Darcy’s Store: A Short History of Bethesda

Bethesda Meeting House

Bethesda Meeting House

(Image via Wikimedia, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Like many hamlets since swallowed up in an burgeoning metropolitan area, Bethesda’s roots are rather humble.  A typical outlying settlement, Bethesda began life as a small collection of buildings alongside a busy road that had once been a Native American trail.

The town’s viabiliy was cemented in the early nineteenth century when the thoroughfare was converted into a toll road called the Washington and Rockville Turnpike, transporting tobacco and other commodities between Georgetown and Rockville, and up to Frederick.  Around the toll and a solitary store, a small settlement grew up that would one day become Bethesda.

Originally named “Darcy’s Store” after local business owner William E. Darcy, the growing town acquired its definitive name in 1871 when postmaster Robert Franck named it after the Bethesda Meeting House, a Presbyterian church built in 1820.  The church burned down in 1849 but was rebuilt the same year on an adjacent site, where it stands to this day.

The church in turn took its name from the biblical Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, a place associated with healing.  In ancient Greek manuscripts, the name of the Pool is often mistaken for that of the New Testament town Bethsaida, described as a “desert place” and believed by scholars to be the possible location where Jesus fed the five thousand.  The origin of the church’s name has led to a common misconception that the town took its name directly from the Pool of Bethesda.

Many villages grew up around crossroads – mini hubs where travelers congregated before continuing in their various directions – and Bethesda was no different.  Straddling a crossroads for most of the nineteenth century, the town was little more than a blacksmith, post office, church, school, some houses and a few stores.  But that was set to change after the turn of the twentieth century, when the newly installed streetcar line connected Bethesda to the nearby District of Columbia.

This enabled suburbanization to take a hold, with the neighborhoods of Battery Park, Woodmont, Drummond and Edgemoor springing up on farmland adjacent to the turnpike.  Well-to-do men like Merle Thorpe built mansions in fine grounds and help found the Woodmont Country Club – now on land occupied by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  Thorpe’s home, Pook’s Hill, accomodated the exiled Norwegian Royal Family during World War Two.

Pook’s Hill was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s 1906 story, Puck of Pook’s Hill.  Puck was the mischievous sprite of English folklore also known as Robin Goodfellow, who is thought to have lent his name to the popular outlaw Robin Hood – or Robin of the Greenwood.  Nevertheless, it is a fun pagan injection into Bethesda’s otherwise biblical heritage.

The rapid expansion of government during World War Two correlated to a rapid expansion of Bethesda, with the National Naval Medical Center (1939) and NIH (1953) built north of the downtown.  As a result, medical professionals, government contractors and business people have flocked to the area.

Bethesda has since become the core employment hub of southwestern Montgomery County, with many of its workers traveling from Washington, DC and vice versa.  Major companies headquartered here today include defense giant Lockheed Martin, Mariott International, Honest Tea and Ritz Carlton.

Darcy’s Store is a weekly feature article about the history of Bethesda

The Dig Out Begins!

Well the weekend’s over and I know many of you will be scrambling to dig your cars out this morning and trying to head to work.  There were vehicles on the road yesterday – increasingly by the evening – but nevertheless still very quiet compared to the normal hectic traffic.  My bet is that as the sun went down the clear skies will have brought on an icy chill, probably making the roads even more treacherous this morning, so be careful out there.

The federal government is closed today – always an ominous sign of inclement weather.  But for those of you who are trying to dig yourselves out this morning, here are some pictures of the “dig out” which began yesterday to hopefully offer a little inspiration:

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Once again a big thank you to the good people of Bethesda for taking a few moments to pose for a picture next to their snow-covered vehicles!

Enjoying the Snow!

We’ve been wading through the snow around town this weekend, checking out the inclement weather’s effects on local businesses, doing our best to pelt each other with snowballs, and chatting to local people about how they were making the most of the winter wonderland.  Here are a few pics of people in the local community going out in the snow.

Allie and Bob

Allie and Bob (above) had a great time out in the snow with Allie’s sled, and decided to take some snow home with them for safe keeping!

Anu and Raja

Anu and Raja were expecting a visit from their daughter but first they had to clear her a space to park!  Here they are with their driveway almost cleared – just the monster pile of snow at the entrance to go…

Alan Gelb

Alan Gelb conquers the driveway – good work Alan!

Clearing Driveway

And finally, Rahul and Ujwala who’ve successfully managed to chase winter off their driveway with determination and some good old elbow grease.

Congrats on a job well done everyone, and thanks very much for letting the Bethesda Actually team grab a photo for this post.  I sense a nice hot cup of hot chocolate coming on!

Betheda Row Snowball Fight

Just wanted to say thanks to Charlie and Rosie for dropping us a line concerning this weekend’s snowball fight for kids of all ages on Bethesda Row!  Sorry this didn’t get posted in time (although hopefully those of you who wanted to participate saw Rosie’s comment!).  We’d just like to say we hope it was a fantastic event and we’ll definitely be there for the next one.  By the sounds of it, the next one could be on Tuesday if the snow forecast is anything to go by!  Great cause too, raising funds for Haiti.  There’s nothing quite like a good snowball fight to bring the community together!

