fbpx Skip to the content
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

Brookside Nature Center – History & Resources

Harper Cabin

Brookside Nature Center, located at 1400 Glenallan Avenue in Wheaton, