Michael F. Dwyer
Washington Grove Historic District
Washington Grove, Montgomery County
Washington Grove is an incorporated town founded in 1874 as a religious camp meeting ground, which later evolved into a summer retreat from the heat of Washington, D.C. and became a cultural stop on the Chautauqua Circuit. In its present incarnation it is a community of individualistic, largely Gothic Revival cottages, owned by year-round residents. The only commercial activity within Washington Grove is a small shopping center of four stores at the northwest corner. Housing occupies about 85 acres, parks within the town cover 23 acres, and forest reserves around the town comprise the remaining 92 acres. The largest of the four parks within the town extends nearly the length of the residential community, and contains tennis, basketball, baseball, picnic, and playground facilities, as well as a gazebo which serves as a bandstand for concerts. The camp ground, as laid out in 1874, comprised six avenues radiating from a circle, appropriately named the "Sacred Circle." Within this circle the founders built a wooden Tabernacle, 48 x 70 feet, surrounded by wooden benches for two-week meetings held during July and August. Some 250 tents were erected along the avenues leading to the circle during that first summer. Although the founders expected this tent village to last but a few weeks each summer, many of the faithful came early or lingered long after the preaching ended, in part to escape Washington's summer humidity. Wooden tents soon replaced the leaky canvas ones, many of them 14.5 feet wide by 24 feet long. A beam across the center held a curtain which divided the interior. A small porch was built on the front and a small tent attached to the rear. A number of the smaller houses in the town today have evolved from this quaint beginning. Older residents refer to this design as "Early Methodist Architecture," a prominent feature of which is a sharply peaked roof. A community of permanent cottages developed as the result of the B & O Railroad's early policy of shipping building materials for free. These structures were erected on a more traditional grid of roads between the circle and the railroad station, but facing pedestrian avenues, covered with bluestone gravel, which were off-limits to wagons and horses. Carriages were restricted to roads that ran behind the houses. A dozen of these original walkways remain. The architectural heritage of Washington Grove is one of adaptive reuse coupled with an eclectic spirit. The most pervasive architectural elements in Washington Grove include high-pitched steep gable roofs, Gothic Revival detailing and gingerbread trim, stained glass windows, open front porches, and high-pitched dormer windows. The majority of the houses are constructed of wood, designed to blend with and reflect the natural wooded surroundings.
Washington Grove is significant as an example of a community which developed from a religious camp meeting ground. The architecture within the community continues to reflect this heritage, as does the layout and use of pedestrian avenues. The town retains a significant amount of undeveloped forest land. It was this forest that attracted Washington Grove's early settlers, led by a group of Methodist clergy from Washington who were seeking a camp meeting ground for summer preaching missions. In 1873, the year the B & O opened its Metropolitan Branch Line which passes this area, the Methodists purchased 268 acres chosen for its beautiful groves, springs, elevation, and good drainage. Forming the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association, chartered by the Maryland Legislature on March 30, 1874 and approved by Governor James B. Groome, they sold 1,000 shares at $20 per share to eligible Methodists. One share entitled the owner to a tent site and five shares to a cottage site. Cottage sites, 50 x 150 feet, became the standard building lot for most of today's Washington Grove houses. Permanent structures eventually replaced the tents, and in 1937 the Washington Grove Camp Meeting Association was dissolved and the town was incorporated. With most of the houses still facing the gravel walkways and retaining the earlier architectural styles, the relaxed ambience of the summer cottage community situated under the town's great oaks is still present.