Bethesda Stroll

Bethesda Community Stroll

Led by Conservation Montgomery’s Caren Madsen, October 22, 2011
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This quaint and relaxed community just over the D.C. line is steeped in interesting history and eclectic architecture such as the famous Hobbit House designed by futuristic architect Roy Mason (pictured above at left). This stroll was an opportunity to learn more about how Bethesda evolved from its origin as tobacco plantation land to a 19th century small crossroads village — consisting of a post office, a blacksmith shop, a church and school, and a few houses and stores — to become an urban center of Montgomery County. One of the interesting features of the stroll was a visit to the historic Shoemaker Family Cemetery which was discovered accidentally by neighbors in surrounding homes several decades ago. The Shoemakers settled in the area before the Civil War. We strolled down unpaved and orphaned alley roads and along curving streets with lush tree canopy. This community is a natural and historical treasure.

Below, find photos of the stroll and community. Thanks to the help of the Montgomery County Historical Society, Conservation Montgomery was able to make the acquaintance of Rockville resident Diane Tamayo and her sister Barbara, who are direct descendants of Jesse Shoemaker, a farmer who lived from 1815 until 1887. Jesse and his family are buried with his family in the small cemetery that he left in perpetuity along with stipulations in his will that a public right of way would always be available so there would be access to the cemetery. A future project for Conservation Montgomery is to clear invasive plants off of the trees in the cemetery and clear some of the natural debris out of this peaceful space. Along the walk, one of our volunteers picked up trash in the neighborhood.

At this link is Bethesda Magazine history of Bethesda with an account of life in the community during Jesse Shoemaker’s days there. An exerpt:

“For much of its early existence, Bethesda was little more than “a wide spot in the road,” as one early resident put it.
That road began in the far past as a ridgeline trail through ancient woods, carrying the first settlers, the Native Americans, as they hunted game in the land among the rivers, the Potomac, the Patuxent, the Monocacy. That road at the end of the 17th century brought the English to newly granted plantations measured out of the virgin forests. In time, farmers hauled produce over the road, sacks of wheat and big, rolling hogsheads of tobacco destined for the nascent 18th-century port of Georgetown. Drovers herded livestock, British regiments marched in formation, travelers joggled along the dirt road—today’s Wisconsin Avenue—in wooden-wheeled wagons.”

Above and on the next three rows below: Mature trees and eclectic homes of every type of architecture line the streets of this Bethesda community off of Western Avenue and Bayard Boulevard.
Above and on the next three rows below: Mature trees and eclectic homes of every type of architecture line the streets of this Bethesda community off of Western Avenue and Bayard Boulevard.

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Above, left, the stroll begins. At right, Shoemaker descendant Diane Tamayo (purple top at left) meets Hassan Virji (far right), a resident who has lived near the Shoemaker cemetery for 19 years and had never met one of the Shoemakers until the day of our stroll. Hassan led us to the cemetery.
Above, left, the stroll begins. At right, Shoemaker descendant Diane Tamayo (purple top at left) meets Hassan Virji (far right), a resident who has lived near the Shoemaker cemetery for 19 years and had never met one of the Shoemakers until the day of our stroll. Hassan led us to the cemetery.

We enter the cemetery by way of an unpaved alley. This neighborhood has a number of gravel or dirt alley paths behind homes. The alley was designated as an access way into the cemetery by patriarch Jesse Shoemaker so that there would always be access to his family cemetery, at right.
We enter the cemetery by way of an unpaved alley. This neighborhood has a number of gravel or dirt alley paths behind homes. The alley was designated as an access way into the cemetery by patriarch Jesse Shoemaker so that there would always be access to his family cemetery, at right.
Above: cemetery headstones of the Shoemaker family. The stones have been there since before the Civil War. At right, Diane Tamayo and resident Hassan Virji chat about her family history in Montgomery County. She holds files of her family history she has documented.
Above: cemetery headstones of the Shoemaker family. The stones have been there since before the Civil War. At right, Diane Tamayo and resident Hassan Virji chat about her family history in Montgomery County. She holds files of her family history she has documented.
Above: Diane Tamayo reads from the Shoemaker family historical records and talks about growing up in the area.
Above: Diane Tamayo reads from the Shoemaker family historical records and talks about growing up in the area.

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