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Carderock Springs was created out of heavily wooded and hilly terrain in 1962. It adhered to a style of situated modernism, characterized by attention to the natural and communal setting. While other builders avoided the rugged terrain, Bennett sought it and capitalized on the lands overlooks and contours for Carderock Springs land planning.
The vision was one of a rural setting. Still today, a morning walk in Carderock will yield the comfort of friendly, shaded roads, and a night stroll the chance joy of spotting deer or a fox.
Building into slopes minimized destructive leveling that would result in loss of trees and create erosion problems. The September 1954 issue of American Builder reported that hillside houses can be set to take in distant vistas, have a view of tree tops, and offer more privacy.
Stanford-educated home builder Edmund J. Bennett was largely responsible for the success of the Carderock project. Bennett favored the architectural firm of Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon because of its approach to energy conservation, efficient use of glass, sheltering eaves, and southern orientations that maximized winter sunlight and minimized afternoon exposure in the summer months. Architect Arthur Keyes would later remark that among home builders Bennett, was one of the most devoted to protecting land, contours, and trees.
Attention to the environment in land planning was also good business. House and Home remarked in May 1967 that Good land, made better by skilled planning, helps this development sell itself.
Cluster planning, a relatively new concept in the ’60s, was used effectively in Carderock Springs. Courts or knobs were used often, as well as cul-de-sacs, touching a balance between intimacy and privacy. Rustic wood signs would lead you into the courts. Bennett felt the knobs benefited from less noise and minimized danger from traffic, and gave additional parking.
The wooden signs for the knobs and three entrances into the Carderock community were designed by Bennett’s landscape architect Thurman Donovan. (He also designed rustic street signs, but they have been replaced with County signs.) Donovan also provided landscape plans for the houses. He prepared one for each model and would undertake a more detailed design at the request of a homeowner.
“Clustering” was innovative and Bennett had to work with Montgomery County planners to get it approved. It called for treating the land as a whole, relaxing a regulatory mindset that was centered on individual lots. The Planned Urban Development movement, as it was called, pushed for more variation in lot size and setbacks, changes that would allow for greater visual unity and community space in a neighborhood.
Bennett took cluster planning a step further with the development of Carderock Springs South, which opened for sale in 1967. Almost half of the 45 homes back onto a 4.5 acre common green accessible to the whole community. Backyards are kept open to the park, for the most part, and the common extends beyond the Carderock subdivision.
Advances in new town planning in Europe were important influences on the Carderock land planning. In his time as a builder Ed Bennett visited Stockholm, Helsinki, Paris, Farsta, Hassel-by-strand, Tapiola, post-World War I new-towns near London, and post-WWII towns near Paris. The Tapiola community outside Helsinki is cited as an example of “Situated Modernism,” which influenced Bennett’s Carderock and also nearby Reston. Given this popularity of a planned community or village, Bennett could see that international buyers would help make for strong sales in Carderock.
Burying power lines was a new and intelligent approach used in Carderock. To convince the electric company to bury their lines, Bennett took it upon himself the added expense of digging the utility trenches. The neighborhood became a testing ground for this new strategy and by 1971: Maryland would require that all power and telephone lines be buried in new constructions.
The Washington Post in 1964 reported that Carderock’s “uncluttered streets without overhead wires provide only the aesthetic argument for putting wire in the earth. Another and possibly more important motivation is the prevention of damage by snow and wind storms to the spaghetti-between-poles.” The real bread and butter of Bennett’s cutting-edge environmentalism was in preserving trees.
His engineering firm, Greenhorne and O’Mara, used aerial surveys from the Soil Conservation Service to record trees, noting whether they were pines or hardwoods. Roads were created with as little disturbance to the trees as possible. In addition to the careful siting of the house, inspection was made even after staking out the house.
Even though Carderock was heavily wooded, Bennett had Donovan plant many trees. According to the May 1964 Esoterica, Donovan had recently planted 150 trees, including dogwoods, flowering crabapples, pin oaks, red oaks, willow oaks, maples, pines, and redbuds, all planted to his specifications.
Today the covenants of the community still regulate architectural or land modifications, continuing Bennett’s goal of establishing and maintaining identity. He strove for this identity through a complete architectural integration of street layout, siting, design, varied elevation, color, texture, cedar roofing materials, landscaping, and even interior details and finish.
Carderock Springs was created with an attitude of careful stewardship of land, a gift that is appreciated today and will be tomorrow as well.
Reference: Isabelle Gournay and Mary Corbin-Sies, Subdivisions built by Edmund Bennett and designed by Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon in Montgomery County, Maryland, 1956-1973, National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property Documentation Form, National Park Service, 2004).