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Historical Interest Category

The Rich History of Our Town Bethesda

This 15 minute video on the history of our town, Bethesda, is worth a watch!  You’ll learn about some famous people behind the street names you recognize in the area such as Lilly Stone, Tuckerman, Leland and more.  You find out about the New Deal and how Bethesda benefited from it and see the old and new photos of significant historic buildings and icons of our town, including the oldest office building still standing, the oldest road in Montgomery County and the Madonna of the Trail.  Narrated by a Bethesda native, Mr. Offutt offers a charming yet informative overview of the rich history of our town.  Enjoy!

Step into History while you Enjoy a Sandwich

Wagshals Deli Spring Valley

Wagshals Deli Spring Valley

One of the great benefits of living in Bethesda is the proximity to Washington D.C. and all that the Metro area has to offer.  Today reminded me of that perk.  Brian and I were out touring homes for sale during Tuesday Broker’s Open Houses in Bethesda and afterward popped into Spring Valley for lunch.  We decided to grab a bite at Wagshal’s Delicatessen located at 4855 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC 20016.

Wagshal’s has been a staple in D.C. since 1925 when the founder, Sam Wagshal and his then 13-year-old son, Ben started their first shop.  Wagshal’s is woven into our history books as many a President, Supreme Court Justice and celebrity have become regular customers!  Presidents George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower were Wagshal’s customers, among other famous names they list on the story board out front.  I loved to learn that Wagshal’s was the first to apply for a beer license in DC after prohibition.  That Mr. Wagshal knew his customers well and didn’t waste any time delivering just what they wanted!

Soup Bar at Wagshals

Other than its noteworthy clientele, the place is famous for its prepared foods, extensive wine selection (also noticed some nice whiskeys and brandys today), fresh sandwiches, pastries, and cakes.  They also offer outdoor tables so you can sit right down and enjoy your fares.  I indulged in the soup bar today which offers four different selections daily.  The cream of broccoli was delicious!  Brian met someone in line today who said they lost 60-pounds eating Wagshal’s chicken noodle soup every day!  Now there’s a testimonial for you!

“Intelligence” is coming to Bethesda

ICC-B2The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) has begun breaking ground on a major overhaul of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (also formerly known as The Defense Mapping Agency) which was located on Sangamore Road, opposite the Sumner Place shopping center.  The new facility will be called the Intelligence Community Campus – Bethesda (ICC-B for short) and will accommodate 3,000 employees and feature a new six story parking garage as well a sleek glass facade that will wrap around the current buildings (two will be demolished) creating one unified modern structure. After months of wrangling with nearby community associations, the DIA has committed to addressing many of the civic group’s concerns regarding the size and scope of the “sabotage-secured” garage and impacts to the heavily forested area surrounding the 39 acre facility and the nearby Potomac River watershed.


The project should be substantially completed by 2016 and has been redesigned to integrate more organically into the surrounding park setting.  The new plan calls for an integration of metal and glass that will mimic the vertical nature of the surrounding trees and emulate the deeper earth tones of the nearby landscape.

While the exact nature of the work to be performed at the site remains “sensitive” to national security interests, one of the interesting commitments made by the DIA was that the DIA does not “intend” to emit any electromagnetic (or other) signals that will interfere with neighborhood electronic devices.  We live nearby (and I could not survive without my cell phone) so that’s a relief!

Matthew Fontaine Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas"

Matthew Fontaine Maury
“Pathfinder of the Seas”

One small footnote to this post is that one of the buildings at the facility is called Maury Hall, named after the famed oceanographer and United States naval Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.  Maury was known as the “Pathfinder of the Seas” having made many important contributions to charting winds and ocean currents, as well as publishing the first significant scientific book on Oceanography.  I am indeed related to the storied Commander but I’m not sure he would have approved of my conduct aboard my brother Scott’s sail boat this summer while on an excursion on the Chesapeake.  In rough seas I spent a great deal of the trip leaning over the side of the boat.  Amy of course was enjoying the ride!

Day 192: Free Summer Concerts at Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park

One of my favorite things to do in the Bethesda area is to visit Glen Echo Park.  A visit to the park is like taking a walk back in time to a simpler day and age.  The sights and sounds of the carousel and surrounding historic buildings such as the Bumper Car Pavilion and Spanish Ballroom are so unique.  Each one of them have so many stories to tell.  You can read all about the Park’s history which began in 1891, as well as current news and events, by visiting their website.  You can also check out our Day 162 blog of 2011 for a quick summary.

