The Real Silver Spring
By Eric A. Green
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday , May 21, 2000 ; F01
It sounds like what a rock band might be called, but the silver spring
running underground not far from the Silver Spring Metro stop is where one
of Washington's oldest suburbs derives its name.
The story goes that the spring was discovered by a thirsty horse named
Selim in the early 1840s. Francis Preston Blair, editor of the Washington
Globe from 1831 to 1849, was riding with his daughter Elizabeth in the
countryside about a mile from the D.C. line when Selim sniffed out a
beautiful natural spring that bubbled up through mica rock, giving the rock
the appearance of being lined with silver.
Blair liked the area so much he built a summer house there, and called it
"Silver Spring." Many years later the home was torn down to make way for a
new post office. This is the same Francis Blair whose home across from the
White House now serves as the official guest house for foreign visitors of
the president. His son, Montgomery Blair, established a home near the
spring called Falkland. The Falkland Apartments, where I used to live, get
their name from that house.
When I lived in Silver Spring, back in the '70s, most people I knew had
never heard of the spring, much less would have seen its commemorative
marker--an engraved stone dated 1872--in its hard-to-find location. I
happened to stumble across it when I went to mail a letter at the post
office, and couldn't find a nearby parking space. A small park encompassing
the marker and spring had been dedicated in 1955. It's called Acorn Park--a
half block long and a half block wide at the intersection of East-West
Highway and Blair Mill Road, entered by descending a few steps. Nearby is
Because it was largely neglected, I used to have the park to myself in the
midst of high-rise apartments and all the traffic on Georgia Avenue only a
couple of blocks away. But the place was fixed up in 1997. An acorn-shaped
gazebo now offers shade and a quiet place to have lunch.
The spring ran dry in the early 1950s. You can distinguish who has been
living around Washington for a while from those who are newer by their
identification of this suburb. I'm always wary of advertisers who call the
place "Silver Springs," because it shows me that they really don't have a
bond to this region. Before I moved there I, too, pronounced it Silver
Springs, because that name just sounded more natural to the tongue.
But Silver Springs is a glitzy tourist attraction north of Orlando offering
glass-bottom boat rides and encounters with alligators and crocodiles. Six
Tarzan movies and the television show "Sea Hunt" were filmed at Silver
In contrast, there's little sightseeing to do in Silver Spring. Its claim
to fame is its location. Silver Spring's spot on the Capital Beltway is
supposed to make it about 25 minutes from everywhere else in the region.
Despite problems with traffic congestion and attempts to make its downtown
business district competitive with upscale shopping malls elsewhere in
Montgomery County and Tysons Corner, longtime residents know Silver Spring
makes a fine place to live with its many wooded neighborhoods, a
well-stocked public library and easy access to downtown Washington on Metro
and Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MARC) commuter trains.
Which brings me back to Silver Spring's rock band connotation. Stevie
Nicks, a singer for the group Fleetwood Mac, wrote a song called "Silver
Springs." The title, she said, came from when she was riding on the Beltway
and the sign for the next exit said "Silver Spring." The name, she said,
"sounded like a pretty fabulous place to me."
Perhaps Stevie should have gotten off at that exit, and gone to Acorn Park,
where Francis Blair must have felt like he had found gold after seeing for
the first time that beautiful silver spring.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company