want to escape Washington,
D.C., they sometimes head to
BY MARK WALSTON
FOR MORE THAN 200 years, Montgomery County has been a place for
presidents—a playground, a refuge, an
investment opportunity, an escape from
the pressures of the o;ce. And once a
president visits a place—especially overnight—they’re forever attached.
While George Washington is known
for his Mount Vernon home in Virginia,
he also owned property in Montgomery County. Out Darnestown Road, in
the western reaches of the county, lie
more than 1,000 acres known as Woodstock. Washington was deeded nearly
600 acres there after the death of John
Mercer, his partner in a speculative land
venture called the Ohio Company of
Virginia. Mercer was indebted to Washington, so his son, John Francis Mercer, a
local dignitary and eventual governor of
Maryland, paid o; the debt with the portion of Woodstock that his wife, Sophia,
had inherited from her father in 1782.
Washington, who visited the farm but
never lived there, kept it until his death
in 1799. Today, it’s part of the Woodstock Equestrian Park Trails.
Washington’s successor, John Adams,
would leave his mark on the county in
1800 on his way to the newly completed
White House. He took a western route
from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C.,
passing through Lancaster and York,
Pennsylvania, and eventually arriving in
Rockville. ;e president chose the route
partly because of the superior roads,
partly for political reasons—it was an
election year, and the route allowed him
to campaign at places he had not visited.
On June 3, 1800, Adams’ carriage
wheeled down Wisconsin Avenue,
through Bethesda, stopping in Friendship Heights at the District line. ;ere
he was met by a large contingent of area
residents on horseback who joyously
accompanied him into the city. Within a
year, Adams would be making the long
journey back to Massachusetts after
losing the election to ;omas Je;erson.
Fourteen years later, President James
Madison would also pass through
Rockville as he and his administration
fled Washington shortly before British troops sacked and burned the city’s
federal buildings, including the Capitol
and the White House, in August 1814.
Madison and members of his Cabinet
regrouped in Rockville, then headed
up Georgia Avenue to Brookeville and
the home of Postmaster Caleb Bentley,
whose wife, Henrietta ;omas, was a
close friend of first lady Dolley Madison.
;e president’s overnight stay earned
the small town the nickname of “U.S.
Capital for a Day.”
Leaving the White House during
the summer has been a time-honored
tradition of presidents. ;e city often
becomes oppressively hot and humid,
and there was a time when the air could
grow rancid from putrefying garbage
and open sewers. While presidents
today might travel out of the city for a
little relaxation, in the 19th century it
was considered vital for their health.
President Rutherford B. Hayes often
visited Montgomery County for respite.
He became so enamored by the country-
side that in 1889, several years after leaving
o;ce, he bought land in a new commu-
nity called Glen Echo, intending to build a
summer home. He died four years later, his
Potomac River retreat unrealized.
President Herbert Hoover, a Quaker,
liked to explore the county, travel-
ing out to Sandy Spring to spend time
with the large Friends community—and
occasionally stopping by ;e Corner
Cupboard for a ham sandwich and a
slice of pie. Today, the café is the Olney
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was perhaps
the most oft-seen president motoring
358 MARCH/APRIL 2017 | BETHESDAMAGAZINE.COM