We recommend a visit to Glen Echo Park any time but this Thursday, July 12th, 2012 there will be something special going on – a FREE summer concert at 7:30 PM at the Bumper Car Pavilion.  “The UNITED STATES AIR FORCE BAND SINGING SERGEANTS will present the music of America to the people of the world, the chorus has appeared before millions of people in live performances and countless more on radio and television programs,” according to the Glen Echo Park’s recent Facebook post.  No matter the weather – rain or shine – the show will go on!  In addition to the concert, the carousel is scheduled to run from 7 to 9pm. Too fun!  It makes me feel like a kid again!    

Glen Echo Park is offering free summer concerts such as this one every other Thursday beginning June 14 through August 23.  They will also offer a Special Sunday Afternoon Concert on July 22: Family Jazz Day, starting at 3:00 pm.  All concerts are free and open to the public.  Come on down and make your family experience a part of the history of magical Glen Echo Park.  ~Amy

Day 8: The Sunday Snapshot, Bethesda Real Estate

Each year we review statistics on Bethesda Real Estate to track trends and keep up with the appreciation, or rarely, depreciation of the home values in Bethesda.

I have good news to report.  For the second year in a row Bethesda real estate home values have increased. 

In 2011, seven hundred detached homes were sold at an average price of  $983,721 an increase in value of 3.5%, or increase of $33,057.

Since 2009 home values have increased over $60,000, or an increase of nearly 6.5%.  I’ve had prospective purchasers tell me at open houses that they “are waiting until the market reaches the bottom” before purchasing.  They often surprised when I tell them that the real estate “train has already left the station.”The chart at right depicts the 10-year price performance of the Bethesda real estate market for detached homes (zip codes 20814, 20816, 20817).  As you can see if we keep up the same pace we should eclipse Bethesda’s all-time high by the end of 2013!

It’s been widely reported that Bethesda is one of America’s most highly educated towns and that may explain why real estate is performing so well here.  Our residents understand that we are experiencing a period of abnormally low-interest rates and the cost of buying a home has never been more affordable.  The chart at right shows the average rate of interest charged on 30-year conforming loans (loans currently at or below $417,000) since 1980.

In 2011 the average interest rate for a 30-year conforming loan for the year was 4.45% (as of December the rate had dipped to the lowest point EVER! at 3.96%).  The 15-year rates fell to 3.25% in December!  Rates are now less than half the average rate over the last 20 years!  The smart money here in town knows this won’t last forever so they are taking advantage of these historically low rates and locking in for the long-haul.  There are many economists that believe that 30 year fixed-rate loans may become a thing of the past (due to the risks involved to investors) and these loans will no longer be made available.  The point I’m making here is that now is the time to borrow money (if you can afford it of course) and leverage your housing investment.

Amy and I are looking forward to another exciting and challenging year helping Bethesda residents buy and sell their homes! Today is Sunday January 8, “Playoff Weekend”, and Amy’s beloved Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Denver Broncos -the AFC’s most unusual wildcard team.  Go Steelers! (hey I gotta root for my gal’s team if the ‘skins are out!) ~Brian

Day 318: The Sights and Sounds of the Capital Crescent Trail

The approach to the Tunnel

The approach to the Tunnel

“Ting!” goes the bell as the biker passes by and announces, “On your left.”  Thump, thump, thump, thump as the runner jogs past on the other side of the trail.  Shhhhhh…the wind whispers through the trees as the dry fall leaves rustle and float down to alight upon the path.  Crunch! as I step on a dry brown leaf that crumbles underfoot.

As I round the soft bend approaching Mile Marker 6.0, the Dalecarlia Tunnel comes into view in the distance.  A woman is walking her dog toward the tunnel.  It looks like a golden retriever perhaps as its tail swishes from side-to-side.

The Ghost of the Last Train

As they enter the tunnel with its yellowish light bulbs all in a row lining the ceiling like bread crumbs to lead the way out, an airplane rumbles overhead as it zips toward Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C.  As I soon enter the tunnel behind her, I can almost hear the echo of the last train to run through it in 1985.  “Whoo! Whoo!” goes the whistle and I hear the distant clack, clack, clack of the wheels that once rolled over the track where now only the ghost of it remains.

