Walter Johnson: The Montgomery County Farmer Who Could Also Pitch

Walter Johnson: The Montgomery County Farmer Who Could Also Pitch

Walter Johnson was arguably the greatest pitcher of all time. He played his entire major league career for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927, compiling a record of 417-279 and an ERA of 2.17 for often last-place Washington squads. Johnson struck out 3,509 batters during his 20 year career and was nicknamed the “Big Train” by Stanley Milliken of the Washington Post because Johnson’s fastball and imposing size reminded the sportswriter of an express train.

Walter Johnson 1909 T-206 Card (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

In 1925, toward the end of his playing career, Johnson purchased a house at 9100 Old Georgetown Road in what is now Bethesda, Maryland. The house, constructed about 1906, was located in what was then an area known as Alta Vista.

The Former Walter Johnson House, 9100 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, Maryland

The house is on the Department of the Interior’s National Register of Historic Places (click the link to read the survey of the Maryland Historical Trust, which contains additional information about the house).

Walter Johnson House – National Register of Historic Places Plaque

The house was situated on an 8 1/2 acre farm which included chicken coops for eggs and for show, an orchard, a windmill, a tenant house, and a baseball diamond (the original Field of Dreams?).

View of Walter Johnson’s Former House from Oakmont Avenue

The house today is used as a doctor’s office, given its close proximity to the nearby National Institutes of Health.

Intersection of Walter Johnson Road and Wisteria Drive Looking East Toward Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

The Johnson farm that surrounded the house was bounded by what is now Johnson Avenue to the north, Old Georgetown Road to the east, Oakmont Avenue/Oak Place to the south, and Hempstead Avenue to the West.

Old Georgetown Road and Johnson Avenue – the Northeast corner of Johnson’s Former Farm (Johnson Farmhouse is Visible Through the Trees)

Just west of Hempstead Avenue is the former site of Ayrlawn Farm, a dairy farm that was in operation during the time Johnson lived in Bethesda.

Intersection of Johnson and Hempstead Avenues Looking Northeast Toward Johnson’s Former Farm Site

Ayrlawn Park now sits on a portion of the former farm site and includes several original buildings dating back to its days as a dairy farm, including the main farm house and barn silo, which is now part of a local YMCA.

Arylawn Park is Adjacent to the Site of Johnson’s Former 8 1/2 Acre Farm in Bethesda

From 1929 until 1932, Johnson managed the Washington Senators and, from 1933 until his dismissal in 1935, managed the Cleveland Indians. Once retired from baseball, in 1936, Johnson sold his house and land in Bethesda and bought a 552 acre farm in Germantown, Maryland.

Railroad Station, Germantown, Maryland

Located 15 miles northwest of his home in Bethesda, the farm in Germantown provided Johnson the opportunity to return to his roots, having grown up in Kansas farm country.

Intersection of Walter Johnson Road and Wisteria Drive Looking East Toward Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

Although Johnson’s Germantown farm once included a farm house, a large diary barn, and several other buildings, no structures dating back to Johnson’s farm remain on the site today.

Entrance to 19400 Crystal Rock Drive

The Johnson farmhouse was located near what is now 19400 Crystal Rock Drive.

Chesterbrook Academy and Parking Lot – Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

The Chesterbrook Academy, a preschool, sits in the approximate location of the Johnson farmhouse.

Chesterbrook Academy and Parking Lot – Former Site of Johnson Farmhouse

Trees that once shaded the Johnson farmhouse remain at the site.

Cluster of Trees that Once Surrounded the Johnson Farmhouse

Seneca Valley High School now sits on a portion of Johnson’s former dairy farm.

Seneca Valley High School Occupies A Portion of Walter Johnson’s Former Farm

After retirement from baseball, Johnson stayed active in the community, serving as Montgomery County Commissioner from 1938 to 1940. He ran for Maryland’s Sixth Congressional District in 1940 on the Republican ticket, loosing to the Democratic incumbent by only a few thousand votes. Johnson was reelected County Commissioner in 1942 and served in that position until his death in 1946. Johnson died of a brain tumor at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington D.C.

Entrance to Rockville Cemetery

Johnson is interred in Rockville Cemetery (also known as Union Armory Cemetery), located at 1350 Baltimore Road, in Rockville, Maryland.

Northern and Bowie Avenues Inside Rockville Cemetery

His grave site is located just northeast of the the intersection of Northern and Bowie Avenues.

Grave Site of Walter Johnson and His Wife Hazel Lee Johnson

As is somewhat common of baseball Hall of Famer grave sites, Johnson’s family marker is adorned with baseball souvenirs left by fans.

Johnson Family Marker Adorned With Ballcaps and Baseballs Left By Fans

Walter Johnson’s marker is simple, making no mention of his accomplishments on or off the field of baseball, noting only the years of his birth and death, 1887-1946.

Walter Johnson Grave Marker

Johnson’s beloved wife, Hazel Lee, who predeceased her husband by 16 years, is interred next him.

Grave Marker of Hazel Lee Johnson

Walter Johnson’s memory lives large throughout Montgomery County. In addition to streets named after Johnson, his name also adorns a high school located just two miles north of his former home in Bethesda.

Walter Johnson High School Banner

Walter Johnson High School was opened in 1956, 10 years after Johnson’s death.

Front Entrance to Walter Johnson High School at 6400 Rock Spring Drive in Bethesda, Maryland

Located behind the high school, on the outer wall of the athletics department is a granite monument to Walter Johnson.

Walter Johnson High School Athletics Department

The monument originally resided at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., home of the Washington Senators.

Walter Johnson Monument At The High School Bearing His Name

The monument was placed at Griffith Stadium in 1946 and dedicated at that time by President Harry S. Truman.

The monument was placed at Griffith Stadium in 1946 and dedicated at that time by President Harry S. Truman.

Another memorial to Johnson is a statute located in front of Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. Dedicated in 2009, the statue shows Johnson in mid-pitch, with a repetitious arm motion meant to simulate the course of his pitching motion just prior to release.

Walter Johnson Statute at Nationals Park

Another tribute to Johnson is the Bethesda Big Train, a college wooden bat team that plays in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The Big Train play their home games at Shirley Povich Field, located in Cabin John Park in Bethesda, Maryland.

Shirley Povich Field, Bethesda, Maryland (Showing Grandstand and Visitor’s Dugout)

Montgomery County, Maryland, is proud of the legacy of its adopted son, Walter Johnson. For fans of the game, the many sites in and around the county that are linked to Johnson or placed there in his honor are certainly worth a visit should you find yourself in the Nation’s Capital and looking for a way to connect to and appreciate one of baseball’s greatest pitchers.

Byron Bennett