver Spring and changed its name on November 7,
1947. Various sites, including the Masonic Building at Wayne and
Georgia Avenues and St. Luke Lutheran Church, were used for services until the new building
was ready. Church members who were carpenters, electricians, or stone masons, or who had
other building skills contributed about one-fifth of the labor necessary to build the church. The
building was first used for services on April 1, 1950; it was formally dedicated on January 3,
1952. Membership was 194. The property next to the church on Noyes Drive was later acquired.
The annex building, which houses offices, classrooms, a large meeting room, and a kitchen, was
completed in 1983. The congregation currently has 385 members and sponsors health fairs,
cooking classes, and other events in addition to religious services.
Iglesia Evangelica Apostles y Profetas
During 1994 the congregation Iglesia Evangelica Apostles y Profetas
purchased the home and its original, never subdivided, Woodside Park lot
at 9006 Colesville Road. The 50 member, largely Spanish-speaking,
congregation renovated the basement of the home for church use. Tragedy
struck the congregation on December 17, 1995 when almost a third of the
church's members were injured and two were killed in an accident on the
Beltway. The driver of the congregation's large van lost control, crashed into the guard rail,
crossed all traffic lanes to the median, spun around again and flipped over, ripping the van's roof
open. The Beltway was being resurfaced at the time and the accident may have been precipitated
by a three inch drop from the right lane to the shoulder.
For approximately five years, Woodside Park was the home of another religious group. The Buddhist Association of Washington (Wat Thai) purchased the home at 9033 Georgia Avenue on December 1, 1980 and established it as a monks' residence and Buddhist temple. Large festivals were held every fall for members of the Thai Buddhist community. It became apparent that more space was needed. The Wat Thai moved to new and larger facilities at 13440 Layhill Road, and the property was sold to its current residents in 1986. They moved in in 1987 after an extensive renovation.