Bethesda Historical Society

January 23, 2023 - Bethesda's 152nd birthday!

the historical society of Bethesda, Maryland

@BethesdaHistory

@BethesdaHistoricalSociety

Home page edits June 30

‘Most important historic building in Bethesda’ deteriorates as future remains uncertain

by Jenna Bloom on the MOCO360 news website (June 29, 2023)

Tucked away up a hill in North Bethesda sits a church building that is the namesake for the thriving urban center that surrounds it, built centuries ago and consistently in use–until recently.

The Bethesda Presbyterian Church built the Bethesda Meeting House in 1820 at what is now 9400 Rockville Pike and named it after a healing pool in Jerusalem. About 40 years later, the church’s pastor Rev. Edward Cumpston petitioned for the area to take the well-known name of the church. In 1871, it did, and Bethesda was named.

After Bethesda Presbyterian switched locations in 1925, Temple Hill Baptist Church took over the site. Its pastor Rev. Phillip Buford, who lived on and maintained the property, died in February 2022. The congregation has dwindled and no longer meets regularly since Buford’s death, according to the Bethesda Historical Society.

The building has since been passed over to a board of four trustees: the pastor’s wife Eloise Buford, his niece Sheri Nasca, her husband Edward Nasca, and David Moyer, the executive director of the Maryland Bible Society. Buford gave Sheri Nasca the authority to manage the property before his death; she lives in North Carolina. Attorney Thomas Schetelich has been designated to speak on behalf of the trustees.

The new owners don’t have a “realistic way right now to commit the amount of money it would take” to maintain the property, said Schetelich. Inspectors have issued notices for lack of compliance with codes and, because it is part of Montgomery County’s Historic Preservation Plan, there is legislation prohibiting its neglect.

Now the sign that once welcomed congregants to the “Church that named Bethesda” has fallen, and the building is in disrepair. Meanwhile, the Bethesda Historical Society is looking at options to preserve it.

“We’re interested in figuring out a way to save an important part of our culture and our history in the town,” Hank Levine, the Bethesda Meeting House project lead, said. Levine laid out several community-oriented possibilities for the property, including an office space for nonprofits or a meeting facility. “People can have concerts, we can have an art gallery, it can be used by a new or struggling congregation as a church,” Levine added.

Another option is for a local private school, such as Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart or Rochambeau French International School, to use it as a campus or remote space, but Levine says neither one has expressed interest. Renovations of this property will come with a hefty price tag, and the state is exploring options to provide assistance.

The most “legislator friendly” approach, according to State Delegate Marc Korman, is using the state capital budget to leverage some financial resources for the site. “A lot of Bethesda is changing,” Korman said, “so having something like this that can represent Bethesda as it’s been historically could be very powerful for the community.”

A historic acquisition would likely take a combination of state and private resources all dedicated to the site’s preservation; the restoration of this property will be a multi-year project. Levine said the process can’t begin without control of the property, and control won’t happen without the funds to acquire it.

“We are literally talking about the most important historic building in Bethesda, and it is literally sitting there falling apart,” Levine said. Until a final decision is made to historically acquire the property, it will continue to do so.

Ever wondered how (and why) Bethesda came to be where and what it is today?

Bethesda Historical Society Secretary and Tour Chair Hank Levine will take you through how, between 1750 and 1920, a fall line, a ridge line, a turnpike, a trolley line, rail lines, the coming of the automobile, and Chevy Chase set the stage for the development of Bethesda into the affluent suburb and urban center it is today.

A 1-hour video courtesy of Montgomery History.

Click here to watch.

Shirley Povich Field Marking 24 Years of Big Train Baseball

“Early on, I thought it would be great to play the games in or near downtown Bethesda,” writes Bruce Adams. “The ballfield at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School was within walking distance of scores of restaurants and the Bethesda METRO station.

“But quickly I realized the neighbors might not appreciate the loud music and people parking on their residential streets. So much for the restaurants and the METRO station.

“Plan B was a no brainer. The 90 foot diamond in the athletic complex at Cabin John Regional Park was conveniently located near I-270 and the Beltway and had plenty of parking, a gorgeous backdrop of evergreen trees, and no near neighbors to complain when the games went past 10 p.m.

“But fan friendly, it wasn’t. There were some aluminum bleachers and an ancient press box that disintegrated the first time our bulldozer touched it. We had a fine surface and a beautiful setting, but we had a lot of money to raise and work to do.”

Read more here about the history of Shirley Povich Field and about the Big Train local baseball team.

"We're celebrating the great diversity of Montgomery County," says Bruce Adams

“There were 20 of the Black neighborhoods across Montgomery County that formed right after the Civil War that had baseball teams,” says Bruce Adams, President & Founder of Big Train Baseball. We gave a mock jersey from the Scotland Eagles on Juneteenth and we’ve got a Mariachi band for Latino Heritage night, we have Jewish Heritage Night, Military Appreciation Night and more, Bruce adds.

