Bethesda is an unincorporated area in southern Montgomery County, Maryland, just Northwest of Washington, D.C. It takes its name from a local church, the Bethesda Presbyterian Church, built in 1820 and rebuilt in 1850, which in turn took its name from Jerusalem's Pool of Bethesda. (In Aramaic, beth hesda means "house of mercy".)
As an unincorporated area, Bethesda has no official boundaries. The United States Census Bureau defines a Census-Designated Place named Bethesda whose center is located at 38°59' North, 77°7' West. The United States Geological Survey has defined Bethesda as an area whose center is at , slightly different from the Census Bureau's definition. Other definitions are used by the Bethesda Urban Planning District, the United States Postal Service, and other organizations. As of 2000, the Census-defined community had a total population of 55,277. Most of Bethesda's residents are in Maryland Legislative District 16.
The main commercial corridor that runs through Bethesda is Maryland Route 355 (known as Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda and as Rockville Pike and Hungerford Drive in more northern communities), which, to the north, connects Bethesda with the communities of Kensington and Rockville, ending, after several name changes, in Frederick, Maryland. Toward the South, Rockville Pike becomes Wisconsin Avenue near the NIH Campus and continues beyond Bethesda through Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Maryland and into Washington, DC, ending in Georgetown.
The area commonly known as "downtown Bethesda" is centered at the intersection of Route 355 (Wisconsin Avenue) with Maryland Route 187 (Old Georgetown Road), and Maryland Route 410 (called "East-West Highway"). Much of the dense construction in that area followed the opening of the Bethesda station on the Red Line of the Washington Metro rapid transit system, also located at this intersection and the centerpiece of the Bethesda Metro Center development. The "downtown," which includes the restaurant districts of Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle, lies about 0.7 miles south of Bethesda's other Red Line stop, Medical Center, which serves the NIH Campus and the National Naval Medical Center. Bethesda Row and Woodmont Triangle are under heavy development, including several luxury condominiums, restaurants, and businesses.
The outer rim of Bethesda is known for older houses that still hold a strong value in today’s residential market. Even with the great “bubble burst” in 2006, Bethesda real estate seems to be holding strong. As of November 2, homes are for sale in Bethesda alone for an average price of $994,900, a price change up from October +7.6%. Bethesda Zip codes include 20814, 20816, and 20817.
There were 23,659 households out of which 28.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.4% were married couples living together, 6.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.9% were non-families. 32.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.92.
In the community the population was spread out with 21.9% under the age of 18, 4.6% from 18 to 24, 29.2% from 25 to 44, 27.1% from 45 to 64, and 17.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.0 males.
Bethesda is a wealthy and well-educated area. According to the 2000 Census, Bethesda is the best-educated city in the United States of America with a population of 50,000 or more. 79% of residents 25 or older have bachelor's degrees and 49% have graduate or professional degrees. The median income for a household is $99,102, and the median income for a family was $130,160. Males had a median income of $84,797 versus $57,569 for females. The per capita income for the area was $58,479. About 1.7% of families and 3.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.8% of those under age 18 and 4.1% of those age 65 or over. Many commute to Washington D.C. for work.
The community of Bethesda took its name from the Bethesda Meeting House, a Presbyterian church built in 1820 on the present site of the Cemetery of the Bethesda Meeting House, located now at 9400 Rockville Pike. The church burnt in 1850 and was rebuilt the same year about 100 yards south at its present site. In 1871, the local post office adopted the name "Bethesda" from the church and in due course the surrounding area generally took on the name.
Important institutions located in Bethesda include the National Institutes of Health campus, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division. Bethesda is also home to the National Naval Medical Center, commonly referred to as Bethesda Naval Hospital, where many famous Americans such as Senator Joseph McCarthy died, and the John F. Kennedy autopsy was performed. The Bethesda Naval Hospital is also the place where the President goes to get his yearly check-up. Adjoining the hospital to the east is the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS).
The headquarters of defense conglomerate Lockheed Martin, managed health care company Coventry Health Care and hotel and resort chains Marriott International and Host Hotels & Resorts, Inc. are located in Bethesda. Software company Bethesda Softworks was originally located in Bethesda, but moved to Rockville, Maryland in 1990. The Discovery Channel also had its headquarters in Bethesda before relocating to Silver Spring in 2004. On the professional services side, numerous banks (PNC, Wachovia, Chevy Chase Bank, which is headquartered in Bethesda) brokerage firms (SmithBarney, Merrill Lynch,Charles Schwab, Fidelity) and law firms (JDKatz, Paley Rothman, Learch Early & Brewer) maintain offices in Bethesda. Bethesda is renowned for its extensive collection of restaurants—180 were listed at the end of 2004—offering cuisine ranging from Afghan to Vietnamese. Bethesda is also home to two vibrant farmers markets, the Montgomery Farm Woman's Cooperative Market and the Bethesda Farmer's Market, as well as numerous cinemas, art movie houses, book stores (including used, and second hand books) and art galleries.
Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) has developed much of the west side of Bethesda into a vibrant area known as Bethesda Row. The vibrant district includes many varied restaurants, shops (including Barnes and Noble and the Apple Store). Built in the early 1990's, it became a model for the new, walkable, town-like developments now favored. Also located in downtown Bethesda is one of just 12 Madonna of the Trail monuments, erected by the National Old Trails Association working in concert with the Daughters of the American Revolution. Judge Harry S. Truman, later 33rd President of the United States, presided over the dedication of the Bethesda monument, on April 19, 1929. Eleven others were erected as well, and they stretch from Upland, California to Bethesda, the easternmost of these monuments, which commemorate the spirit of pioneer women during the westward expansion of the U.S.A. Nearby is the Bethesda Post Office, probably the oldest standing building in the downtown area. Also starting in the heart of downtown Bethesda, is the Capital Crescent Trail Capital Crescent Trail which follows the old tracks of the B&O Railroad stretching from Georgetown, Washington, D.C. to Silver Spring, MD.