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

The Light at the end of the Tunnel

The last vestiges of fall color the landscape as I emerge from the Tunnel and take in this perfect autumn 73 degree day – a rare and wonderful treat!  It may perhaps be the last warm day of the year and I am so glad to be able to carve out some time to walk the Capital Crescent Trail – one of my favorite treasures of Bethesda.

For those who are not familiar with the trail, it was formerly known as the Georgetown Branch of the B&O Railroad, created in 1910 and then converted to a trail 78 years later thanks to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.

The Capital Crescent Trail spans a 10-mile distance from Silver Spring, MD to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.  It’s a favorite of 2-wheeled commuters, athletes and people who just stay fit while enjoying the outdoors.  One of the spots I appreciate most on the trail is the Dalecarlia Tunnel which was constructed in 1910.  If you look closely when walking through it, you will notice 4 “duck ins” – carved areas that were made for people who were stuck in the tunnel when a train would come; the train was probably shipping coal from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in D.C.  The Roman arch brick tunnel is 18′ wide and 341′ long.  You can find the Tunnel between mile marker and 6.0 and 6.5.  It sits almost right at the Bethesda-D.C. line.

Mile Marker 4.5 near River Rd

Mile Marker 4.5 near River Rd

There are many places to access the Capital Crescent Trail.  A popular spot is on Bethesda Ave., across the street from Barnes and Noble.  Take some time to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Trail.  At any time of year you will enjoy a beautiful and relaxing experience.  You may come across deer, a fox or even one of your neighbors also taking in this special place.  ~Amy

Capital Crescent Trail Map, Bethesda

Capital Crescent Trail Map, Bethesda

Day 166: Shall we Dance? I'll meet you at the Spanish Ballroom.

Entrance to the Spanish Ballroom

Whether you’re a skilled dancer or a brand new student of dance, Glen Echo Park has a dance party for you!  Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, you can put on your dancin’ shoes and cut a rug with your neighbors and friends.  Dance experience is NOT required and in fact, neither is a partner!  Just come on down to the ballroom.  And if you’re a little inexperienced and perhaps nervous about that, never fear.  Free, pre-dance introductory lessons are offered before the social dances begin every evening.  Enjoy the chance to learn something new or hone your skills with American swing, blues, salsa, waltz or traditional American contra & square dancing.

The social dances at Glen Echo Park are held in perhaps one of the most the beautiful venues in the area.  The Spanish Ballroom is, in particular, one of the finest and most elegant of the dance facilities.  You will also find dances offered at the Ballroom Annex and the Bumper Car Pavilion.  The historic Spanish Ballroom was built in 1933 in a Mediterranean, art deco style offering a glamorous place for up to 800+ people to gather and celebrate.

After passing through its grand foyer, you emerge into the open ballroom with its arched windows all around.  A Baby Grand piano sits upon the stage overlooking the gorgeous hardwood dance floor.  The building is flanked by its gracious promenades.  It’s a pleasure to walk into the room with live band music energizing the room and the dancers floating across the floor with broad smiles.

One note of caution: the ballroom is a stunning venue for large parties and events but the building is neither heated nor cooled so come prepared.  If you plan to rent the facility, the best times for comfort are in the spring and fall of course.  In the meantime, stop by on some nice summer evening and enjoy a social dance party.

All dances are open to the public for any age and you can dress casually.  Admission cost various but typically ranges between $5 – $20 – including the pre-dance lesson.  Sometimes you will find that there is more than one dance party going on and you can try your skills at two dance styles in one evening!  A full schedule of dance parties can be found on the Glen Echo Park website.

So what’s your dance choice – salsa, swing or square dancin’?  Send us your pictures and we will post them on Bethesda365.  Let’s dance!  I’ll meet you at The Spanish Ballroom.   ~Amy

Day 165: The Bumper Car Pavilion – An Historic Party Venue

Pictures of The Bumper Cars in the 1920's

The year is 1926.  Silent movies are the rage.  Route 66 is created spanning from L.A. to Chicago.  Winnie the Pooh is published by A.A. Milne in the UK.  A first-class stamp costs $0.02 and the unemployment rate is 1.8%.  America is enjoying The Roaring 20’s wearing their zoot suits, fedoras, head bands and wing-tip shoes.  The wealthy cruise around in their Model T Fords.  And in Glen Echo Park, visitors throng to The Skooter for an exciting ride on the bumper cars!

