It is a common misconception that “no one is really from DC” – and, by extension, that no one is from Montgomery County. Yes, the area is home to many newcomers . . . but ask around, and you* might be surprised by the number of people you meet who grew up here, whose parents are from here, and who can claim a few (or many) ancestral generations with ties to the DC area. I admit, even I am sometimes pleasantly surprised when I meet a fellow County native. Recently we had a minor electrical problem in the office; the technician who came out was more than happy to tell us historians about growing up in Glenmont in the 1960s.
This brings us, in a somewhat roundabout way, to today’s artifact: a wooden desk chair, believed to have been used in the Glenmont Elementary School. It was donated in 2006 by Robert Faber, who said it had been purchased by a friend when Glenmont E.S. closed, and later given to him because he’d attended the school himself.
The chair is made of wood (pine?), with metal screws and a brass-colored metal brace where the arm of the desk meets the back. The back is 32″ tall; the little attached desk surface is 11.5″ by 12″. There is a stencil on the underside, ending in 17, but it’s not terribly legible; I can’t tell if it represents a manufacturer, or was simply an inventory number (and, sadly, it does not appear to read “Glenmont E.S.”). Based on the number of similar examples to be found online, this was a fairly standard, common school chair design in the early-mid 20th century.
Ours has been refinished, sometime between the school’s close-out sale and the Historical Society donation, and it looks great – but, delightfully, the refinisher left the underside of the desk alone. Though there are no helpful names or dates carved in, there’s still evidence of the chair’s original use: scratches, pencil scribbles, and even a few faint vestiges of dried-up gum. This was definitely a used piece of furniture, not something that sat idly in a supply closet.
The Glenmont school was located at what is now the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Randolph Road, just north of Wheaton. (On the map below, from 1948, Randolph Road hasn’t yet been extended to Georgia.) It opened in 1926, with 125 students from Aspen Hill, Glenmont, Layhill, and Wheaton in attendance. Enrollment rose over the next few decades, and the school was enlarged several times – including a 1946 addition, designed by local architect V.T.H. Bien in a modern style. By the late 1970s, however, demographic changes meant enrollment was dropping at once-bustling suburban schools. Many Montgomery County public schools closed their doors in the 1970s-80s; Glenmont was one of them, closing in 1977.
By the 1990s some of the school had been torn down, but pieces remained; Bien’s addition, for example, was used as a commercial fitness center for many years. (Photos of the school’s various buildings, including the Bien addition, can be found in this architectural survey – although, note that the first page includes an inaccurate opening date for the school.) Construction of the Glenmont Metro Station, begun in 1993 and finished in 1998, negatively impacted the site; in the early 2000s, historic designation for the remaining buildings was denied. Today, nothing of the school physically remains – although, in development plans for the area, the corner is still sometimes called the “old Glenmont School site.”
The buildings are gone, but thanks to a devoted PTA, much of Glenmont E.S.’s history can be found here at the Historical Society. In addition to our little chair, the artifact collections include 1960s-70s trophies, awards, and plaques, likely displayed in the lobby until the school’s closure. In our archives we have PTA scrapbooks and albums, from 1926 through 1977, filled with photos, programs, handbooks, meeting minutes, dance tickets, and more – all of it giving us information on faculty, students, facilities, curricula, and student activities. What I have not yet found in this great resource is anything that shows or references our chair and its friends. One 1942 photo (detail below) from the PTA scrapbook shows similar chairs in use, but they have metal legs; perhaps that means the all-wood chairs dated from earlier in the school’s history. Do any Glenmont alumni remember sitting in wooden chair/desk combos in their youth?
*Unless “you” are already aware of the high number of natives, of course.