Stories from the NFCCA Newsletter, the “Northwood News”

Northwood News ♦ April 2017

History Corner(s)

Indian Spring:  What’s in a Name?

By Ken Hawkins

Note:  Article has been updated from what appeared in the print version.

Indian Spring is one of the oldest and most interesting place names in Four Corners.  Those living on Sutherland Road in Northwood Park, or St. Lawrence Drive in Woodmoor, or Indian Spring Drive in South Four Corners will find it in their deeds and tax assessments.  But the name goes back further than the pre-war subdivisions that incorporated Indian Spring into these titles.  Whereas clever businessmen thought up Woodmoor and Northwood Park in the 1930s, the name Indian Spring has ties to local history and lore long before the mid-1800s and up through the craze for golf that swept the United States in the mid-twentieth century.

The earliest known use of Indian Spring as a local place name is the 1871 deed in which George N. Beale (1829-1912) and his wife sold land adjacent to “Beale’s Indian Spring farm,” which he had established in the early 1850s as a summer residence on what is now Woodmoor north of Timberwood and west of Hillmoor (Northwood News, Feb. 2014).  Their daughter Violet was born, according to her wedding announcement years later, at Indian Spring, Maryland.  The Beales sold Indian Spring farm to Carolan O’Brien Bryant in 1887, who built a large house on the premises and named it The Labyrinth (Northwood News, June 2014).  The vibrant social scene Bryant and his daughters enlivened there lasted for 10 years until his passing and the loss of the house to arsonists in 1897.  The property then went through several owners, including Henry Ives Cobb, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury (who also built a summer home there).  In 1914, it was described again as “the great Indian Spring farm … with the largest and finest spring in Maryland.”1

Washington and Vicinity, 1929, showing location of Indian Spring gate and Indian Spring in Four Corners (U.S. Geological Survey)

By this time Indian Spring’s reputation as a fine property was also getting burnished with lore about the spring’s name and history.  The Washington Herald said that “it was supposed to have wonderful healing properties, especially for those afflicted with rheumatism.  Tradition says that Indians from all of the Eastern part of the country came to partake of its waters and be healed of their infirmities.”  While the Piscataway tribes native to this part of Maryland had moved to Virginia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, at least one early land patent nearby referenced “a great Indian field” adjacent to the “head of a great savannah.”  In the millennia before the arrival of Europeans and the adoption of settled agriculture, the Piscataways lived by fishing and gathering from the shallows and marshes along the Potowmack and Anacostia rivers in the spring and summer, then moving to the uplands to hunt game and forage berries, nuts, and roots in the fall and winter in the deep forests.  Given the size and volume of this spring, it is entirely possible that the Piscataways knew of and used it.2

J. Harry Shannon, writing for the Evening Star as “The Rambler,” gave in 1913-15 the best descriptions of the actual Indian Spring and its location.  On the northeast of the Four Corners — which he described as “a hamlet consisting mainly of a store and dwelling and a wayside pump” — there was an old, nearly ruined stone gateway.  “Between the ivy-matted gateposts a weedy road leads through grassy fields and in places between rows of trees to a ruinous garden and the site of a burned-down house.”3

The Country Club letterhead, 1944 (S.S. United Methodist Church)

The road taken by the Rambler led north for half a mile along a track visible on G.M. Hopkins’ 1894 map of the vicinity of Washington, D.C., a 1929 U.S. Geological Survey topographical map, a 1937 U.S. Department of Agriculture aerial photograph, and today as Pierce Drive then angling northeast to approximately Crestmoor Circle.  On the hill nearby a giant sycamore twined with white-flowering Euonymus radicans still stood a small wooden house built by Bryant that covered the main spring, which Shannon photographed.4  The spring itself was walled up and big enough to form a bathing pool, although very cold, and its flow was strong enough that it fed a branch called Indian creek, which fell to the Northwest Branch.

In 1921 a group of Washington businessmen organized as the Silver Spring Golf Club purchased approximately 150 acres of rolling meadow land from the old Clark property on the southeast of the Four Corners.  The group was led by Fayette “Tom” Moore, his wife Nettie, a motion picture entrepreneur and owner of the Rialto Theatre on Ninth Street in Washington.  They hired renowned golf course architect Donald Ross to design the course, which took advantage of expansive pastures of Kentucky bluegrass that the Clarks had grazed cows on for 50 years without ever plowing.  His 18-hole course was 6,690 yards with gently rolling fairways at par 73.

Indian Spring farm spring house, photo ca. 1913, by “The Rambler,” J. Harry Shannon (Historical Society of Washington)

Before the club opened in the summer of 1922, the board decided to rename the club.  Many felt the old name “would too strongly identify it with the town of Silver Spring, and that, in view of the fact that the organization is a Washington one, would not be desirable.”  Instead, the board approved the name Indian Spring Club as “more appropriate, as years ago the then-famous pure-water Indian spring was located on the estate of which the ground acquired was a part.”  The club board’s geography was a bit off, but the name stuck.5

The Moores had also purchased the 169-acre Indian Spring Farm across Old Bladensburg Road and, in 1933, incorporated as “Indian Spring Village Associates,” sought to develop it as a restricted residential subdivision.  Among the associates was Washington architect Harvey Warwick and other “artists, designers, engineers, builders, and executives” intent on selling individually designed homes on sites that took into account the topography and proportions of each while ensuring “the continuity and beauty” of the whole.  To “maintain and carry out the Indian spirit and atmosphere, streets will bear Indian names and we have compiled a long list of names for cottages.”  It appears the associates filed no plats to develop Indian Spring Village, but they promoted its proximity to the Indian Spring Golf Club and used the same logo in advertisements, an Indian pausing to drink from a pure spring.6

According to retired NSA cryptanalyst and golf historian Craig Disher, “the original Indian Spring was one of the greats.”  The original 18-hole course flourished through the 1920s and 1930s.  In 1926, Indian Spring Terrace — along Indian Spring Drive — was promoted in association with the original course, but, in 1940, Washington developer Abraham S. Kay purchased the club and took half of the course away to develop Indian Spring Club Estates.

