History of Carderock Springs
As Carderock basks in the glory of its placement on the National Register of Historic Places, it seems appropriate to look at the history of Carderock Springs and the men who made it all possible: builder/developer Edmund Bennett and his architectural team of Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon, AIA.
Carderock has lived up to its mission set forth at its inception – large enough to create an architecturally controlled community and with the prerequisites of varied terrain and abundant trees necessary for prize modern design.
Carderock Springs, once the Stone Farm, was a tract largely forested and untouched. Belonging to the Moore-Stone family since 1879, two old homesteads, Stoneyhurst and Glenmore, still survive as a testament to the early settlers. (Stoneyhurst can be seen today on the left side of old Seven Locks Road, north of River Road; Glenmore is located on Comanche Court).
Lilly Moore Stone, one of Montgomery County’s most distinguished residents of the early twentieth century, would live through her 98th year, leaving an indelible mark on the community. She organized the Montgomery County Historical Society, designed the county flag, erected road markers of historic sites and began publication of The Montgomery County Story. The latter deed she undertook in her 91st year. Lilly frequently held meetings of the historical society at the Glenmore, teasingly referred to by her family as the hysterical society.
This local history was probably unknown to buyers who started moving in to the newly opened Carderock Springs subdivision in 1962. They were drawn by the modernity of the homes and promises of a community. Houses were priced in the low 30s, and would rise to an average of $45,000 by 1966, when Bennett was finishing the last section. (For more about Bennett and what he brought to Carderock, see below).
The first section of Carderock Springs opened June 1962 at the top of Fenway Road. Section II followed on Magruder Mill, Peck Place and Still Spring Court, just downhill from the first houses. Buyers were anxious to movie in; some did so before the roads were paved or the houses connected to the sewer.
Bennett was a savvy marketer, or merchandiser as it was called then. He hired professionals for the photography, an interior designer to furnish the models and graphics firms to design brochures and advertisements. Tape recordings in his model homes were part of the merchandising campaign. Bennett’s extensive research and marketing had obviously paid off; there were seven sales that first weekend.
In September 1963 a third section opened and touted the land planning and covenants. From the Edmund J. Bennett Associates sales brochure 1963, “The curvilinear streets, non-circulating cul-de-sacs, underground utility lines and the absence of TV antennas and on-street parking combine to make Carderock one of the nations best looking communities.”
There were six model homes at the corner of Fenway Road and Hamilton Spring Court, three of them new: the Pineview, Glenmore, and a revised Clubview. Bennett drew attention to his new section by furnishing the Valleyview model with pieces from George Nakashima. The pieces were chosen by Bennett and architect-designer Dorris Harris; Mr. Nakashima even visited the houses and gave his approval. The strategy paid off–one weekend over a thousand people came out to see the new community after a marketing spread in The Washington Post.
Even before he had the community center’s facilities finished Bennett worked on establishing a community by helping residents meets each other. He hosted block parties and introduced new residents in his newsletters. Bennett published a newsletter Esoterica for residents of Flint Hill, Potomac Overlook and Carderock Springs, but the issues from 1964 to 1968 were primarily for Carderock. There was always an underlying message selling the community and houses but they also contained information on building progress of the club and school, care of trees and community activities.
The most frequent story in Esoterica during the 1964-66 years was the new community club. In announcing the open house to show off the club facilities he suggested homeowners bring their teenagers.
Bennett was hoping to entice residents from sections I and II to purchase shares in the club since their early home purchase did not include one. He arranged for mortgage financing, had an open house and kept talking about the club in the Esoterica. Nearly all of the early residents eventually bought into the club.
Home owners from Section 3 on would be a given a membership share with their purchase. Bennett also sold “temporary” memberships for $100 to nearby residents, according to the June 1965 Esoterica. The official opening of the club was August 1964.
The clubhouse was also designed by Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon, and built by contractor Robert Furman. Esoterica issue September 1964 boasted that the facilities included three pools, two all weather tennis courts, basketball and play courts, a large multi-purpose clubhouse, nature trails and picnic grounds on its 9.4 acres. (Editor’s note: Records today show 8.74 acres).
In announcing a community party in the December 1964 issue of Esoterica, Bennett expressed his hope that “the Club will be more than just a swimming and tennis club and this party will be the first of many in establishing the Club as a community and social center on a year round basis.”
In 1964 Bennett formed the Carderock Springs Citizens Association, giving the community an organization with which to handle common concerns.