Around Town On The First Big Day of Snowmageddon Bethesda

Well it’s been a day of deep snow out there in Bethesda and the wider area!  Your intrepid Bethesda Actually team decided to don the snow boots earlier today and check out what was happening around town, and whether or not shops were managing to open their doors in the midst of the big freeze, aka Snowmageddon.  Playing the part of the good old reporter on the beat, we found that some Bethesda workers had gone above and beyond the call of duty to meet the extreme weather head-on:

Bethesda streets



First of all let’s start with the staff at Giant grocery store.  Many of them slept in the store overnight to be sure they’d be able to open shop today.  Some of the essentials, including bottled water, had been completely depleted, but on the whole the shelves were fully stocked – great job there!

Tastee Diner

In true Tastee Diner fashion, the local landmark remained open and thanks to the blizzard outside, the already fantastic hot chocolate was even better than usual!  Bethesda Up road crews were doing and continue to do an incredible job, while the Bethesda Chevy Chase Fire and Rescue service were out and about lending a hand to anyone who needed it – great job and thanks for your efforts!


Chatting to people we met while we were out and about, we also managed to shed some light on why Strosniders Hardware had a major shortage of snow shovels yesterday.  It turns out that on Friday, someone bought 80 shovels from the store, as well as a few sleds, and sold them on for a profit down the road on the streets of Georgetown.  So if you never got one, that’s where your snow shovel went!




One group who never tire of snow – and have a great time when everyone else is running around just trying to ensure the shelves are stocked up – are the local kids.  One group we stumbled across had been out for a few hours and were clearly having an absolutely great time.  Not that you ever grow out of sledding of course!


parking lot

The Crescent Trail clearly needed blazing, but Raj was making the most of it!  Needless to say, the parking lot was empty.  We’ll have more on this tomorrow, but in the meantime we’d love to hear any of your snow stories from this weekend!  If you have any tales to tell do feel free to comment or drop us a message.  In the meantime here’s a few more pics from around town today:

Bethesda pics

Bethesda Actually to Launch Weekly Features From Monday

We’re pleased to announce that beginning Monday, Bethesda Actually will host a variety of feature articles (initially one per day Monday to Friday) on topics ranging from local history and real estate to sport, food & drink and fashion.

To find out more, be sure to check out the first feature article on Monday!

Dance Bethesda & Play In A Day

A friend passed on a couple of leaflets about some cool upcoming events in Bethesda, presented by our friends at the Bethesda Urban Partnership

The first, Dance Bethesda (February 26-27), includes free lessons and parties at a selection of downtown Bethesda dance studios and includes a variety of genres.  The event has previously won the 2008 Metro DC Dance Awards where it was hailed Best Overall Production.  Click here for more information.

The second, Play In A Day (Saturday, March 20), will see six theatre companies write, direct and perform short, 10-minute plays, in the space of just one day.  Tickets are $15 available on www.bethesda.org (some tickets will be sold on the door).  There’s free parking for the event at 4908 Auburn Avenue, although you can always take the good old FREE Bethesda Circulator from the Metro station!

I must confess I’m not much of a dancer (although lessons would definitely be a good thing in an attempt to try and tame both of my left feet) but I’m definitely down for Play In A Day!

Happy Hour at Michael Nunez Mattovich Salon

Local stylist Michael Nunez Mattovich is holding a happy hour at his salon next Friday (February 12) from 6 – 8pm.  Like Michael says:

“Being a Stylist has permitted me to create and develop an art that I can live from and through.”

More to the point, there’s an opportunity here to win a free makeover!  All you need to do is show up at the time mentioned above with a business card, and then wait to see if yours is drawn!  Michael’s salon can be found at 7700 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda.

Here Comes the Snow Again!

Just sitting in my apartment looking out at the snow that started falling a short time ago.  It this stage it looks really light and pretty wet, and certainly isn’t settling.  Actually it’s hard to imagine this could be the prelude to what has been forecast, but I’m not holding my breath.

Thanks very much to Sandra for adding this link about great snowmageddon recipes to get us all through the weekend (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/capitalweathergang/2010/02/recipes_for_snowmageddon_food.html).  If anyone has any interesting stories or adventures whatsoever over that come about over the course of the next few days, please feel free to share!



Sorry to be somewhat apocalyptic with the title of this post.  I literally just got home after an epic trawl around various grocery stores, and was watching the local news for latest updates on the weather only to hear the anchor refer to the impending snow storm as “snowmageddon”.  It seemed appropriate under the circumstances!

In an effort to prepare myself for the weather I dropped in at Strosniders this afternoon to pick up a snow shovel.  I was told they wouldn’t have any until later in the day (one person said 4:30pm, another said 5:30pm) so I decided – ultimately unsuccessfully – to try my luck elsewhere.

Sorry for not writing this earlier… The whole point of this post was to give you all a heads-up about when the shovels would be back on the shelves.  Hopefully you’ve managed to find one.  Ice Melt was a popular purchase though, with the pic above giving some idea of the scene outside Strosniders about 3:30pm today.

But all is not lost and every cloud has a silver lining!  If you can’t make it to work tomorrow and the kids’ school is closed, why not pick up a sled and hit the slopes?  Unlike snow shovels, there was no shortage of sleds to go round with a color to suit every taste.  I already know what I’ll be doing tomorrow!  Latest update is getting on for 20 inches beginning about 11am tomorrow… More to come in the morning!

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