Excerpt from House on the Hill, by Mary Schaller '61
The construction work at Stone Ridge did not proceed fast enough to satisfy Reverend Mother Barry. In July she wrote to Reverend Mother Hamilton at Kenwood, “Things are moving slowly again, I’m sorry to say, but I hope they will pick up again. It is the plumbing and electrical work [in the Hamilton House] that are holding things up now” [Letter, Archives].
An even more pressing problem was the desperately needed new wing that would be built out the back of the main house where the long porch was located. Autumn was fast approaching and work had not yet begun on the foundation for the new wing. Earth moving equipment and labor were already overbooked. Reverend Mother Barry eyed the Naval Hospital next door where there seemed to be no problem with supplies or construction equipment, especially earth moving machines.
The Bethesda Naval Hospital, now known as the National Naval Medical Center, was a special project near and dear to the heart of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1938, the United States Congress voted funds for the purchase of land for a proposed Naval medical center. On July 5, 1938, FDR personally selected a “cabbage patch on a run-down 247 acre farm” [see NNMC’s website] as the site for the new hospital. Ground was broken on June 29, 1939. On November 11, 1940, President Roosevelt laid the cornerstone for the hospital’s distinctive tower building. By the end of World War II, the wounded men and women had stretched the new hospital beyond capacity. In 1945, temporary buildings were erected to accommodate 2,464 invalided sailors and Marines. New facilities were under construction when the Religious of the Sacred Heart moved in next door at Stone Ridge.
Reverend Mother Barry daily saw the steam shovels at work on the other side of the fence while her new wing’s foundation was only a number of wooden pegs in the ground connected by string. Mother did the only thing she could think of. She invited the admiral in charge of the Naval Hospital to Stone Ridge for tea.
Naturally, that gallant officer could not ignore the gracious invitation from his new, albeit unusual, neighbors. During the admiral’s visit, Reverend Mother Barry launched a preemptive strike, and the Naval officer never quite knew what hit him.
Mother Barry apologized – in advance – for all the noise that her school’s new construction was going to make. She feared it was going to be a very long, long period of building, especially since the necessary excavation into the hillside behind the Hamilton House was going to be difficult—and noisy. She was sorry that the poor patients in the hospital were going to be disturbed by the racket next door for such a long time.
The admiral was sympathetic to the poor nuns’ plight. As far as he could see it, all their little school needed was a large hole in the ground. It was also brought to his attention that the elder daughter of the current Secretary of the Navy, John L. Sullivan, was going to be a pupil at Stone Ridge in the fall. The following week, a convoy of bulldozers, manned by U. S. Navy Seabees, arrived at Hamilton House. Reverend Mother Barry got her foundation dug in the Biblical seven days. [Interview with Deborah Sullivan DuSault, x62, daughter of John L. Sullivan].
The official move from 1719 Massachusetts Ave, to Stone Ridge in Bethesda, Maryland took place in September on Labor Day weekend.