Bethesda Historical Society

How NIH’s Main Campus Came to Be in Bethesda

Have you ever wondered how the main NIH campus ended up in the middle of Bethesda? The answer is: generosity. 

The Wilson family—Luke Ingalls (“Luke I.”), Helen and their son Luke—owned much of the land that NIH occupies. The core 70 acres was their estate, called Tree Tops. The main house, built by the Wilsons in 1926, is now Bldg. 15K, hidden in greenery up the hill from Bldg. 31. 

The elder Luke helped manage his family’s international men’s clothing business, Wilson Brothers, and Helen was the daughter of Samuel Woodward, one of the owners of the venerable Woodward and Lothrop’s department stores in the Washington, D.C. area. They were a well-traveled family, having visited Europe dozens of times for business and pleasure—when you had to take a ship to Europe. They enjoyed European culture, food and diversity.

When the Wilsons decided they wanted to do something that would help others, they committed to donating their biggest asset—their land. The problem was finding someone during the Depression of the 1930s to take it.

Read more at “How NIH’s Main Campus Came to Be in Bethesda” on the NIH Record website (2022)