“This is fabulous baseball at affordable prices with great food, all kinds of entertainment, close to home with free parking. Fun is good, people!”

Watch a new 2 minute 30 second video “Big Train Baseball: Celebrate the diversity of Montgomery County at a game” on NBC4 Washington (June 15, 2023).

Bethesda Historical Society recipient of 2023 Miller History Fund award

The Maryland Center for History and Culture has presented the Bethesda Historical Society with a 2023 Miller History Fund award to help our Society preserve historical artifacts and ephemera from Bethesda’s past.

The $20,000 award is named for the late Maryland Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, who loved Maryland history and all his life would recite names, places, and events from Maryland history. In every Maryland crisis, he could find lessons from the past.

The Miller History Fund’s core objective is to build the capacity of history organizations and is the only Maryland grant program with a special focus on historical collections.

“Historical collections are the foundation of heritage tourism, new research, social studies education, and countless opportunities for creativity and discovery. These are irreplaceable resources that take investment to share and preserve,” said Katie Caljean, President and CEO of the Maryland Center for History and Culture.

Past Fund recipients from Montgomery County are the Chevy Chase Historical Society, the Germantown Historical Society, Historic Takoma, The Menare Foundation, Peerless Rockville Historic Preservation, and the Sandy Spring Museum.

History of dairy industry in Bethesda with the MOOseum's Richard Rowe

Dairy farms and creameries in the Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring area were pretty much gone by the 1940s. The early Bethesda area dairy farms and creameries are identified and located on a map and some are discussed in detail.
This presentation was developed in cooperation with the Bethesda Historical Society to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Bethesda.

An 80-minute video from Montgomery History April 27, 2022.

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Connie Morella: a Conversation with the Bethesda Historical Society

The Bethesda Historical Society recently had the opportunity to speak with former U.S. Representative Connie Morella at the Bethesda Library named after her. In this short, she speaks of the importance of women having opportunities in life and in their careers.

A 4-minute video from Montgomery Municipal Cable.

Bethesda Historical Society mourns the passing of our dear friend Bill Offutt

Bill Offutt died in the early morning of December 31, 2022 at the age of 91. He was born on April 28, 1931 to William McEnery Offutt and Lillian Gloyd Offutt and grew up in Montgomery County. He lost his father to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever when he was seven, and was raised by a single mother in Bethesda, through the end of the Depression and World War II.

Read more about Bill Offutt here.

Thank you Fred Berner for another delightful tour of the historic Edgemoor neighborhood!

Fred showed us Edgemoor’s third “Show House,” built in 1916 and for the past 60 years “The Manor House” of the Sidwell Friends Lower School. Next, we visited the 1923 Italian Renaissance home for 60 years of James Fieser, chief of Red Cross disaster relief in the Great Depression.

Then we saw the “Four Winds,” a Second Empire mansion also built in 1923 where Edgemoor icons Harrison and Marjorie Hathaway and their three daughters lived for 45 years. And finally, we visited the site of Bethesda’s first public library, the site of the Bethesda School, built in 1903, and “The Church That Named Bethesda.”

Fred Berner is author of “Old Edgemoor – The Heart of Bethesda.”

We're always interested in Bethesda memorabilia

Do you have a copy of a history or reminiscences about your Bethesda neighborhood or your street?

Do you collect historical artifacts of Bethesda life that you’d like to share with  the community? Do you have videos of past Bethesda?

Are you interested in recording an oral history of your memories of Bethesda?

The Bethesda Historical Society would like to talk with you!

Email us at bethesdahistory@gmail.com

History of Bethesda Schools with Ralph Buglass

This richly-illustrated talk, in partnership with the Bethesda Historical Society, details the ways that Bethesda schools set the pace for education in Montgomery County public schools beginning in the early 1900s.

A 1-hour video from October 5, 2021.

Bethesda Memories

William Bradford Bishop, Jr., Commits Most Heinous Murders in Bethesda History

On March 1, 1976, 39-year old U.S. State Department Foreign Service officer William Bradford Bishop Jr., after learning he would not receive the promotion he wanted, left work to withdraw several hundred dollars from his bank. He then drove first to Montgomery Mall, where he bought a sledgehammer, gas can, shovel and pitchfork and then to a gas station where he filled the can and his station wagon with gas.

Bishop returned to his home on Lilly Stone Drive in the Carderock neighborhood near Seven Locks Road in Bethesda and that evening killed his wife, then his mother, and finally his three sons ages 5, 10 and 14. He loaded their bodies into his station wagon and drove 275 miles to a wooded swamp in North Carolina where he dug a shallow grave and set the bodies on fire. Two and a half weeks later, his car was found abandoned at an isolated campground in Tennessee at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

A decades-long international manhunt followed, but Bishop vanished and was never caught. The U.S. Marshalls Service believe there were three brief credible sightings of Bishop in Europe in 1978, 1979, and 1994 by people who had known him. If still alive, he would be 87 in 2023.

More at “The Man Who Got Away” by Eugene L. Meyer.