Background and Priorities


The Mary Kay Harper Center for Suburban Studies works to preserve and interpret the County’s suburban history and bring a scholarly focus to its study. Current priorities of the Center include:


• Developing an online Guide to Primary and Secondary Sources on the Suburbanization on Montgomery County, MD to support research and interpretation.

• Preserving the knowledge, experiences, and points of view of planners, developers, builders, architects, conservationists, leaders, etc. who played a role in County’s suburbanization.

• Designing and implementing annual programs and activities that communicate and interpret the County’s suburban past, present, and future.


The Center was established as a legacy project to honor Mary Kay Harper as she retired in 2008. Mary Kay has served the Montgomery County Historical Society for over a quarter century, including 18 years as Executive Director. Although the Society’s emphasis traditionally was on the more distant past, Mary Kay expanded the focus to include the county’s suburban development.


Montgomery County, MD’s proximity to Washington, D.C. was, and continues to be, a major force behind its growth. As the county evolved into a thriving suburban region, it struggled to find a balance between meeting the needs of a booming population and not completely losing its rural heritage. In some ways this shaped the county’s contrasts. From the urbanized suburbs of Bethesda and Silver Spring to the rural towns of Hyattstown and Poolesville, from the I-270 Technology Corridor to the Agricultural Reserve, the county is a fascinating case study in suburban development.


Montgomery County’s suburban history includes late 19th Century railroad and streetcar suburbs, explosive growth of 20th Century automobile suburbs, and early 21st Century transit oriented, higher density development, making it a unique microcosm showcasing the positive and negative effects of suburban development on people, institutions and land.


Montgomery County, MD is recognized as a national leader in suburban land use, planning and development. Planners and scholars still hold up as a model the County’s “Wedges and Corridors” development plan that focused growth along major roadways, preserved green space and allowed for the establishment of an Agricultural Reserve in the 1960’s.