The area has quite a story – past, present, and future – that runs the gamut from rural farms to historic mansions, to the nation’s top elected and appointed officials. The area serves as the location for several corporate headquarters and three of the National Institutes of Health.
Like most of Montgomery County, the area was inhabited 2,500 years ago by Native Americans who lived nearby along the banks of the Potomac River. They traveled along an ancient route known as the Seneca Trail, now known as Old Georgetown Road.
The Rockville-Georgetown Pike was at one time an Indian Trail, and in the 1750s was used by General Braddock’s army on its way to attack the French and Indians in Pittsburgh, according to several neighborhood histories. By 1800, “the Pike” carried a stage line twice a week between Frederick and Georgetown. During the War of 1812, the Pike was used by government officials fleeing the British invasion of Washington City.
Development Brings Turnpikes and Trains
The colonial era saw the first recorded land grants. According to Wikipedia, “in the early 19th century, most of the area was part of a 3,700-acre tobacco plantation owned by a slave-owning family with the surname Riley. One of the Rileys’ slaves, Josiah Henson, is thought by historians to be the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’.” The plantation house’s kitchen – in which Henson is known to have slept – still stands near what is now Old Georgetown Road. In 1806, the Washington Turnpike Company improved the old Seneca Trail route.
In 1806, the Rockville Turnpike began. In 1829, toll booths were erected along its length, and a booth was built at the present-day Strathmore Avenue. In 1887 the toll booths were abandoned. Reportedly, the toll at the time was five cents.
By the late 19th century, there were Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) train stops in the area and by the early 20th century trolley tracks connected Georgetown and Rockville. Several wealthy families built homes in the area to live year-round or in the summer. The trolley route is now used as the Bethesda Trolley Hiker-Biker Trail.
Prominent Washingtonians Build Estates
According to “Places from the Past” by Clare Lise Kelly, “the image of country living came in part from prominent Washingtonians who had established estates in Montgomery County. In the early 1900s, country estates designed by some of the nation’s most accomplished architects graced Rockville Pike and dotted the countryside from North Chevy Chase to North Bethesda and Potomac.”
The Mansion at Strathmore was built in 1899 by prominent Washingtonian Captain James Frederick Oyster, according to a history on the Strathmore Music Center’s website. The nine-bedroom summer home was constructed in a Colonial Revival style. In 1908, the house and 99 acres was sold to Charles Corby, a businessman who had patented machinery and techniques that would revolutionize the baking industry.
The Strathmore mansion was later a convent and school, and then headquarters of the America Speech-Language-Hearing Association, until the association relinquished the mansion and 11 acres of land to Montgomery County for what would later become the Music Center at Strathmore.
Another notable piece of property in the area is the former estate of A. Lothrop Luttrell, a retired executive of the Woodward & Lothrop department store company. The large estate was on Old Georgetown Road between what are now Edson Lane and Nicholson Lane. In 1940, Mrs. A. Lothrop Luttrell hired Rose Greely, a famous American landscape architect and the first female licensed architect in Washington, DC to design the grounds of her estate.
First Half of the 20th Century Brings Many Changes
Not to be left out of this story is Dietle’s Tavern, built in 1916 and located on Rockville Pike across from White Flint. Dietle’s holds Montgomery County’s first beer and wine license. Years ago, there were gas pumps and a hitching post in front of the building. Unfortunately, the tavern suffered a serious fire in early 2018 and is being rebuilt.
In 1919, Georgetown Prep moved from its original site in Old Georgetown Heights, where it was established in 1789, to its present location at Rockville Pike and Strathmore Ave.
In the late 1920s, Gilbert Grosvenor, the first editor of National Geographic magazine, built a Tudor Revival house on the southern edge of North Bethesda. The Grosvenor family lineage includes Alexander Graham Bell.
Post-World War II and the automobile resulted in the area becoming a commuter suburb with developers building tract houses for the middle-class. According to one local realtor, interest in the area “continued to grow during the 1950s after real estate developers discovered the value of North Bethesda’s quiet surroundings and peaceful neighborhoods.”
