Bethesda Historical Society

January 23, 2024 - Bethesda's 153rd birthday!

What's in a Name? Bethesda

There was once a Maryland settlement so sporadic, unplanned, and unorganized that it really didn’t have a name. Despite being on the outskirts of the national capital city, this little junction town was only a rest stop for travelers, who passed through on their way to the Potomac ports. In 1871, thanks to a local postmaster, it finally got its official name. Bethesda, I’m looking at you.

Map of Bethesda 1879
An early map of Bethesda, from an 1879 survey of Montgomery County. Most of the land was still privately-owned farmland, but a small community built up around the highway that crossed it. Just eight years before this map was published, the town was actually named for the post office (marked towards the center of the map) located on the main road. Source: Library of Congress

An early resident of Bethesda, Maryland once described it as merely “a wide spot on the road.”[1] Surrounded by farms and tobacco plantations, this wide spot was on an important, well-traveled trade route between northern Maryland towns and ports on the Potomac River.

Read more at “What’s in a Name? Bethesda” on the Boundary Stones website (WETA).