Its art deco facade was added in the 1930’s and the ride was then renamed The Dodgem.  Today, the Bumper Car Pavilion still stands.  While you no longer find the good ole’ bumper cars bustling about, the building now serves the community as an ideal venue for dances, wedding receptions, bar/bat mitzvahs and private parties.

The open air pavilion

The building is open-air and therefore neither heated nor cooled.  It does offer a sound system and stage as well as clear, retractable plastic sidewalls for inclement weather.  Groups from 20 – 200 can be comfortably accommodated for dinner and dancing and up to 350 for a standing-room-only event.

In the evening, when it’s all lit up, The Bumper Car Pavilion is really something magical.  If you’re thinking about planning a party for some nice summer evening, perhaps consider the Bumper Car Pavilion and add a little historical flair to your event.  Why not make it a 1920’s theme party?     ~Amy

Day 164: The Carousel at Glen Echo Park – A Local Treasure

Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park

The centerpiece of Glen Echo Park is the whimsical Dentzel Carousel.  The carousel has been a fixture at the Park for 90 years now!  In 2003, after 20-years of painstaking restoration, the hand wood-carved carousel was revealed again – appearing as it was in its beginning.   The natural colors and look were restored to reflect a truly authentic experience of a ride in 1921 – the year the carousel first opened to the families of D.C. and Bethesda.  The Glen Echo Park website has some beautiful photos of the carousel at night and at dusk.

Deborah Lange has written a comprehensive account of the restoration process, including many full-color photographs.  The publication is entitled Restoring the Glen Echo Park Carousel and is available to order on-line or by contacting the Park directly.

You and your children can enjoy a ride on this local treasure for $1.25 (cash is preferred) Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 6 PM.  Or stop by between 10 AM – 2 PM on Wednesdays & Thursdays and, beginning in July, Fridays as well.  The carousel season for 2011 runs through September 25th.  The big closing celebration, Then and Wow!, will be held that day.

You may have ridden a carousel before, but if you have never been to Glen Echo Park, it’s unlikely you have ever experienced a carousel quite as special as this one.  Its gentle lions, rabbits and horses await you and are ready to delight as you round the magical carousel with its delicate, magical music.  You will surely be transported to a time of innocence and joy.

Share this fun with your children or with your special someone.  It is indeed a rare and wonderful experience to be had.     ~Amy

Day 163: Yurts for the Arts

The Pottery Yurt

The Glen Echo Park Yurts are quite an interesting sight to behold.  These little brown circular buildings are centers for art, calligraphy, pottery classes and galleries at Glen Echo Park.  So why yurts?  Well, apparently in 1972 they were created for an 18-month habitat exhibit at the National Mall that never materialized so the yurts were brought to Glen Echo Park.  They were an ideal resource for the needed classroom and studio space for the Park’s new focus on the arts.  Don’t they just smack of the 70’s?!   They should be equipped with avocado colored appliances and shag carpet in my opinion.

Yurts can be found around the world and have been traditionally used by the nomads of Mongolia and Turkey for hundreds of years.  They are built in such as way as to be easily packed up and moved by horses or other animals and they are able to withstand all kinds of weather conditions.  Traditional yurts consist of a circular wooden frame carrying a felt cover made from sheep’s wool.  Today, you can find yurts used all over the world for various peoples and purposes, and in Glen Echo Park, they are cleverly used as classrooms and galleries.  The site upon which they stand in the park was the one where, in days gone by, the Tunnel of Love (the World Cruise) once romanced the people of Bethesda and DC and thrilled others with The Whip and the roller coaster.

Feather Tree Hill Yurt

Alana Hunter of Feather Tree Hill offers calligraphy courses in one of the yurts.  Since 1998 this Chautauqua Artist-in-Residence has hosted summer camps, classes, workshops and art parties.  One of her most popular classes is the “Project Funway Wearable Art Camp.”  Check out more details on her blogspot.

