Not far from the Capital Beltway is a cluster of formerly dilapidated structures, now integrated into a beautiful condo development. These are the remains of the National Park Seminary.
The development dates back to 1887, when Ye Forest Inn was built as a tourist resort. In 1894, the buildings were turned into a girls’ boarding school called the National Park Seminary. The ornate, classically-inspired architecture on campus was based on plans brought from the Chicago World’s Fair. Girls lived in eight unusual sorority houses, one modeled on a pagoda, another on a Dutch windmill, another on a chalet.
The seminary thrived the first decades of the 20th century as a finishing school for society girls, with 300 students including Hersheys, Chryslers, Krafts, and Maytags. By the Great Depression, only 40 students remained. During World War II, the Army took over the Forest Glen campus and used it for recovering amputees. It was also employed to house wounded soldiers during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as well as for animal research.
By the 1970s, the place was in a state of decay, and by 1978 all patients were gone. The Army planned to tear down the campus, but it was spared by the Save Our Seminary association. Arson destroyed one structure in 1993, and in 2003 a private developer took over the property and since then it has been reborn as a residential community, with the historic structures repurposed into houses and condos. As of summer 2018, only a handful of decaying buildings have yet to be restored, and they seem to be under construction.
Because the buildings are private residences, it’s impossible to see the interiors of the restored buildings, including the famously splendid ballroom. But there is a self-guided tour, comprised of nine markers, that allows you to see building exteriors and learn about the history of the National Park Seminary.