FOR MUCH OF ITS EARLY existence,
Bethesda was little more than “a wide
spot in the road,” as one early resident
That road—today’s Wisconsin Ave-nue—began as a ridgeline trail throughancient woods, traveled by NativeAmericans as they hunted. At the endof the 17th century, the English took itto newly granted plantations measuredout of the virgin forests. In time, farmershauled produce to the 18th-century portof Georgetown over it. Drovers herdedlivestock, British regiments marched information and travelers joggled along itin wooden-wheeled wagons.
By the middle of the 18th century, asmall stone tavern had been built nearthe northwest intersection of present-day Old Georgetown Road and Wiscon-sin Avenue. It was the nucleus of whatwould become downtown Bethesda.
In the early 19th century, simple clap-board homes of farmers sprang up, front-ing fields of grazing cattle and hills ofwheat and corn. On Jan. 23, 1871, thetown was named “Bethesda” after thePresbyterian meetinghouse that stillstands high on a hill above Rockville Pike.
Shortly afterward, farmers aban-doned the road in favor of the Balti-more & Ohio Railroad, which ran farto the east. Travelers also found thata faster means of reaching downtownD.C. The old road slid into disrepair,and the village languished. By 1878, itspopulation numbered only 20.
In 1910, the Georgetown Branch of
the B&O Railroad came to town, bring-
ing new commercial growth along the
tracks. And soon a revolutionary pres-
ence arrived—the automobile. The trol-
ley had jump-started growth, but the
auto threw it into high
gear. All around the vil-
lage suburban com-
munities rose, promis-
ing luxurious homes in
surroundings just a short
car trip to and from
In 1912, local real estatemagnate Walter E. Tuck-erman created a gatedcommunity, soon namedEdgemoor, and its sportscomplex became theEdgemoor Club. Exclu-sive sports and socialclubs became a trade-mark of Bethesda living,forming a wide greenring around the village.
The Montgomery Coun-try Club was establishedin 1913 (it became theBethesda Country Clubin 1947). It was followedby the Town and CountryClub founded by mem-bers of Washington’sGerman-Jewish commu-nity, which moved to thenorthern boundary ofBethesda in 1921. (Thatclub officially became “Woodmont”in 1930.) On River Road, Congres-sional Country Club opened in 1924, asdid Burning Tree Country Club. Ken-wood Golf and Country Club followedin 1928.
Within a 10-year period, from 1920
to 1930, the population of Bethesda
In 1938, President Roosevelt vis-
soared from 4,800 to 12,000. Even the
Great Depression couldn’t dampen the
explosive growth. The large number
of government paychecks invested in
home mortgages, filling the coffers of
area banks and supporting local busi-
nesses, helped insulate Bethesda from
the economic conditions ravaging the
rest of the nation.
ited the site of the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), and while touring the
BY MARK WALSTON
Wisconsin Avenue at the
intersection with Elm
Street in 1940
Eastham’s Service Station,
pictured here on Wisconsin
Avenue in the 1930s
The making of Bethesda
our towns | BETHESDA