History of Glenview Mansion (1917-1954)

Color Image - Glenview Mansion

Welcome to Glenview Mansion, centerpiece of Rockville Civic Center Park, and the former country estate of the wealthy Lyon family and plantation for the powerful Bowie family.

This overview traces the history of the property from the 1830s to today. Nearly 200 years ago, when the nation was developing, Rockville was only a 200-resident village surrounded by farms. Still, it served as a crossroads between the ports of Georgetown, Bladensburg and Baltimore to the western frontier.

Judge Richard Bowie and wife Catherine purchased 500 acres of land, and used the labor of enslaved Black people to clear forests for a working plantation and family home. The farm produced corn, wheat, rye, potatoes and hay, and was used to raise cattle, horses, sheep and pigs. In 1838, their two-story house was built on the property’s highest point and named “Glen View” because of its view of the Croydon Creek valley below. Bowie was working as an attorney and serving as a state senator when Glen View was under construction. By the time of his death in 1881, he had served as State's Attorney for Montgomery County, a member of U.S. Congress and Chief Judge for the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Bowie was a Union sympathizer and anti-secessionist, yet owned enslaved Black people and opposed abolishing slavery. His home and farm were built and maintained by 21 enslaved Black people, a common and horrific situation in this border state in the decades leading to the Civil War. Between 1862 and 1864, enslaved Black people were freed in Rockville under the Maryland Constitution of 1864.

Glen View remained in the Bowie family until 1904, then changed hands several times before 1917, when it was purchased by Irene and William Smith, a recently married couple whose wealth gave them political and social connections in Washington, D.C., and New York.

With the arrival of the automobile, wealthy heirs, business leaders, department store owners, newspaper publishers and other elite residents of Washington built country estates on the major roads leading to Rockville to entertain friends and escape the summer heat and urban congestion of Washington. Unfortunately, William Smith died shortly after the purchase of the home and in 1923, Irene married James Lyon, a prominent cardiologist and highly decorated U.S. Army officer. They hired architects Lochie and Porter to transform the property from a farm to a fashionable country estate, with formal gardens designed for entertaining, called Glenview. It was completed just before the birth of the Lyon's only child, Betsy, in 1926.

The Bowie's original house still survives as the center of the much larger neoclassical mansion. The 1926 estate is now approximately 25,000 square feet and features more than 30 rooms. In 1938, the Lyons had the Cottage built as a playhouse for their daughter. With newcomers flocking to the nation's capital during and following World War II, Glenview was no longer in the country but in the suburbs. From 1940 to 1960, Rockville's population grew from 2,000 to 26,000. After Irene Lyon's death in 1950, her husband began selling off parcels of the estate for housing developments, eventually selling the mansion to the Montgomery County Historical Society in 1954.

In 1957, the City of Rockville purchased Glenview and the surrounding 28 acres for $125,000 to become a civic center — a controversial decision based on a referendum that passed by only 40 votes. It immediately became a popular place for community meetings and events. Some organizations, such as the Rockville Art League, Rockville Little Theater and Sister Cities Corporation, have continued to use the park since 1957. In time, the City of Rockville would expand the park to 153 acres and add a theater, tennis courts, hiking trail and nature center. 

The property is now referred to as Glenview Mansion at Rockville Civic Center Park and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under Glenview Farm: M-26/17. Once a plantation and private country estate, Glenview Mansion now welcomes more than 100,000 people and hosts 1,200 events and activities annually as Rockville Civic Center Park.