Bethesda Historical Society

Darcy's Store on the 7200 Block of Wisconsin Avenue

The area now known as the Bethesda Central Business District grew up along the route of an ancient Native American trail (Wisconsin Avenue). Developed as the Washington and Rockville Turnpike between 1805 and 1820, it became an important route for the transport of tobacco and other products between the shipping port of Georgetown (the northernmost navigable point on the Potomac River) and Rockville.

The Old Georgetown Road branched off from Wisconsin Avenue about a day’s ride north of Georgetown, at the site of an Old Stone Tavern.  A small settlement grew up just south of the junction.  On one side of the pike stood a toll house; on the other could be found a general store located in a two-story frame house and operated by William E. Darcy.

The address of Darcy’s store was 6811 Wisconsin Avenue in the old numbering system, which would put it in the middle of the present 7200 block of Wisconsin Avenue between Elm St. and Willow Lane, just north of the Farm Women’s Market on the West side of Wisconsin Avenue.

In 1862 William Darcy was appointed postmaster for the area that encompasses modern Bethesda. The small-town post-office was run out of Darcy’s store, which was common practice in such settlements during that period. From 1862 to 1871, the U.S. Post Office referred to this area as Darcy’s Store PO. In 1871, Darcy’s successor as postmaster (Robert Franck) petitioned the government with the community’s consent to rename the village “Bethesda,” after the local Bethesda Meeting House, a Presbyterian church built in 1850 that still stands on a hill above the pike a few yards north of the National Institutes of Health. The official date of the name change was Jan. 23, 1871 — the birthday of Bethesda.

A Mr. Pierce operated the store after Darcy and then came the Counselmans — John, Amanda, and Hester. For most of the 19th century, members of the Counselman family were farmers and later storekeepers in Bethesda. The old store with its “easy, slender railed stairway” survived well into the 1930’s, and a number of businesses used it after “Uncle Billy” Counselman finally gave up storekeeping. The store was remodeled and broken up into small offices. It was torn down around the summer of 1942 and the space cleared for a parking lot.

Seventy five years later The Darcy — a luxury condominium building at 7171 Woodmont Avenue — was named for William E. Darcy, the founder of the downtown Bethesda business district.

by Darryl Grant

Sources

William Offutt, Bethesda: A Social History (2005)

Maryland Historical Trust Determination of Eligibility Form. “Bethesda Post Office (Darcy’s Store). Site Number: M:35-14-05.” Maryland Inventory of Historic Sites.

Darcy’s Store: A Short History of Bethesda  http://www.bethesdaactually.com/tag/darcys-store/

[The piece would benefit from a picture and maps.  These were included in the original PDF, but were lost when the piece was converted to Word for editing]