Bennett and KLC dipped their toes into uncertain waters when they tested the market for a more expensive house, one with a flat roof and centered on an interior courtyard. This new model, the Atrium, opened to much media attention in 1965. House and Garden chose it as their “House of Color” and ran a ten-page feature article in its September issue. It was also shown in House and Home and Architectural Record. Even though the “House of Color” attention brought visitors, and helped to sell other houses, the model was discontinued. Costs to build were above market; only a total of seven were built.
New sections–4, 5, and 6–went up from 1964 through 1966, until the last section was completed on northern side of Lilly Stone Drive. By late 1966, mortgage rates had risen to 6.44%, as compared to 5.86% and 5.98% in 1965, slowing down the market.
In keeping with his “town-centered” community vision from the European “New Towns” he had visited and studied, Bennett had planned “town houses” near the school, but his plan was defeated by community opposition. Instead he took the “clustering concept” one step further with single family homes around a “common green,” Carderock Springs South. The 45 lots were smaller than the earlier sections, but all the homes had access to a four and half acre park in the middle of the community, providing the social and visual identity of Carderock Springs South. The models were variations of those in the final section, especially some on Stone Trail and Hamilton Spring Road where Bennett was testing new ideas. The CSS models were also built in Bennett’s community New Mark Commons in Rockville.
The first generation of Carderock Springs’ children opened the Carderock Springs Elementary School in 1966. The school was located at the corner of the 10-acre site, allowing a larger area for play fields. Bennett finished building Carderock with the completion of Carderock Springs South in 1969.
Today the greater Carderock community includes homes in Congressional Manor, Comanche Court and the Kinney houses on the far end of Lilly Stone Drive.
Congressional Manor was developed in the 1950’s on Fenway Drive and the north end of Fenway Road. Adjoining Bennett’s homes at the southern end of Fenway is Comanche Court, a small group of homes built in the early 80’s by Charles Hilton and Jacobson Brothers. This land had been retained by the Stone family and sold long after Bennett completed Carderock.
In 1995 the last of the Stone Farm, including the Glenmore and its barn, was sold to Hollyoak LLC. To insure preservation of the Glenmore the Carderock Springs Citizens Association (CSCA) lobbied Montgomery County and MNCPPC for historic designation under its Master Plan. It was a tough battle since Lilly had faced the 1864 Italianate home with stone. Their campaign centered on Lilly Stone’s role in Montgomery County history; they were ultimately successful in saving the house with 1 acre. The Hollyoak homes on Comanche Court were finished in 1999, completing the development of land contiguous to Carderock.
By 1989 more than twenty five years after the start of Carderock, it was time to celebrate the community’s success. A gala black-tie dinner dance followed pre-dinner cocktail parties in four homes. Guests of honor included Edmund Bennett, John Matthews, Don Lethbridge and David Condon. There were some short speeches, a presentation of an unfinished punch list and a slide show of the early days.
As the country celebrated a new millennium, the National Register of Historic Places began to recognize mid-twentieth century architecture. The Maryland Historical Trust funded a survey of Modern Movement architecture in Maryland. University of Maryland Professors Isabelle Gournay, School of Architecture,Planning and Preservation and Mary Corbin Sies, Department of American Studies, directed the study.
Gournay and Corbin Sies’ research showed the collaboration between Edmund Bennett and Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon (KLC) had produced some of the best designed communities in Maryland. Their report produced a supporting argument for the nomination of the Bennett/KLC communities of Carderock Springs, Potomac Overlook and New Mark Commons to the National Register of Historic Places.
In order to inform the community of the nomination and celebrate their history of 40+ years at the same time, CSCA sponsored a wine and cheese party. This informational meeting brought a record number to the clubhouse to hear Professors Gournay and Sies present their work. Guests of honor included Edmund Bennett, Arthur Keyes and Gordon Smith, a sales associate with Bennett and now principal in Miller and Smith Homes. Display tables of printed material bordered the room. Attendees received a souvenir mug with one of John Eberhard’s drawings. (John was one an original resident and lived in Carderock for many years. His drawings can be seen at the Clubhouse and on the CSCA newsletter).
In 2007, the Maryland Historic Trust moved the nomination forward to the National Register of Historic Places.
Who is Edmund Bennett and What did he bring to Carderock Springs?
Hailing from a family of creative, hard-working civic activists, Edmund J. Bennett was destined to make an impact on whatever career path he chose. Born in Chevy Chase in 1920, Bennett graduated from Stanford University with a degree in political science and business administration. After graduating Bennett returned to the Washington area and went to work at the Federal Bureau of Budget and later at the Department of State. He furthered his skills with an M.A. in Public Administration from American University in 1953.
