Rebecca Henson remembers the moment she had the idea for a Rachel Carson museum in Silver Spring. It was a year into a global pandemic and a few months after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. “Dark times,” Henson recalls. Driving past Burnt Mills East Park on Colesville Road, she glanced at the historic building that stands on its grounds and had a vision of it as a museum. “I could just see the sign out front,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why not create something beautiful and positive for the community?’ ”
A month later, Henson—a climate-risk researcher and Silver Spring resident—founded a nonprofit organization with the mission of establishing the first museum dedicated to Carson, the so-called mother of the modern environmental movement. Carson wrote the landmark book Silent Spring at her home two miles up the Anacostia River from Burnt Mills East. While her house is a National Historic Landmark, there isn’t currently a place where the public can directly engage with her ideas and life story.
In February, Springsong (the name of both the nonprofit and the proposed museum) released the first architectural sketches of its vision. The building that would house it is a 1936 water-pumping station that was built to look like a Colonial home. It has mostly been unused since 1962. The museum would feature a floor of exhibits about Carson’s life and work and another dedicated to local flora and fauna, as well as the history of Native Americans in the area. Henson says that since the group began a fundraising campaign in December, it has raised more than $24,000. The museum concept has also earned the endorsement of the Audubon Naturalist Society, of which Carson was a member.
The next step is to convince Montgomery Parks. Last summer, Springsong informally presented its idea and heard some concerns related to traffic flow, historic preservation, and—naturally—environmental impact. The group is working to address those issues and now will officially petition for redevelopment and use of the building. “I don’t think Parks will stand in the way,” says David Tobin, manager of public-private partnerships for Montgomery Parks. “Like any unused or underused park building, we’d be happy to see it put to use.”
But regardless of what happens, Henson hopes people will continue to discover and appreciate Carson: “We should be celebrating this incredible person whose spirit is in our midst.”