Brief History of the Site
The National Park Seminary opened in a former hotel, Ye Forest Inne, in 1894 as an exclusive boarding school for young ladies from well-to-do families. Although the U.S. Army took over the property in 1942 for a rehabilitation annex for patients at Walter Reed Hospital, the buildings largely fell into disuse and disrepair by the 1980’s. Starting in 2004, The Alexander Company and EYA redeveloped the historic buildings and grounds as a residential complex of condominiums, apartments, townhomes, and single-family houses that successfully blend new and old.
The tour comprised several of the school’s original structures that made up the unique campus, including three of the eight sorority houses which were built in a variety of international styles. These were clubhouses used as the students’ center of informal social life and for hosting events, but were not actually lived in until the Army converted them to officer housing.
1. Zeta Eta Theta – The Swiss Chalet
The girls of the Zeta Eta Theta sorority chose a Swiss chalet as the model for their clubhouse, built in 1899. Legend holds that they sent the plans to the Swiss Legation in Washington to certify that the building was authentic in its design. Notable are the scallop-trimmed roof and elaborately carved fireplace wall, window trim, and stair railings. The sorority house was moved to its current location in 1925 to make room for the large building next door, which includes the Seminary’s grand ballroom.
2. Chi Upsilon Psi – The Japanese Pagoda
This last clubhouse built in 1905 was a dramatic finale to the internationally-themed sorority building plan for the campus. As with each of the sororities, the Japanese pagoda was furnished in as authentic a style as possible, complete with bamboo wainscoting, decorative carved screens, and lanterns. The one-story wing was added in the early 1920’s. Later, the Army enclosed the open porch on the third floor to make it usable for housing year-round.
3. Miller Library
Built in 1901 by the school, the Miller library was designed to hold the extraordinary collection of some 10,000 volumes amassed by Jahu Dewitt Miller, a popular traveling lecturer and lay preacher. Miller was a friend of the founders of the National Park Seminary, and frequently visited the campus to lecture and preach. The girls in the library science program helped catalog his books. A marble plaque in the front sidewalk is in memory of Miller. Note the distinctive stucco band encircling the building, which corresponds to the mezzanine inside. During the Army years, the library was converted to housing and the cantilevered porch was removed.
4. Theta Sigma Rho – The Spanish Mission
The Theta Sigma Rho sorority house, built in 1903, was perhaps the first building in the Mid-Atlantic region that reflected the style of the California missions. It was furnished originally with items reflecting the Southwest. The Army removed all of the distinctive mission elements of the facade when the building was converted to officer housing. Using SOS’s collection of historic photographs, however, the decorative parapet, arcaded porch, and diamond-paned windows were recently replicated in the original style.
5. The Chapel
The non-denominational chapel was among the first buildings to be constructed at the Seminary in 1898. Sunday services and lectures on religious and moral topics were offered here. The chapel also served as an assembly hall where the students convened each school day. Expanded twice during the school years to accommodate the growing student body, it still features most of the stained glass windows that were given as a gift by the first graduating class of the school. The Army continued to use the building as a chapel until the late 1980’s.
6. New Townhouse – 2747 Cassedy Street
As part of the rejuvenation of National Park Seminary into residential housing, 90 new townhouses were built on open space from 2006 through 2009, embodying styles that reflect the historic buildings on campus. This example of a modified Arts and Crafts style has the advantage of being located near the wooded glen, with a bird’s eye view of the trees and surrounding historic buildings from the soaring top floor and terrace.
7. Apartment – A116, 9615 Dewitt Drive
This apartment is located in what was the center of the kitchen for the school. It was separated from the dining room by an interior courtyard to reduce the possibility of a kitchen fire spreading to the main building. Today, this residence incorporates the largest raised skylight of the original kitchen as a loft bedroom with a rooftop view, accessed by a spiral staircase.
8. Dining Room – Community Room
Part of the original Ye Forest Inne designed by well-known DC architect Thomas Franklin Schneider and completed in 1887, the dining room was where first the hotel guests and later the students, dressed in dinner attire (or formal wear for special occasions), took their meals. During the Army years, this was the patients’ and staff mess hall with more utilitarian furnishings. The original massive fireplace, decorative columns, brackets, and beamed ceiling give the room a warm, inviting look. The dining room now functions as the community room for all the current residents of National Park Seminary, incorporating a fitness area off to one side.