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Silver Spring, Maryland

Silver Spring is an urbanized, but unincorporated area in Montgomery County, Maryland. It takes its name from a mica-flecked spring discovered by Francis Preston Blair, who subsequently bought much of the surrounding land. Acorn Park in the downtown area of Silver Spring is the site of the original spring.


Silver Spring hosts the American Film Institute Silver Theatre and Culture Center, on Colesville Road. The theatre showcases American and Foreign Films. Discovery Communications, a company that has wielded considerable influence in cable and satellite programming, has its headquarters on the same street.

Silver Spring has many churches, synagogues, temples, and other religious institutions.


The Blair and Lee families are irrefutably tied to Silver Spring's history.

In 1840, Francis Preston Blair, with his daughter, Elizabeth, and his horse Selim discovered the spring, flowing with chips of mica. Two years later, the 20-room mansion Silver Spring was built on a 250-acre country homestead situated just outside of Washington, D.C

By 1854, Blair's son, Montgomery Blair, who became Postmaster General under Abraham Lincoln, and represented Dred Scott before the United States Supreme Court built a house in the area, called Falkland.

Samuel Phillips Lee married Elizabeth Blair, and they bore Francis Preston Blair Lee in 1857. The child would eventually become the first popularly elected Senator in United States history.

In 1864, Confederate States of America Army General Jubal Early occupied Silver Spring prior to the Battle of Fort Stevens. After the engagement, fleeing Confederate soldiers razed Montgomery Blair's Falkland residence.

In the late 1800s, the area started developing. 1873 brought rails to the area, as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Metropolitan Branch ran from Washington, DC to Point of Rocks, Maryland. The first suburban development began in 1887 when Selina Wilson divided part of her farm on Colesville Road and Brookville Road into 5 and 10 acre plots.

In 1893, Francis Preston Blair Lee and his wife, Anne Brooke Lee, gave birth to E. Brooke Lee, who is known as the father of modern Silver Spring for his visionary attitude about developing the region. The Silver Spring Armory, constructed in 1911, housed 115th Infantry Regiment (?) Maryland National Guard Company K, which Captain Lee commanded in World War I. Lee eventually retired a Colonel.

The early 1900s set the pace for downtown Silver Spring's growth. E. Brooke Lee and his brother, Blair Lee, founded the Lee Development Company, whose Colesville Road office building remains a downtown fixture. Suburban development continued in 1922 when Woodside Development Corporation created Woodside Park, with acre plot home sites. Montgomery Blair High School opened in 1924; it was the first high school in Montgomery County. 1924 also was the year that trolley service on Georgia Avenue across B&O's Metropolitan Branch was temporarily suspended so that an underpass could be built. The underpass was completed two years later, but trolley service never resumed. A new Maryland National Guard Armory was built in 1927 on the corner of Fenton Street and Wayne Avenue. The old armory was converted to a fire station.

The Silver Spring Shopping Center and Silver Theatre were built in 1938. The Shopping Center was unique because it was the nation's first retail space that featured a parking lot, a feature that was unheard of at the time. Conventional wisdom held that merchandise should be in windows closest to the street so that people could see it, and the shopping center broke those rules.

By the 1950s, Silver Spring was the second busiest retail market between Baltimore and Richmond, with the Hecht Company, J. C. Penney, Sears, Roebuck & Co, and a number of other retailers locating there. In 1954, the Blair mansion Silver Spring was replaced with Blair Station Post office, which opened in 1956. In 1958, Falkland was burned again, to give practice to the local Volunteer Fire Department, and to clear space for Blair Plaza Shopping Center.

Wheaton Plaza, a shopping mall with ample parking spaces, opened in 1960, much to the detriment of the downtown area, which began its decline.

Metrorail service began in 1978 with the opening of Silver Spring Station. The red line was built on the median of the old B&O Metrpolitan Branch right of way, and went downtown, parallel to Georgia Avenue before descending into Union Station. By the mid-1990s, the red line continued underground to two more locations in Silver Spring, with the opening of Forest Glen and Wheaton Stations.

By the late 1980s, the downtown area was in decline, and the Hecht Company was the last store to pull out of the area. City Place was established in the old Hecht Company building in 1992, but it had trouble attracting quality anchor stores, and gained a reputation as a budget mall.

In 1998, the National Guard Armory was demolished, against opposition by concerned citizens, who later formed the Silver Spring Historical Society.

In 2003, Discovery Communications completed the construction of its headquarters, and relocated from neighboring Bethesda. 2003 also brought the reopening of the Silver Theatre, under the auspices of the American Film Institute. Now, downtown Silver Spring continues to develop, as housing shortages in Fairfax County, Virginia contribute to the demand for housing throughout the entire Washington region.


As an unincorporated area, Silver Spring's boundaries are not officially defined. The United States Census Bureau defines Silver Spring as a Census-Designated Place whose center is located at 39°1' North latitude, 77°1' West longitude. It is larger than any city in Maryland except for Baltimore. The United States Geological Survey locates the center of Silver Spring at 38°59'26" North, 77°1'35" West, notably some distance from the Census Bureau's datum. By another definition, Silver Spring is located at 39°0'15" North, 77°1'8" West (39.004242, -77.019004)1. The definitions used by the Silver Spring Urban Planning District, the United States Postal Service, the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, etc., are all different, each one defining it for their own purposes. According to the United States Census Bureau, the community has a total area of 24.4 km² (9.4 mi²). 24.4 km² (9.4 mi²) of it is land and none of the area is covered with water.


As of the census of 2000, there are 76,540 people, 30,374 households, and 17,616 families residing in the area. The population density is 3,137.2/km² (8,123.6/mi²). There are 31,208 housing units at an average density of 1,279.1/km² (3,312.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the community is 46.61% White, 28.07% African American, 0.44% Native American, 8.22% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 11.55% from other races, and 5.04% from two or more races. 22.22% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 30,374 households out of which 29.4% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 40.8% are married couples living together, 12.5% have a female householder with no husband present, and 42.0% are non-families. 32.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 7.8% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.50 and the average family size is 3.21.

In the area the population is spread out with 23.0% under the age of 18, 9.3% from 18 to 24, 37.0% from 25 to 44, 21.2% from 45 to 64, and 9.6% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 34 years. For every 100 females there are 93.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 89.5 males.

The median income for a household in the area is $51,653, and the median income for a family is $60,631. Males have a median income of $38,124 versus $36,096 for females. The per capita income for the area is $26,357. 9.3% of the population and 6.4% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 11.7% are under the age of 18 and 9.7% are 65 or older.