You will also find the opportunity to enjoy pottery and ceramics at the yurts.  Visit the gallery on Saturdays and Sundays from 12 – 5 PM, April – December.  Summer pottery classes for middle and high school students are being held this summer on Tuesdays (June 21 – July 26) and Thursdays (June 23 – July 28).  There are also classes for adults too. Get your hands into the clay and enjoy the unique opportunity to create using this wonderful medium.  To register for classes, visit the Glen Echo Park website.   Jeff Kirk is the director and artist-in-residence for the pottery program since 1975.  As artistic director – and as a resident artist and instructor as well – his  goal is to foster the spirit that enables students to give shape and meaning to their unique visions, according to the Park website.

Whether or not you take classes or visit the gallery at the yurts, you should at least stop by and take a look at these fascinating and unique structures at Glen Echo Park. I can hear the Pink Floyd music in my head every time I see them!      ~Amy

Day 162: Glen Echo Park – Amusing Bethesda & DC Since 1891

The old trolley and Art Deco Entrance

Over 400,000 people a year visit Glen Echo Park and enjoy the opportunity to take in dance and art classes, festivals and educational programs of all kinds.  Once the area’s premier amusement park, Glen Echo Park has a diverse and interesting history that continues through to this day.

The area began in 1891 as an arts and education colony – the National Chautauqua Assembly – featuring band concerts and exciting speakers every night of the week except Sundays.  According to William Offutt’s Bethesda, A Social History, “by 1893 concerts echoed through the trees at Glen Echo [Park] almost every summer weekend.”  Because it was situated at the terminus of the trolley line, Glen Echo Park became a destination for the upper crust of D.C.  The vaudeville shows were a hot ticket as were operas and other social events.  In the summer of 1899, a band pavilion, bowling alley and the merry-go-round were installed and the area became an even more popular destination attracting crowds numbering in the thousands.  In the early 1900’s, roller coasters were installed (much to the chagrin of area residents such as Clara Barton).  On any given summer day you could find as many as 5,000 people visiting the park.

The entrance to the Crystal Pool

In the 1930’s, in addition to its roller coasters, merry-go-round, popcorn and cotton candy concessions, hall of mirrors, chain-pulled boats through the Tunnel of Love and dance hall, the Park added the Crystal Pool!  Measuring 150 X 250 feet the pool was a huge attraction with a diving pool, two swimming areas, a wading pool and a sand beach plus a huge locker room.  Bethesda residents spent entire summers at Glen Echo Park enjoying the delights of what was called “The Cleanest Park in America in 1940.”  The art deco entrance to the park was added in 1940 near the trolley tracks and remains there today.

Two World Wars, the Great Depression and the civil rights movement hit the area hard and there are many personal and public stories detailing events that changed the face of the Park and the community as a result of these challenging times.  In 1971, it became a National Park and is the only amusement park preserved by the National Parks system.  Today, Glen Echo Park is preserved through the combined efforts of the National Park Service and Montgomery County.  Together, in 2002, they formed the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture as a non-profit organization that manages the programs and facilities of the Park and preserves its natural history.

Picnic area and Carousel

This rich and fascinating historical site is definitely worth a visit for a day, for a weekend or regularly for the many activities it offers.  Because it has such a rich program and history, we will feature a different part of the park each day this week on

We also encourage you to stop by the Park on a Saturday or Sunday at 2 PM and enjoy a 45-minute park tour to better appreciate the rich background and diverse array of current-day programs and events that are offered there.  The tour meets at the Visitor’s Center.  Or just stop by some time and have a picnic, walk the grounds and take a ride on the very quaint old carousel.

The park is located at 7300 MacArthur Blvd in Glen Echo, Maryland right on the border of Bethesda and D.C.  For more information visit their website at    ~Amy

Day 154: Living the American Dream in Bethesda

Brian Maury in Glen Mar Park at our most recent home sale

One of the great things I enjoy about Bethesda is the architecture of its homes – everything from cape cods to colonials, ramblers, old farm houses, new contemporaries, arts & crafts charmers and Victorian beauties.  We even have a couple of castles in Glen Echo Heights.  Many of our neighborhoods have fascinating histories weaved within them as well-known people moved from DC to the “burbs” of Chevy Chase and Bethesda.

Like whispers of eras gone by, you can drive through one of our local neighborhoods and see the hand of the architects from each decade at work.  Some of the oldest homes include a few Sears craftsman style catalog homes here and there.  And since there is little open land left in our area, brand new homes crop up in the form of “in-fill” as builders tear down older homes to build large (some say too large!) homes in their place.

