By Mary A. van Balgooy
Opening in the spring of 1889, Woodlawn was the grandest and largest summer resort hotel in Rockville. Visitors from Washington, DC rode the train to enjoy “Peerless Rockville” for its “cool, delicious water, no malaria, rarely a mosquito, ozone-bearing air, the many dashing streams of water, rich vegetation, and abundant supply of fresh vegetables and country produce.” Guests continued to arrive until a series of depressions in the 1890s deflated the economy. By 1906, the owners of the Woodlawn, heavily in debt, had to sell. The French Second Empire style hotel, stable, windmill, ice house, carriage house, laundry and servant quarters, and eight acres went to public auction.
Ernest L. Bullard, a surgeon and professor of psychiatry and neurology from Milwaukee, Wisconsin purchased the hotel. He renovated the building and opened a sanitarium for the care of nervous and mental diseases in 1910, aptly naming it Chestnut Lodge for the 125 chestnut trees on the property.
In 1927, his son Dexter Bullard married Anne Wilson, who had grown up in nearby Kensington, Maryland. Ernest built a family home for them on the grounds of Chestnut Lodge just a hundred feet away from the main building. Called Little Lodge, the house was designed in the Tudor Revival style. When his father died in 1931, Dexter took over the business with Anne acting as the hospital administrator. By 1934, they were operating the only mental hospital in the world that specialized in psychoanalysis for psychotic patients.
Frieda Fromm-Reichmann arrived at Chestnut Lodge in June 1935. Born and educated in Germany, she gained notice for her psychiatric work in Heidelberg. After Hitler came to power, she fled to America where she was wooed by several psychiatric institutions. She settled at Chestnut Lodge and, in partnership with Dexter, transformed the hospital into one of the preeminent private mental health facilities and teaching institutions. Frieda’s name attracted patients and talented staff such as Otto Will, Alfred Stanton, David Rioch, Harry Stack Sullivan, Harold Searles, Robert Morris, and Robert Cohen, which in turn earned international recognition for the Lodge.
Frieda loved her job and new home, Frieda’s Cottage, located on the Chestnut Lodge campus. Designed by Washington, DC architect Walter G. Peter in the Colonial Revival style, the cottage included a reception room and office to treat patients.
Frieda blended different theories, a unique personal style, and a Judaic-based sense of responsibility for helping people in her work. Her book, Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy, remains one of the most respected fundamental texts on the subject. One of her most famous patients, Joanne Greenberg, responded so well to Frieda’s treatment at Chestnut Lodge that she wrote about her experience in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.
For more than 75 years, three generations of Bullards operated Chestnut Lodge, adding acreage and buildings to the campus. In 1974, Chestnut Lodge became part of the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District, the largest in the City of Rockville. The Bullards sold the Lodge in 1997 when it passed through several hands until it was acquired by Chestnut Lodge Properties, Inc., who is developing the property into a luxury residential neighborhood. Frieda’s Cottage, identified as one of the structures of primary significance on the campus, was deeded to Peerless Rockville in 2007. Peerless Rockville restored the house and returned it to its original use as a home.
Sadly, a fire on June 7, 2009 destroyed the landmark building that began as Woodlawn Hotel and came to symbolize the psychiatric institution of Chestnut Lodge. Today, the Chestnut Lodge campus is preserved for the community and consists of Little Lodge, Frieda’s Cottage, a Stable and an Ice House, and eight acres of forested lawn.