National Park Seminary

At an Old Retreat, Signs of Renewal

Friday, April 25, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a little inn in Forest Glen that became a place where young, rich girls would ride horses and learn civics. They would socialize in sorority houses resembling an English castle, Japanese pagoda, Dutch windmill, Spanish mission and Swiss chalet and dine sitting on Chippendale-style furniture.

It was fairy-tale living for the hundreds who attended school at the National Park Seminary from 1894 to the early 1940s.

The seminary is a relic from a time when Forest Glen, an area in Silver Spring, was considered a rural retreat rather than a Beltway 'burb. During a walking tour of the aging buildings, you can easily imagine the playground for the wealthy that it once was. A group called Save Our Seminary has been working to preserve the area since 1988.

During the group's monthly tours of the grounds (the next is Saturday), guides chronicle the history of the site from an inn to a girls' school to a military hospital to its latest incarnation: a housing development.

Tour guide Linda Lyons said that one of the first buildings the group restored was the Japanese pagoda in an effort to "say, 'Look what this could be.' "

"Virtually nothing has been demolished, which is wonderful," Lyons said on the March walk. The tours often draw people from the community who want to learn more about the history of their neighborhood as well as those who once had ties to the area, she said.

Patrick White, 66, worked as a doctor at the seminary during the Vietnam War when it was used to house wounded soldiers. He said he was surprised to see how much of the seminary was still standing when he visited in March.

"I am delighted to see it, and then it makes me want to cry at the same time," White said, adding that the medical staff and patients called the seminary "Disney World" because the surreal contrast of the beautiful glen and the wounded veterans was "so extreme."

White said the walk changed his view of the seminary: "I couldn't see the beauty of it back then."

-- Amy Orndorff

IF YOU GO: Dress for a hike. The area is still being renovated, so many of the trails are unfinished and hilly. Once construction is completed, parts of the walk will be indoors, but for now it is entirely outdoors.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:301-589-1715 or

WHERE IS IT? From Georgia Avenue, take Linden Lane west over the train tracks and the Beltway. Look for signs and volunteers directing you toward free parking. Tours begin Saturday at 1 and last 1 1/2 to two hours.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Free; $5 donation suggested.

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