THE FOUNDING OF Silver Spring
involved a Washington newspaper editor
named Francis Preston Blair; his daughter,
Elizabeth; and a fall from a horse.
As the story goes, the two Blairs were
riding out on the capital’s old Seventh
Street turnpike, now Georgia Avenue, in
1840, looking for land on which to build
a summer house away from Washington’s heat. According to one version of
the story, Elizabeth fell from her horse,
which trotted away and was later found
drinking from a mica-infused spring.
Francis Blair liked the spot so much
that he bought 250 acres and built his
summer estate there. Taking inspiration
from the water’s sparkling appearance,
he named the place Silver Spring.
Today, Silver Spring is among the
most venerated of Montgomery Coun-
ty’s towns, villages and communities.
Longtime resident Walter Gottlieb made
Jubal Early’s unsuccessful attempt to
a 2002 documentary, Silver Spring: Story
of an American Suburb, celebrating the
rise, fall and rise again of the unincorpo-
rated area. The film pinpoints the 1940s
through the 1960s as a time when Silver
Spring “had it all.”
Even the normally dispassionate
Maryland-National Capital Park and
Planning Commission has singled out
Silver Spring, declaring the 1920s-era
Woodside Park, the leafy subdivision off
of Georgia Avenue, “probably the purest
manifestation of the…suburban ideal to
have been built in Montgomery County.”
Neighborhood historians like to say
that Silver Spring’s early days can be
summed up as the making of a “retreat
for the elite.” Francis Blair’s son, Mont-
gomery, Abraham Lincoln’s postmas-
ter general and a member of his Cabi-
net, built his own home, Falkland, on
the western side of the Blair land. Dur-
ing the Civil War, the house was burned
in the aftermath of Confederate Gen.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad ran
E. Brooke Lee, great-grandson of Fran-
from Washington to Point of Rocks on
the Potomac River. It wasn’t until the
early part of the 20th century, though,
that the community really took shape.
cis Preston Blair, established the North
Washington Realty Co. in the early
1920s and built subdivisions such as
Northgate, Colonial Village and Sligo
Park Hills. A new five-room bungalow
was priced at $6,000 in 1927.
Even during the Depression, Silver
Spring continued to expand. The Falk-
land Apartments, named after Montgom-
ery Blair’s original home, opened in 1938.
It was the first such complex in Maryland
to receive mortgage insurance from the
New Deal’s Federal Housing Administration, and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt presided over the ribbon-cutting.
Other major developments included
the Silver Spring Shopping Center, built
in the late 1930s and hailed for its art
deco design. So beloved was the shopping center and its matching Silver Theatre that activists saved the movie palace
This was Georgia Avenue in about 1915. Ten years later, it was widened, thanks to the
connections of E. Brooke Lee, great-grandson of Silver Spring founder Francis Preston Blair.
The rise of Silver Spring BY STEVE DRYDEN
our towns | SILVER SPRING