In that same year Bennett learned that his family was expanding to include a third child, prompting the need for a larger home. Initially drawn to the mild climate of the Golden State, ultimately it was California architecture that captivated and changed Bennett’s professional life. At age 33, after a successful government career, he began his home building enterprise with the modest ambition of providing a home for his own family in the Washington, D.C. area where he grew up. He bought four lots on the north side of Bethesda Country Club and hired Don Lethbridge to design them.
Keen to nourish his interest in modern architecture and construction, Bennett planned to cover the cost of his own home by building and selling the other three houses. All four of the homes sold quickly, in fact, they sold before he could movie his family into their new home. After netting $6,666 in profit from the sale of the houses, Bennett had discovered the perfect incentive to launch his own building business, and the modern movement that became Carderock Springs was born.
Confident there was a market for contemporary homes in the suburbs, he moved ahead. He bought five lots in 1954 on Wiscasset Road in Glen Echo Heights. In the next eight years he built some 48 homes, including Potomac Overlook (with John Matthews), and Flint Hill in Bethesda. Bennett had also observed that there was demand for larger homes with more amenities in the Bethesda-Potomac market.
By 1960, he’d won enough respect among fellow builders to serve as president of the Suburban Maryland Builders Association. In that capacity he worked with Montgomery County officials on cluster planning and utility companies to put utility lines underground. His involvement over the years in the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) exposed him to new ideas, communities, and techniques. Excursions to Eichler’s communities in the Bay Area and Rudolph’s in Sarasota, Florida were two of the many locations that enlivened Bennett’s architectural palette and commercial know-how.
Bennett’s ambitions were growing, and his desire to build a community, not just houses, set him looking for a larger tract of land. He turned to aerial photographs in search of undisturbed wooded land, preferably with hills for his hillside homes. From the aerial views he selected the Stone Farm off Persimmon Tree Road and followed up with by a study of soil conservation and topographic maps. He was sure this land would allow the rural character he sought, yet was close enough to city amenities to attract his target buyers.
He worked to purchase the land from J. Dunbar Stone, Lilly Stone’s son and now heir to her estate. The Stone property was about two-thirds of the eventual total acreage. A second parcel was purchased from a retired Navy officer and land investor. A third piece was needed for a right of way across a property the Stones were unwilling to sell, putting together approximately 300 acres.
This aerial photograph was taken prior to the development of Carderock Springs. River Road can be seen in the lower right side of the picture. Congressional Country Club and Congressional Manor are visible at the top right side.
With the land purchases behind him, Bennett pulled years of research together into an 80 page memo to his architects, Keyes, Lethbridge, & Condon, AIA (KLC), describing every detail for the houses, often more than they would have preferred. Edmund had collaborated with architects Keyes, Lethbridge & Condon (KLC) for over 25 years.
Research was one of Bennetts hallmarks. He used market research on building techniques and new materials, and traveled to other communities across the country with a group of fellow builders, members of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). He also traveled in Mexico and in Europe to see planned new towns. As Bennett was planning Carderock, he tested materials, building components and designs for consumer reaction in three applied research houses he built on Fernwood Road. Once Carderock sales were underway, he did informal surveys, check off sheets and follow up questionnaire after people moved in.
Bennett was confident that high-achieving and well-educated people coming out to the suburbs favored contemporary design. From his surveys at Flint Hill he knew his buyers tended to be socially liberal and culturally progressive, affluent but not truly rich. Generally, Bennett was marketing to his own social peers.
He also knew his clientele respected conservation. In 1965, the Washington Post praised Bennett as a “builder with intransigent respect for trees and nature’s sculpting of the landscape. He believes the house should be related to the natural terrain not vice versa; that the house should blend with its setting, not destroy it.”
As Bennett moved forward to build his dream community he felt confident that he was prepared in all four areas necessary for a successful project: land development, construction management, financial management and merchandising. Time would prove he was right.
- 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). (Editor’s Note: I am indebted to the authors for their extensive research and 98 page report. Without the study and transcribed interviews, I would not have the depth or breadth of information for this web site.) This report can be consulted at the office of Maryland Historic Trust .
- Brenda Bennett Bell, interview by Isabelle Gournay and Mary Corbin Sies, Bethesda, MD, September 2003.
- Edmund Bennett, interview by Isabelle Gournay and Mary Corbin-Sies, Bethesda, MD, September 2003.
- Edmund Bennett, interview by Mary Lou Shannon, Bethesda, MD, 30 August 2007.
- Esoterica Newsletters 1964-1966.
The text and graphics were compiled by Mary Lou Shannon, former resident and Realtor in Carderock Springs. Copying without permission is not permitted.