Residents say the tradition highlights Fort Sumner’s sense of community, its active neighborhood association and its place within the greater Bethesda community.
“It’s a really nice tradition that totally embodies the neighborhood for me,” said Rep. Ariana B. Kelly (D-District 16), who has lived in Fort Sumner since early 2010. “It’s been going on for decades, and everyone participates. I’m Jewish, but I look forward to the luminaria all year.”
The Fort Sumner neighborhood, which consists of 111 houses off Sangamore Road, takes its name from the Civil War fort of the same name. The fort was razed in 1956 to make way for homes to be built, according to a history of the neighborhood compiled by the Fort Sumner Citizens Association.
Fifteen different builders constructed homes in Fort Sumner, giving the neighborhood’s housing stock an eclectic character, said Tammy Gruner Durbin, 49, an agent with Long & Foster who has lived in Fort Sumner for 13 years.
Many of the neighborhood’s original ramblers and split-levels remain, though most have been renovated or added to. Durbin said tear-downs are rare in Fort Sumner, in contrast to many other neighborhoods in the Bethesda area.
Those houses don’t come cheap. The average sale price in the neighborhood over the past year was more than
$1 million, according to Durbin.
Durbin said Fort Sumner often serves as a “move-up” neighborhood for families who have outgrown smaller houses elsewhere in Bethesda and are looking for larger properties and houses with bigger rooms — a category that includes her own family.
“A lot of who people move here have fallen in love with the community but want a little bit of a bigger footprint,” Durbin said.
Doug Cooper, who has lived in Fort Sumner for 10 years, said his family is another example. Once they moved in, he said, they discovered it was also an ideal place to raise kids, thanks to its location within the Walt Whitman High School boundaries, its proximity to many parks and trails, and its many long-standing traditions.
In addition to the luminarias, the neighborhood also has a picnic each summer and an annual Halloween parade led by a Glen Echo firetruck.
“Traditions like that really help keep a community together,” said Cooper, 50, who works in the finance industry and serves as president of the Fort Sumner Citizens Association. “My kids really look forward to the luminaria and the Halloween parade every year.”