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NIH Record

'We Were Here First'
New Exhibit Probes Many Lives of NLM Site

The National Library of Medicine has mounted a new exhibit entitled "We Were Here First: The History of the NLM Site, 1000 BC - 1955 AD." Located at the entrance to the History of Medicine Division, just off the NLM lobby (Bldg. 38), the exhibit uses original artifacts and digital reproductions of maps and photographs to illustrate 3,000 years of human activity on the land on which NLM now stands and its environs.

The land has been variously used as a hunting camp, a tobacco plantation, the summer home of a descendent of Martha Washington, and a country club and golf course.

Winona, built around 1870 on the site where NLM now stands

From approximately 1000 BC to 1600 AD, small groups of hunters periodically visited the area, using it as a hunting camp and a stopping place on the route between western Maryland and the Potomac River. Archeological excavations carried out in the area just south of NLM, across the small brook, uncovered evidence of extensive tool-making activity. Some of the objects such as stone projectile (i.e., spear and arrow) points, hammerstones, and daggers, are on display.

The NLM area was part of two landgrants, "Clagett's Purchase" and "Huntington," made to Thomas Fletchall in 1715. By 1783, the land was owned by Robert Peter, one of the wealthiest men in Montgomery County. His son, Thomas, married Martha Washington's granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis. Their granddaughter and her husband, Armistead Peter, a physician who was in charge of a smallpox hospital during the Civil War, inherited the Bethesda land and built a summer home called Winona on this site. While descendants of the prominent Peter and Custis families lived in the house on the hill, a local family named Gingle occupied a house near the stream. Maps from 1865, 1879, and 1894 show the locations of the Peter and Gingle homes.

In 1921, the Town and Country Club, a private club founded by members of Washington's German-Jewish community, purchased the property. It was later renamed Woodmont Country Club. Extensive renovations turned the Georgian brick house into a white columned mansion and the surrounding land into a 9-hole golf course. Posters from this period announce dances on the "Starlight Open Porch" and celebrate the expansion of the golf course. The federal government purchased the land for NIH in 1948 but ran it as the public Glenbrook Golf Course until 1955. Ground was broken for the National Library of Medicine in 1959.

The exhibit will be on display until the end of June. Flyers about the exhibit will be available at NLM or contact Carol Clausen via email at

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