The Many Incarnations of White Flint
White Flint is a big part of this storied past. In 1927, on what had been known locally as the Flack estate, the Harper Country Club was founded. The golf course struggled with the economy. In 1930, after the stock market crash, the property was acquired by a local group of businessmen and renamed White Flint Golf Course, the first known use of the name White Flint. It prospered, according to an article “White Flint Golf Course” by William Offutt in The Montgomery County Story.
High schools used the White Flint Golf Course for matches and tourneys. In 1938, more than 18,000 golfers played some 40,000 rounds at the course. The course, with its large club house, struggled during the World War II years due to gas rationing and a shortage of golf balls.
Following the war, business at the White Flint Golf Course improved, however, competition grew as new courses opened.
By the late 1950s, there was rezoning and development in the area. There was talk of a “comeback” in 1960. However, the White Flint Golf Course was purchased by the Tower Construction Company in 1963, yet the property stood empty. The shopping center maven Ted Lerner began construction and the White Flint mall opened in 1977 on the site of the old golf course.
In 2011, Lerner Enterprises announced plans to demolish the mall and replace it with a new development. Most of the mall was demolished between 2013 and 2016. The Lord & Taylor store remains. Plans for redevelopment of the site are pending.
House at Timberlawn is Two Blocks from Old Georgetown Village Condominium
One of the “claims to fame” in North Bethesda is Timberlawn Farm, a 300-acre estate.
A 7,000 square-foot white brick house was built at Timberlawn in 1918 by John Joy Edson, who was treasurer of the National Geographic Society for 32 years and president of the Washington Loan and Trust Company. “Mixing a number of Classical Revival styles, the home is indicative of the early-20th century estates that once characterized the Rockville Pike area,” according to an article in The Washington Times.
Timberlawn was later owned by Charles Corby, who also owned Strathmore. After Charles Corby died, his wife Hattie married George Calvert Bowie and they continued to own Timberlawn.
Charlie Koiner, was the caretaker at Timberlawn Farm for 35 years. They raised beef cattle, farmed and had stables, Koiner told Bethesda Magazine.
The Kennedys come to North Bethesda
When R. Sargent Shriver – husband of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and brother-in-law to Jack, Teddy and Bobby Kennedy – was appointed director of the Peace Corps by President Kennedy, the Shrivers rented Timberlawn beginning in 1961. Koiner said that when Shriver was running for vice president in 1972, the Secret Service located a trailer on the property to provide protection.
A Bethesda Magazine article reported that President Kennedy and President Johnson each visited the Shrivers at Timberlawn. An administrative assistant to Eunice Shriver told The Washington Post, “Many a party was held on that porch. Just about every president, senator and congressman has been there.” President and Jackie Kennedy’s children, John-John and Caroline, visited their cousins, riding horses and swimming in the pool.
Shortly after moving to Timberlawn, Eunice Shriver created a camp for children with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver evolved into the Special Olympics in 1968.
New Development Threatens Timberlawn
A 1979 Washington Post headline read “Expensive Development Threatens Shrivers’ Rented Estate in Bethesda”. The article said a builder had purchased the tract and planned to build several hundred new residences, “one of the most luxurious subdivisions in Montgomery County.”
The Timberlawn mansion was retained on 1.4 acres and the house is located at 5700 Sugarbush Lane. Many trees were felled and about eight buildings on the site were removed, including a summer house built for Joe and Rose Kennedy, tenant cottages, barns, and a water tower.
The construction of the single-family houses “provides for extension of Edson Lane, which terminates at the Shriver estate, all the way through the property from Rockville Pike to Old Georgetown Road,” according to the Post article.
One reason for the development of Timberlawn was the extension of the Metro. The Grosvenor-Strathmore Station and the White Flint Station opened in 1984.
Old Georgetown Village is Built in 1980
Additional residential development included what is now Georgetown Village Condominium – just west of Old Georgetown Village Condominium – built in 1979. Old Georgetown Village Condominium was built in 1980.
Fast forward to 2019. North Bethesda continues to enjoy growth and prosperity, including the development of Pike & Rose and more to come.