Silver Spring: Then & Again

By Jerry A. McCoy

Silver Spring Voice
March 2005

TOP:  Silver Spring: Then/Courtesy of Gifford's

Silver Spring: Again/Photo by Jerry A. McCoy.

Last month I traveled to Baltimore to do research on downtown Silver Spring's not-so-long-ago past.  "Why Baltimore," you might ask?  Housed there in the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Maryland Room  is the only collection that I have been able to locate of early 20th century Silver Spring telephone books.

Published by the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company of Baltimore City under the title Takoma Park Silver Spring and Vicinity Telephone Directory, the collection (which includes phone directories from all over Maryland) provides invaluable information to understanding our community's past.  The available directories for the years 1930-38, 1940-42, and 1946 provide an intimate glimpse of pre-WWII Silver Spring.

From 1930 to 1942 the directories listed telephone numbers by exchanges.  Exchanges were designated by words whose first two letters corresponded with numbers found alongside the rotary dial of the telephone (and are still there on today's touch-tone phones).  The Winter 1930-31 directory included the exchanges SHepherd and SIlver Spring.  If one desired to place a call to an individual who lived in the either exchange, one would dial "74" and then the rest of the four digit number.  The number "7" corresponded with the letter "S" (as well as "P" and "R") and the number "4" corresponded with the letter "H" or "I" (as well as "G").  Thus the SHepherd and SIlver Spring exchanges were "SH" and "SI" or "74".

As the Silver Spring community grew, so did the number of telephone exchanges.  The Summer-Fall 1940 directory saw the addition of the SLigo exchange ("SL" or "75").  These three exchanges were published separately through the Winter-Spring 1941-42 directory.  At some point between then and the publication of the Winter-Spring 1946 directory, all of the exchanges countywide were combined into one listing arranged alphabetically by the individual person or business name.  This was obviously a result of the explosive growth in population that the county experienced as a result of WW II.

Some other Silver Spring exchanges used throughout the years included:

42  HAzelwood
56  LOckwood
58  JUniper
62  MAyfair
75  PLeasant
94  WHitehall

For a fascinating history of telephone exchanges, click HERE.

The historical importance of telephone directories is of obvious value to genealogists.  What I find most fascinating about them is the separate commercial listings that sometimes feature illustrated advertisements for businesses that otherwise have scant visual documentation.  Surprisingly this is the case for a landmark Silver Spring business that people "of a certain age" probably remember...Gifford's Ice Cream and Candies, formerly located at 8101 Georgia Avenue.

The Silver Spring: Then image was probably taken in 1938 when Gifford's opened its original store in Silver Spring.  Located at the corner of Georgia and Sligo Avenue, the store stands rather forlornly.  Seen behind Gifford's is a large private residence constructed  very early in the 20th century when the area immediately east of Georgia Avenue was known as Silver Spring Park.  Today the site of this house is occupied by Vicino Ristorante Italiano, located at 959 Sligo Avenue. 

Published in the Winter-Spring 1940-41 telephone directory is this architectural rendering of Gifford's.

With its reputation for homemade ice cream, sauces and candies...where the whipped cream was real and the butterfat content was high...there was no mystery as to why a scale with thigh-level mirrors was located by the front door!

In operation until 1985 when closed after the owner's filed for bankruptcy protection, one can only imagine the number of children's (and probably a few adult's) birthday parties that were held at Gifford's during nearly half a century.  That is why I find it incredible that no interior photographs of the Silver Spring Gifford's have been located to date.  Other than a few grainy and darkened newspaper photographs that survive on microfilm, visual documentation of Gifford's is miniscule. 

The SSHS does have a circa 1950s-1960s menu featuring Gifford's blue and pink Colonial maiden logo on the cover (Jumbo Hot Butterscotch Sundae 90 cents!) and a circa 1970s insulated ice cream bag. 

Click menu to see inside!                                  Wonder what flavor it held?
Collection of SSHS.                                      (An ebay item that got away!)

In addition to the Silver Spring location, a Bethesda and two Virginia locations (Arlington and Bailey's Cross Roads) also closed.  Subsequently purchased by a new owner, Gifford's reopened its Bethesda location in 1989. 

Only a few years ago downtown Silver Spring lacked a single ice cream store.  Those days are gone.  Temptation exists in the guise of Ben & Jerry's and Cold Stone Creamery (903 and 821 Ellsworth Drive) and the soon-to-open Moorenko's Ice Cream Cafe at 8030 Georgia Avenue in South Silver Spring.  Gifford's however has returned to downtown Silver Spring...sort of.  A couple of months ago Mayorga Coffee Factory at 8040 Georgia Avenue started selling Gifford's ice cream out of a freezer case that had been previously occupied by another manufacturer. 

Today 8101 Georgia Avenue is occupied by the Quality Time Early Learning Center.  The original 1930s one-story brick structure with later second story addition was entombed in the mid 1990s with blue and beige Dryvit as shown in the Silver Spring: Again image (I'd like to think that the colors were perhaps chosen in homage to Gifford's but doubt it!). 

I wonder if the pre-schoolers who attend the center ever get a whiff of those sweet scents of yesteryear?

If you know the location of or can donate any pre-1990 Silver Spring telephone books or can share any photographs/memorabilia of Gifford's, please contact SSHS at PO Box 1160, Silver Spring, MD 20910-1160, email sshistory (at), or call 301.565.2519.  The society's web site is  Future historians will thank you!

To return to index of Silver Spring Voice articles, click HERE.