But no matter the size or shape of the homes nor the decade of which we speak, the American Dream of homeownership remains the same and has long been the goal of immigrants and citizens alike.  Homeownership is the backbone of our communities and our economy.  Despite the gloomy U.S. financial news lately, according to the National Association of REALTORS (NAR), 8 of out of 10 people still feel that real estate is a solid investment.

With today’s record low interest rates coupled with the reduced home prices we have seen in the last few years, this really is a great time to buy a home, particularly in the Bethesda and DC area.  While mortgages are definitely tougher to get, lenders are still making loans and you can buy a home with as little as 3.5% down using the government-backed FHA mortgage program.

Somehow our Bethesda-Chevy Chase area has bucked the trend of the rest of the country and our home sales statistics have remained strong this spring.  We have seen year-over-year price improvements and strong sales volumes.

For example, in May 2011, in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, there were 110 sales (homes and condominiums) at an average sold price of $968,503.  The median sales price was $758,000.  Last year, in May 2010, there were 126 sales of homes and condos at an average sales price of $758,894 and a median sales price of $736,794.

So why do we have such a higher average this year?  Well it seems that our luxury home market has come back strong in 2011!  For example, in May 2010 there were only 15 homes sold between $1 million – $1.999 million.  And there were only 3 homes that sold that month at $2 million or more.  The top sale was $2,570,000.

Yet in May 2011, it’s an entirely different picture.  We have had 25 sales that were priced between $1 million to just under $2 million and 9 sales above $2 million!  The top sale was a $5,000,000 condo and the top single family home sale was just under $4.5 million.  We have seen similar trends in other months as well.  As a REALTOR, these statistics tell me that those folks who have a significant amount of money appear to be investing it in real estate.  Real estate has always been a great long-term investment.

If you have considered buying a home, this is a great weekend to do some window-shopping as June 4th and 5th is officially dubbed National Open House Weekend.  I just ran a count for open houses posted for tomorrow (June 5th) and it showed that there are 141 scheduled open houses in Bethesda and Chevy Chase alone.  There may never be another day when so many homes are open for viewing!  So why not shop around?  A great website to check for a complete list of local homes for sale and associated open houses is  This website is the most accurate, up-to-the-minute site available since it is operated by our multiple listing service, MRIS.

Over 300 Realtor® associations are participating in the National Open House Weekend event, along with NAR global partners in Canada, Denmark, France, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom!  Yours truly will also be participating in Bethesda, of course!

5449 Alta Vista Rd - a charming Cape Cod - open Sunday!

Since Brian and I specialize in the Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Northwest DC area real estate, we must take this opportunity for a shameless plug and invite you to our open house at 5449 Alta Vista Rd in Bethesda.  It’s an adorable 4-bedroom Cape Cod complete with a family room addition, finished basement and a nice large backyard.  Plus, it’s close to the NIH Metro stop, YMCA, parks, downtown Bethesda and shopping.  It embodies the “average home” in Bethesda but offers above-average charm and all that Bethesda has to offer at a great price.  We would love to meet some of our readers, so please stop by and say hello.

And if you’re interested in learning more about your neighborhood sales statistics – or statistics for a home you might want to buy – e-mail us for a free report or a no obligation consultation.  We know Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Northwest D.C. and are here to help you anytime!    ~Amy

Day 149: The Angel of the Battlefield

Clara Barton, A life of service

On April 19th, 1861 riots broke out in Baltimore during the early days of the Civil War and the Massachusetts regiment of soldiers was attacked.  Many of the men were former students of Clara Barton when she was a school teacher there.  They made their way to Washington D.C. and told her about the fact that the U.S. Army did not have any supplies to care for the injured.  Clara did not sit idly by.  She put together the needed supplies and food and made towels from sheets and then made her way to the battlefield.  This was the beginning of Clara’s war relief efforts – and thus the start of her reputation as the “Angel of the Battlefield.”  It is said that she thrived on hands-on fieldwork.

Clara Barton cared for the wounded through many bloody battles of the Civil War such as Antietam.  She also established an Office of Correspondence with Friends of the Missing Men of the U.S. Army in 1865, responding to over 63,000 requests for information about loved ones.  Thanks to her efforts, 22,000 soldiers were removed from the lists of the missing bringing closure to their families.

