Neighborhood Narratives: Bethesda
Bethesda, Maryland, is a census-designated town in southern Montgomery County, located northwest of Washington, D.C. The name comes from a local church, built in 1820, called the Bethesda Meeting House. As an unincorporated area, Bethesda lacks official boundaries. Beginning as a small settlement built around a store and tollhouse along the Washington and Rockville Turnpike, the community, first called “Darcy’s Store,” was renamed in 1871 after the church.
Throughout the 19th century, Bethesda remained a small village centered around its crossroads. Within the community was a post office, a church and school, a blacksmith shop, few stores, and some houses. Like much of the area surrounding D.C., the beginning of suburbanization coincides with the development of streetcar lines in 1890. Farmland was subdivided, wealthy people built stunning summer mansions, and the population grew.
Bethesda expanded rapidly, and in the 1940s both the National Naval Medical Center (1942) and the National Institute of Health complex (1948) were built just north of the growing downtown. These two facilities were major draws to more development in business and medicine.
The residential community of Bethesda is one of the most highly educated and wealthy in the United States. In 2000, according to the Census, nearly 80% of residents aged 25 or older had bachelor’s degrees with nearly half the residents holding professional or graduate degrees. Nearly a third of the households have children under the age of 18. Bethesda is a highly desirable area as it is well-maintained, family friendly, and has easy access to downtown, Washington, D.C.
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