Since You Asked: Jan.-Feb. 2012
Your questions answered.
Sugarloaf Mountain, circa 1900.
Sometimes I take my kids hiking at Sugarloaf Mountain. Is it privately owned? Oh, to own my own mountain! What else can you tell me about it?
—Bruce Guthrie, Silver Spring
Sugarloaf Mountain is a 1,282-foot National Natural Landmark located off I-270 in Dickerson. It is maintained and operated by Stronghold Inc., a nonprofit created in 1946 by the late Gordon Strong, a wealthy Midwesterner who bought his first parcel on the mountain in 1903, according to Sugarloaf: The Mountain’s History, Geology, and Natural Lore (University of Virginia Press, 2003) by Melanie Choukas-Bradley.
Strong and his wife, Louise, built a mansion on the mountain, and moved there full time in 1936. The book says they spent their later years buying the mountain’s other private properties so that its natural beauty could be preserved after they died. Local legend has it that President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to build a White House retreat on Sugarloaf, but Gordon Strong wouldn’t allow it, sending him to Camp David instead.
Money for the maintenance and improvement of the mountain and the Strong Mansion, which can be rented for weddings and other events, comes from a trust fund, membership dues and donations, according to Stronghold Inc.
The broadcast tower in Kenwood is an amazing structure. It’s enormous! What is the story behind it? How tall is it? What does it do? Who owns and manages it? When did it go up? How does it compare or fit in with the other towers in the area, such as the ones in Tenleytown?
—Chris Isleib, Bethesda
It’s unclear who built the tower on Kenwood Golf and Country Club property in the mid-1940s. But in 1947, Harry Golf, a ham radio operator, became its first tenant when he set up a commercial AM station there, according to Stephen Smith, general manager of Kenwood Golf and Country Club, which owns the tower.
Golf broadcast from a tiny, cinder-block building at the tower base, most likely playing classical music, given the large stacks of old classical records found years later in the now-abandoned building, Smith says.
The tower was leased to various broadcast corporations over the years, and in 2002, Montgomery County asked to use it for emergency communication services.
At the time, the tower couldn’t accommodate the hardware needed to meet the county’s needs, so Kenwood Golf and Country Club hired Sparks-based KCI Technologies Inc. to build a larger, more substantial structure, with a base about 280 feet tall and a spire rising an additional 60 feet. By comparison, the WAMU tower in Tenleytown is 319 feet tall, with a pole that extends the height to 428 feet.
The Kenwood tower is still owned by the country club, and is used for the county’s emergency communications, radio station transmission and cell phone signals, Smith says.
Pooks Hill, FDR and the princess in exile. What’s the story?
—Charlie Cook, Chevy Chase
During World War II, an exiled princess, Margaret of Norway, came to Bethesda with her children, says William Offutt, author of Bethesda: A Social History (The Innovation Game, 1995). She enrolled her children in Bethesda public schools and rented a house in the neighborhood of Pooks Hill. Roosevelt visited her there, leading to speculation about a possible affair.
“She was a pretty woman, and FDR liked pretty women,” Offutt says. “We have no reason to believe it wasn’t perfectly innocent, but at the time it looked suspicious. And since we know more about Roosevelt’s private life now, it does have a tinge of scandal. It’s a real story, and a Bethesda story.”
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