Friday, September 16, 2016

Silver Spring & Four Corners

Is Four Corners in Silver Spring?  Most local residents would say yes, but the US Census Bureau says no.  Prior to the 2010 US Census, the Census Bureau had Four Corners as part of the Silver Spring census-designated place (CDP).  For some reason, they made Four Corners its own place in 2010, roughly comprising of Woodmoor, North Four Corners, and South Four Corners.  Indian Spring and the neighborhoods inside the Beltway remained part of the Silver Spring CDP.  

The Silver Spring CDP (dark orange) in 2010, with most of Four Corners left out.  Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I decided to revisit the topic after reading Dan Reed's blog post about what areas people view as Silver Spring.  He and Christy Batta polled 66 people and asked them where they though Silver Spring was.  Of the respondents, 23 of 66 said Silver Spring is "entirely inside the Beltway", which is the correct answer according to the Census, but it's not that simple.  Most Four Corners residents would consider Four Corners to be in Silver Spring, although the Census Bureau views much of Four Corners as independent of Silver Spring in its latest census.  So what's going on here?    

The topic of "where is Silver Spring?" is fascinating to me.  First of all, it shows that few people know or care about census-designated places (CDPs), which give borders to all unincorporated places in America, but the question is an interesting social phenomenon as well.  I wrote on this topic over two years ago, but let's delve a little deeper into the relationship between Four Corners and Silver Spring.

The map of Christy and Dan's survey results.  Dark green areas represent places that more people agreed were Silver Spring, while lighter green areas saw less consensus among respondents.  Image by Christy Batta.

Four Corners had existed as a little hamlet of farms since the 1800s, but it wasn't much of a community prior to the 1930s, since it was just a couple businesses and a church at a crossroads, with no critical mass of housing (the houses were spread out on surroudning farms).  However, even as subdivisions got built in Four Corners, they weren't necessarily marketed as being in Silver Spring.  Several real estate ads for subdivisions in Four Corners and nearby areas from the 1930s and 40s make little or no reference to Silver Spring.

A September 1940 advertisement for a house in Indian Spring Village, now Woodmoor, makes no reference to the house being in Silver Spring.  The name "Silver Spring" is only brought up in the driving directions to the home: "To Reach: At traffic light in Silver Spring, take Colesville Pike easterly past golf course to Four Corners, then right one-quarter mile to property entrance on left."

Similarly, a 1937 ad for a home in E. Brooke Lee's community 'Forest Hills of Sligo Park' (near today's Long Branch community) makes no mention of Silver Spring whatsoever, not even in the driving directions.  Potential buyers visiting the home by car are told "TO REACH SAMPLE HOUSE: Drive out Georgia Ave. one square beyond District line." I assume a square was a form of map measurement, but it still seems like an odd way of giving directions to a specific home.  

Furthermore, a 1923 real estate ad for Seven Oaks, a community straddling Sligo Creek that is considered to be in Silver Spring today, also only brings up Silver Spring in the driving directions to the development: "Drive out 16th St. to Alaska Avenue, out Alaska Avenue to Georgia Avenue, out Georgia Avenue through Silver Spring to Sligo, turn to right at Sligo on the Colesville Pike and about 500 yards from Sligo on your right you will come to the entrance of Seven Oaks".

I bring up these old real estate ads to demonstrate the apparent lack of consensus that these new subdivisions were in Silver Spring prior to World War II.  Nowadays, nearly all real estate advertisements in eastern Montgomery County mention the property's proximity to Silver Spring, or its location within Silver Spring.  Prior to World War II, many ads for new subdivisions now considered to be in Silver Spring made only a brief mention of the community, in smaller print for the sake of driving directions, and not as some kind of selling point.  This appears to have gradually changed as Silver Spring continued to grow and mature in the 1940s and 50s.      

If I had to pick a sole event that tied Four Corners to Silver Spring in the minds of many residents (if perhaps subtlety), it would be the opening of the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department's expansion station in Four Corners in 1947.  With its opening, an institution with "Silver Spring" in its name was located in Four Corners for the first time, and fire engines bearing "Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department" on their doors became a regular presence in Four Corners.  This probably helped cement the already growing usage of "Silver Spring" to describe the fledgling suburban areas around Four Corners.  

A 1952 Mack fire engine parked in front of the SSVFD station in Four Corners.  Image from the Silver Spring Volunteer Fire Department.
It's safe to say that Four Corners was seen as being part of Silver Spring in most resident's minds by the 1950s.  When ZIP codes came about in the 1960s, the ZIP code 20901 (covering nearly all of Four Corners and more) was given a Silver Spring label.  Also around this time, the Census Bureau began including Four Corners in the Silver Spring CDP, doing so until 2010.  In 1998, Montgomery Blair High School, which is seen as Silver Spring's high school due to its connection with the founding family of the community, opened in Four Corners after moving from Wayne Avenue.

Nowadays, most everyone in Four Corners identifies as living in Silver Spring, Maryland.  If asked to get more specific, many jump straight to the neighborhood level (Woodmoor, Northwood, etc) rather than saying they live "in Four Corners".  While communities farther out from downtown Silver Spring, such as White Oak and Wheaton, enjoy more independence from Silver Spring thanks to their size and frequent name usage in businesses (Wheaton Plaza, White Oak Shopping Center, etc.), Four Corners does not have that same level of independence.  

Four Corners only has a handful of businesses that use "Four Corners" in their name, and the two most visible ones are the pub and the animal hospital.  The name doesn't appear prominently on any other businesses.  There are "Four Corners" signs on University Boulevard at each jughandle, but nothing on Route 29 identifying the community as Four Corners (no signs, no banners on public light poles, etc).  

The 4 Corners Pub is one of the few businesses that use the local place name.  Photo by the author.
Four Corners Animal Hospital.  Photo by the author.

I think the general lack of Four Corners identity hurts the community in tangible ways, especially the commercial district in the immediate vicinity of the intersection.  However, that's a topic for another blog post.  I don't think Four Corners should part ways with Silver Spring, and I don't think it would be possible given how long the name has been in use.  Even if Four Corners were to incorporate as a city, it would probably still get referred to as "Silver Spring".  

I do think there's an untapped opportunity to embrace local identity in Four Corners, and I think doing so would have a variety of positive outcomes for businesses, institutions, and residents.  Stay tuned.     


  1. Four Cirners is in the "defunct" Montgomery county township of Berry as designated in CW Gray and Sons' 1876 map of Maryland. No Silver Spring at that time, just Wheaton, Knowles, and Sligo PO nearby!

  2. Interesting. "Silver Spring" appears to have been used just for downtown Silver Spring at one time. Its use for a larger area may have been by default, given the absence of large community centers in the southeastern quadrant of the county.

  3. We consider white oak as a part of silver spring. White oak resident since 93' - now.

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