While visiting Europe, Clara volunteered for the German Red Cross in 1870 during the Franco Prussian War during which time she gained her first insights into the International Red Cross organization.  Then, in 1881, the American Red Cross was formed and Clara Barton was elected its first President.  She led the organization for 22 years until her resignation in 1904.  During her tenure, she oversaw the creation of many local Red Cross Chapters and led relief efforts in the Spanish American War in 1898, as well as 18 peacetime disaster relief efforts such as the Galveston, Texas hurricane.  As a result of her decision to offer the support of the American Red Cross in peacetime relief efforts, the Treaty of Geneva was amended thereby modifying the mission of the International Red Cross to also serve as a peacetime disaster relief organization.

Clara had become well-known and respected around the world.  She was an acclaimed public speaker and supporter of the rights of women and African-Americans.  Although she was herself discriminated against many times due to her gender, she took it in stride saying, “as for my being a woman, you will get used to that….” 

Clara Barton House today

Here locally, in the early 1890’s, the town of Glen Echo was formed by the famous Baltzley Brothers.  Edward and Edwin decided that it would help them with their efforts to obtain investors if Clara was living in their new town so they invited her to live in Glen Echo and built her a home there.  Clara lived in the grand Victorian-style home for the remainder of her life.  The home also served as the warehouse and headquarters for the American Red Cross until 1904.

National Historic Designation

In 1963, the organization Friends of Clara Barton, Inc. purchased the home.  Then in 1974 it was designated as a National Historic Site and is now managed by the National Park Service.  Visitors today can visit the home, open daily, which is still furnished with a great deal of Clara’s personal items and furniture as well as other period pieces.

In addition, children ages 9-12 can participate in a free 2-day Junior Ranger Summer Camp in July and August to learn more about the history of Glen Echo and about Clara Barton’s important life in our local area and in our nation’s history.  Clara Barton House National Historic Site is located at 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo, Maryland just off of MacArthur Boulevard adjacent to Glen Echo Park.

After resigning from the Red Cross in 1904, Clara Barton went on to organize the National First Aid Association which taught basic emergency first aid care and preparedness to lay people in factories, fire brigades, mills and railroad workers.  Today, the American Red Cross continues this tradition.  It is impossible to recount how many lives have been saved by the efforts of Clara Barton and how many families have been brought peace by her efforts to assist them in learning the fates of their loved ones lost in wars and disasters.

As we spend today, Memorial Day, honoring those who have served in our military fighting for our country, it seems appropriate to pause for a moment and reflect upon the life of a woman who served the soldiers behind the scenes, many of whom had care in their last minutes and hours of life thanks to her efforts and the efforts of the organizations she led.

Front Facade of Clara Barton House

Today with the onslaught of weather-related and other disasters we hear about so often, it is still the American Red Cross who is first on the scene to help.  Visit the Clara Barton House in Glen Echo just off MacArthur Blvd and see for yourself how this fearless woman impacted all of our lives by her tireless and selfless efforts.  If you don’t live in the area, you can visit the Virtual Museum Exhibit on the National Park Service website.      ~Amy

Day 144: A Bridge to the Past

Amy on the Union Arch Bridge

If you’ve ever traveled west on MacArthur Boulevard past Wilson Lane you will come to a stop light at a curious one-lane bridge.  Curious because in this day and age of the super highway the idea of stopping for traffic on an ancient bridge while cars pass by single file seems absurd.  The next time you sit at the light patiently waiting your turn you will probably now think of the story behind this bridge.

The story behind the Cabin John Bridge, also known as the Union Arch Bridge, is anything but absurd.  A few years before the outbreak of the Civil War, the world’s longest single arch bridge was being designed to span Cabin John Creek. The bridge was completed during some of the most tumultuous and defining times our Country has ever experienced.  From the start of construction in 1857 to the completion of the bridge in 1864 our nation was literally being ripped apart from the inside out by Civil War and yet, a marvelous bridge was being built with great ingenuity, labor and skill.  The bridge sits 100′ high above the meandering Cabin John Creek below and spans over 200′ from the east to the west embankment. Through the center of the bridge runs the Washington Aqueduct which provides fresh water from its source at Great Falls to its destination in Washington, D.C..   Since the bridge was completed the Aqueduct has been in continuous operation.