One enthusiast recalled meeting a woman golfer many years later who, at 86, “still made solid contact with the ball and had a great sense of humor....  This young lady had learned the game on the Ross design and spoke lovingly of learning different shots in order to play the course.  What was interesting was her telling me that, back in the 1940s, they had decided to build houses around the course and redid many of the holes to accommodate more houses.  She told me that many of the Ross holes were lost and the new ones just did not fit.”7

Indian Springs Tavern matchbook cover, ca. 1938 (Author’s Collection)

Kay also sold some of the north side of the course in 1944 to the expanding Marvin Memorial United Methodist Church.  The setback for the side of the church facing the course was tight, and Kay insisted that the church be responsible for protecting the new building from any damage by errant golf balls.  One of the caddies at the club a few years later was a young man from Washington:  Marvin Gaye.

Four Corners was greatly affected by the growth of Washington suburbs and the federal government.  At least two additional developments adjacent to the Indian Spring Golf (later Indian Spring Country) Club, borrowed the name that reached into the area’s past:  Indian Spring Village (1937, 1943) and Indian Spring View (1937).  While subdivisions proliferated on plats and paper, the rural character of the area was never far away.  From the mid-1930s through the early 1950s, Marrion Curran’s Indian Spring Hunt Club farm just west of Four Corners hosted equestrian events and lessons for generations of local children and enthusiasts.8

By 1952, Four Corners Businessmen Association president Fred Howlin, owner of Fred and Harry’s restaurant, noted that 19,000 cars passed through the intersection of Colesville Road and Old Bladensburg Road.  The association pressed for widening of the intersection, while the state pushed for a bypass.  In 1957, Maryland Route 193 was widened to four lanes and renamed to University Boulevard.  Maryland’s soon got its bypass in the long-planned “Inter-County Belt Freeway,” which also put an end to the recreation played out on the old Indian Spring links.  That same year the Indian Spring Country Club closed at Four Corners and moved to a new 490-acre tract in Glenmont.9

“Nostalgic memories will be all that is left of the once-famed Indian Spring course,” lamented Maury Fitzgerald in The Washington Post’s “Pitches and Putts” column in early 1957.10  Possibly.  Somewhere near Crestmoor Circle in Woodmoor, perhaps, the Indian Spring that nourished Piscataways, Gibson Girls, and rambling hikers still seeps cold and strong.

[Hawkins has a Ph.D. in history and lives in Northwood Park.]   ■

1George N. Beale and wife to Mary Olin, Montgomery County deeds liber EBP 9 folio 65-66, Oct. 31, 1871, Maryland State Archives.  Hereafter, MSA; John W. Walter and Thomas H. Pickford to Emma S. Cobb, wife of Henry Ives Cobb, April 23, 1898, liber TD 2, folio 488, MSA; The Washington Herald, Sept. 4, 1907; Evening Star, June 29, 1907; Evening Star, May 28, 1914.
2“Edward Hatch Buys Indian Spring Property,” The Washington Herald, Sept. 4, 1907; James D. Rice, Nature and History in the Potomac Country:  From Hunter-Gatherers to the Age of Jefferson (Baltimore, 2009), pp. 26-42; Florence Bayly DeWitt Howard, “Beall and Edmonston’s Discovery to Wheaton Regional Park:  1736-1994,” The Montgomery County Story, Vol. 37, No. 4 November 1994.
3[J. Harry Shannon,] “With the Rambler,” Evening Star, June 22, 1913; ibid., May 17, 1914 and June 6, 1915.
4The Rambler Collection, Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
5Samuel T. Hickman and Katherine E. Hickman to Tom Moore, Dec. 7, 1921, Liber PBR 312 folio 18, MSA; The Washington Times, Dec. 15, 1921 and Oct. 21, 1922.
6John F. Javins, et al, to Nettie I. Moore, Feb. 28, 1922, Liber PBR 312 folio 372, MSA; Evening Star, June 16, 1933.  The smaller Indian Spring subdivision nearby to the east was developed after 1937 by others (see below).
7Craig Disher, “The Lost Courses of the Capital Area,”, retrieved March 21, 2017; “Destroying Donald Ross,” May 3, 2004, thread at Golf Club Atlas forum, retrieved March 21, 2017.
8Indian Spring Village plat, Clerk Plat No. 775, filed Jan. 21, 1937, MSA; Indian Spring View plat, Clerk Plat No. 849, filed August 28, 1937, MSA; Evening Star, Oct. 13, 1935 and Oct. 11, 1936; Washington Post, April 25, 1952.
9Washington Post, Oct. 30, 1952, Jan. 25, 1953, April 6, 1955, Dec. 13 and 23, 1956.
10Washington Post, Feb. 17, 1957.

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