Sunday, December 30, 2007

Former National Park Seminary, Forest Glen, MD

After the Scottish Xmas Walk in Alexandria a few weeks ago, we went over to what my friend described as a "castle" in the Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, DC. Our plan was get more mileage from our Scottish attire and take pictures of ourselves in a medieval setting. I was raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and only now am I learning of the various historical places and events of my old neighborhood.

The castle turned out to be the former campus of the National Park Seminary, and it does indeed have a formidable history. Back in the late 1870s, a developer decided that Forest Glen would be a nice place for Washingtonians to visit and perhaps move to in order to escape the muggy and buggy environs of the District of Columbia. Forest Glen is a few hundred feet higher than the drained swampland of DC. In the Glen, a cool, shaded ravine runs from Carroll Springs to Rock Creek in the National Park of the same name. The traffic from the ever-present Beltway hums somewhere over the rims of the Glen. A hotel was build first to lure potential, 19th century clients to visit and ponder the possibility of purchasing a lot in the community. When the buyers balked, casinos were added to the hotel to make it more attractive. Nevertheless, the idea of "moving out" to Forest Glen failed.

Eventually the hotel was sold to a couple of educators who were teaching at an urban school in Norfolk., VA, but wanted to start a school in the countryside to propose their unique educational philosophy. Essentially they emphasized the Social development rather than the intellectual training of young ladies, in particular rich young ladies, with family names like Boyardee, Chyrsler, Heinz, Swift, and Hershey. So, they built rich archetectual buildings to become sororities in which the girls did not reside but attended balls, dances, and festivals- and to form secret literary clubs.

Incidentally, four of the five wealthy families just mentioned made their fortunes in the food industry. I believe I would have enjoyed knowing my fellow comrades.

After this heyday, the Seminary changed hands and changed educational philosophies toward more utilitarian means during the Great Depression. They also changed its name from Seminary to College. Finally, the complex was taken over by nearby Walter Reed Army Hospital to be used as a hospice for convalescing soldiers during WW II.

The Army let the property run down after the war. Though the complex was declared an Historic Site in 1972, it continued to deteriorate. Fortunately, a grass roots organization was formed to make the public aware of the community's history and to save the buildings from being demolished.

Recently, the property was bought by another developer who will, as was the original intention a century ago, develop the property into condominiums and single family homes. Read more here. Montgomery County has restricted the contractor to preserve at least the shells of the previously elegant buildings. The picture above shows one of the future residents who came by to check on the construction. His computer room will be in one of the turrets at the end of the covered walkways in the background of the photo.

We got our pictures playing bagpipes on the premises of the former National Park Seminary, turned college, turned convalescent home for soldiers, turned condominiums. After all, it was a place to become aware of other cultures. A Japanese Pagoda was one of the first building on the campus to be renovated. By the way, Ben was standing on top of a concrete drain pipe which was ready to be installed.

A Dutch windmill, which has lost its arms, was used as the house for the Kappa Delta Pi Sorority. Across from it was the Swiss Chalet. The bag pipers were removed to show more detail.


Bertopia said...

Not sure if you saw Scotts christmas party pictures, Ben with his pipes is in one of them

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Delta Colonial! What an amazing surprise to find your blog & my house on your Web site!! Thank you so much for featuring something that means so much to me :)

Silvia said...

Hello I am the Grand daughter of Maria Ale Alexander and her sister Carmen Alexander the daughters of William Henry Alexander and Wife Laura Camacho Alexander
My granddaughter and her sister attended the Former National Park Seminary school for young ladies
Maria Ale Alexander was born April 9, 1891
She was also photographed shaking the hand of our
28th President Woodrow Wilson
I would like to know if you have any of these pictures
Because William Henry Alexander moved his family he own a sugar cane plantation and was the first to engineer to build the Cuban railroad he passed away in Cuba and Fidel Castor to power in Cuba he kept all my grandmothers years books and photo along with our family record and history. Castor's people told my family Yankee go home,
Please you have or find any information on my family please email me or call me (305)975-7357 I may even have family relatives in Maryland or Virginia
My name is Silvia
Thank you

Bob Kramp said...

Hello Sylvia. No, I am sorry I do not have any vintage pictures of the former Seminary at Forest Glenn. However, Thank you for commenting on your historical connection to the Seminary. Perhaps somebody with that sort of knowledge or information will find this entry and respond to your request. Good Luck, Bob Kramp