Our collections don’t include much in the way of building remnants, other than some smallish pieces of hardware and the occasional decorative element. However, we do have this fine artifact, donated in 1980 by Mr. A.B. Chisholm of Silver Spring: the keystone or date-stone from the Silver Spring County Office Building, constructed in 1927-28.
This is a trapezoidal block of concrete, measuring eleven inches high and eight inches square at the top. The front face is painted white, with metal numbers nailed on. The top, back and sides still have some cement residue. According to the donor – and, to a lesser extent, photographic evidence – this was the keystone used over the main door to the County Office Building at 8528 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. I’ve not found any close-up images of the door, but this early 1930s photograph (published in Montgomery County, Maryland: Home Community of the Nation’s Capital) of the Silver Spring Northern Suburban District Montgomery County Building shows the Georgia Avenue facade (at left), with its arched center door; there’s the faintest hint of a diagonal stripe (=our numbers?) visible across the keystone.
Although the building was constructed in 1927, and appears to have been operational by late that year, the keystone is marked “1928” – perhaps an official opening was held in 1928, when its companion building in Bethesda was completed.
It’s easy to assume that Montgomery County’s suburban boom is a recent phenomenon, or that it didn’t really start until the 1930s and 1940s. But the government workers who arrived along with the New Deal were joining a suburbanization movement in progress. By 1927, the down-county area had grown so rapidly that the State Legislature created a new Suburban District, to provide a more local form of government to unincorporated areas. For practical purposes the Suburban District was split into east and west sections, with Rock Creek as the dividing line. In other words, rather than giving the population centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring their own municipal governments, we gave them each a county government outpost.
Shortly after the Bethesda building was completed, an article in the January 27, 1928 edition of the Montgomery County Sentinel proclaimed that these new county offices marked the “passage of the metropolitan area of Montgomery County from a rural to an urban community.” The article also helpfully explained the Silver Spring building’s contents:
The building in the Silver Spring district is of attractive appearance, being of brick construction, with stone finish, and is one story in height. It was occupied six weeks ago and at the same time there was established in it a police station, where police are on duty for 24 hours to answer any emergency calls. Offices also have been provided in the structure for the clerk to the county commissioners, the Maryland-National [Capital] Park and Planning Commission, justice of the peace and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There is a hearing room which will accommodate about 100 persons, where the various agencies dealing with the district affairs may hold public hearings. It cost $25,000.
This useful building was in the heart of the burgeoning downtown Silver Spring area, on Georgia Avenue just south of the intersection of Colesville Road. The aerial photo below, taken circa 1940, shows your County Office Building (circled) across Georgia Avenue from the brand-new Silver Spring Shopping Center, opened in 1938. (The shopping center, embracing its parking lot at the corner of Georgia and Colesville, is still there today, but basically everything else shown here is gone. Click the photo to enlarge.)
By 1931 the Silver Spring building was already too small, as the area continued to grow; on April 4th of that year the Washington Post noted, “The building is too cramped for efficient work at present, and an enlargement of space must be provided in some manner.” Plans at that time were to either add on a second story, or sell the building and start over somewhere else. However it doesn’t appear that either action was taken for some time, if at all; the building continued to serve its various governmental functions into the 1950s. A new county office/police station was built on Sligo Avenue in 1962, and shortly after that the old building was torn down.
Our unassuming (though weighty) little keystone sent me on a delightful suburbia-research adventure this week. But there’s more to learn! When, exactly, was the building demolished? (A 1964 aerial photo appears to show another building on that spot.) Who is/was Mr. A.B. Chisholm, and why did he acquire the keystone? Much as I enjoy reading 1920s-50s surveys of county government and development (and no, that’s not sarcasm), those sources have not yet answered my lingering questions. Do our readers have any insight to share?
From our postcard collections, here’s a color view of the Silver Spring building, from B.S. Reynolds’ “Scenic Art Series” of the 1940s:
…And here’s the same early 1930s image as shown earlier, this time with the $30,000 Bethesda building for comparison. (Like its friend in Silver Spring, the Bethesda building was demolished in the 1960s.)