Where We Live

North Woodside: History, convenience and song near Silver Spring

By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, December 12, 2009

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in late fall, a perfect time to practice their big holiday performance, the North Woodside Tree Singers broke into a chorus of "Let It Snow" under a massive evergreen that dominates a small traffic circle in their Silver Spring community. The neighborhood singing group has been a fixture for more than 20 years at North Woodside's annual tree lighting -- which is scheduled for Sunday -- singing a medley of Christmas, Hanukkah and secular favorites.

Amelia Henchey, one of the dozen singers in the group, has lived in North Woodside since 1986. Her daughter, now 27, returns to the neighborhood for the holiday get-together, which draws more than 75 neighbors each year.

"The tree lighting is so important for her. She looks back at it as part of her youth," Henchey said.

But it's not just this time of year that brings this Montgomery County community together. There's a Memorial Day yard sale, a Labor Day parade, Halloween party and more.

"We love our holidays," said Geoff Dirksen, a 23-year resident, who used to don an Easter Bunny costume for a neighborhood egg hunt when his children were younger.

With its mix of bungalows, colonials and Tudor-style houses, North Woodside lives up to the florid prose that described it in a 1920s advertisement for "homes of diversified types -- relieving from all chance of monotony; and appealing to personal taste and individual family requirements in size and style -- Bungalows of original designs and Cottages of Colonial character."

Despite the ad's claim of "commodious closets" and "big rooms," many of the homeowners have found a need to expand over the years, with residents opting to stay in the neighborhood rather than move to larger houses elsewhere.

"One of the distinct characteristics of the neighborhood is that an awful lot of people like me have added on or renovated," said Woody Brosnan, president of the North Woodside/Montgomery Hills Civic Association and self-proclaimed "civic busybody." Brosnan said, "It's almost universal that once people move into the community, they don't want to leave and will find a way to make the house they have work."

Woodlin Elementary School is located in North Woodside, and many residents choose the community because of the school and continue to live there long after their children have graduated from high school, he said.

Brosnan moved to his fixer-upper Cape Cod house 20 years ago, replacing the tiny kitchen and adding another bathroom. He's still at work renovating the basement.

Only three houses have been sold in 2009, said Debbie Cook, a Silver Spring Long & Foster agent. And two of them sold in a week, one for $12,000 over the asking price. "It's a very popular neighborhood. That's why houses sell so quickly. It's a pretty neighborhood, very picturesque," she said.

A sign on Second Avenue, which bisects the community, says that North Woodside was established in 1890, but only a few original Victorians and farmhouses remain. Several Sears houses were built in the early part of the 20th century, with the kits unloaded at the railroad tracks that border the community. Another section of the neighborhood was developed after World War II.

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