Cabin John Bridge Drawing

Only in his early 20’s, a bright young engineer by the name of Alfred Landon Rives was appointed by then President Franklin Pierce to make the necessary calculations for a bridge to cross the Potomac and was then selected to help supervise the construction of Cabin John Bridge by the U.S. Engineering Corps (the forerunner of today’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).  In the spring of 1861 the Civil War broke out and Rives returned to his native Virginia to defend the Confederacy against the “War of Northern Aggression.”  As a result of the partisanship of the War, Captain Meigs of the U.S. Army Corps ordered the bridge to be named Union Bridge which was later modified to Union Arch.   When it came time to make a memorial tablet on the bridge to commemorate the two men who led its construction only Meigs was listed.  Alfred L. Rives’ name was replaced with the motto “Esto Perpetua” which in Latin translates to “Let it last forever.”

Amy and I recently visited the bridge and peered over the edge of the sandstone and granite structure as cars on the Cabin John Parkway streamed by.  The first time I saw the bridge was with my father on one of our many real estate related errands he made about town when I was a young boy.  While waiting for traffic to clear off the bridge he told me a story about how when he was growing up “crazy fool kids” would ride their bikes on top of the parapet from one side of the bridge to the other.  This apparently is true as there are reports of this “dare-devil” act that date back as far as the late 1800’s.  Today there are large iron railings that prevent this from happening.  This bridge is a part of our history and they say that water is the elixir of life.  One could argue that this bridge, and the Aqueduct within it, brings life to the most important city in the world –our nation’s capital.  I hope the next time you are waiting at the light you’ll reflect on all this and those daring youngsters who used to ride their bikes on the one foot wide knee wall.  I would have liked to have seen that! ~Brian

Day 135: The Perfect Party Venue – The Woman's Club of Bethesda

5500 Sonoma at the corner of Old Georgetown Rd

With the onset of suburban living in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, social networking was changing.  Living in the “burbs” made it more difficult for the folks to stay in touch and enjoy social activities like they did in the cities, especially during the long, cold winter months.  As a result, groups such as literary guilds, citizen associations and women’s clubs began to assemble to fill that social gap and bring people together for fun and to support civic needs of the community.  In the home of one of its charter members, The Woman’s Club of Bethesda began in 1911 and adopted its motto, “An earnest club for earnest women.”  In 1927, the club moved to its current location off Old Georgetown Rd.

This year, The Woman’s Club of Bethesda celebrates its 100th anniversary and although the club has seen many changes over its 100 years, it still continues its tradition of wonderful women contributing their energy and resources to our community and to many worthy causes such as college scholarships, women’s shelters, Habitat for Humanity, crisis centers, food banks and more.  Their website shows a complete list of the charities and causes they supported in 2008.

Much of their philanthropic efforts come from the monies they earn by renting out their facility – and what a wonderful venue it is!  Outfitted with hardwood floors, the large meeting/ballroom is ideal for dances and/or large dinner events.  The room also offers a newly renovated stage (a microphone rental is available).  Brian and I recently attended a concert there and had a great time!  The band was on stage, the dance floor was down in front, and there were plenty of tables and chairs in the room to rest our aching feet in between sets.  The atmosphere was lively and fun.

Another View of the Club

In addition to the large meeting/ballroom, a small meeting room adjacent to the full kitchen is also available for rent.  There are photos on their website of the room beautifully set up with draped round tables.  The Center is ideally located at 5500 Sonoma Rd. on the corner of Old Georgetown Rd.  With 50 parking spots, there is ample free parking for your events.  Prices vary to rent the small meeting room, large meeting room and/or the whole facility depending on the spaces you need, the number of hours and day of the week.  To visit the facility and discuss your needs, they ask you to call ahead for an appointment so as not to interrupt an event.

The days of the quiet “burbs” not offering much to do have waned with the onset of the automobile and there is plenty to keep us all occupied and active these days.  Unfortunately, Women’s Clubs throughout the country have also waned in their membership and support.  The membership is aging and many clubs are struggling with how to attract a younger demographic to carry on their tradition of good times together and good works in the community.  But the The Woman’s Club of Bethesda is a wonderful organization with a rich 100 year history in our community that deserves our support.  If you are interested in membership, click here for more information.

If you have a bar/bat mitzvah, wedding reception, party, business meeting or other event to plan, consider The Woman’s Club of Bethesda as your venue.  You will support the club, their charities and civic efforts and you will be sure to have a fabulous event.       ~Amy

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