National Park Seminary Historic District
Silver Spring, Montgomery County
The National Park Seminary Historic District includes both sides of a steep, wooded ravine in which are located about 20 buildings of varying size and architectural quality. The largest structure, the Inn, is two stories, stuccoed, on a stone foundation, trimmed in wood, with a veranda and pedimented pavilion. Other buildings include an 1898 one-story stone chapel attached to the south end of the Inn; the Aloha Dormitory, constructed in 1898 with stucco and wood trim; the 1927 three-story ballroom with spectacular arches, galleries, timbered roof, and dormers; the 1907 Odeon Theater, a rectangular structure with Ionic columns; the three-story gymnasium, also from 1907 with Greek-Revival features; a Japanese pagoda from after 1904; the c. 1899 Holland windmill; the c. 1904 Gate House, the circular stuccoed Castle; the 1896 bungalow sorority house; the 1899 Chalet; the 1903 Mission-style sorority house; an Italianate dormitory, and formal gardens with sculpture and numerous walkways.
The National Park Seminary Historic District began as the property of Daniel Carroll, Commissioner of the District of Columbia. Carroll's brother John, the first Bishop and first Archbishop of the American Roman Catholic Church, began his ecclesiastical career on the property in 1772. In 1890, the Forest Glen Inn was built as a resort hotel. But when the Inn proved a financial disaster, it was converted into the main building of the National Park Seminary. The seminary, a finishing school for girls, opened in 1894 under the direction of Dr. and Mrs. John A. I. Cassedy. The majority of the seminary's buildings were built by the Cassedys between 1894 and 1915. National Park gained a reputation for eclecticism from its sorority houses--each one built in a different style. In 1916, James E. Ament took over the seminary. His chief contributions consisted of building the ballroom, installing the sculpture, and landscaping the grounds. By the late 1930s, Roy Tasco Davis had replaced Ament, and converted National Park into a junior college. In 1942, the U.S. Army cut short Davis' tenure when the property became part of the Walter Reed Army Hospital. Today the property is used as a convalescent center and living quarters for army personnel. National Park Seminary Historic District is significant as an architectural "folly." The fantasy-land feeling of the Seminary in its wooded setting has charmed alumnae, city planners, visitors, local residents, and even the U.S. Army. The naive frivolity and exuberance of the "age of innocence" has survived intact at National Park in the midst of 20th century Silver Spring and the Capital Beltway. The extravagances of National Park--its eclectic sorority houses, its countless statues throughout the grounds, its three-story ballroom--decry the functionalism of our age. Educational theories behind the concept of National Park Seminary certainly would be considered follies today. Higher education for women no longer centers on training future gracious wives and mothers. Although the "finishing school" is a dying institution in America, it did express the dominant attitudes towards women's capabilities and roles in society in the days before woman's suffrage and Women's Lib. The greatest humanitarian contribution of the Seminary has occurred since 1942, while Walter Reed Army Hospital used the site for a convalescent center. During World War II, wounded soldiers spent an average of 20 days in the bucolic setting recovering from the ravages of war.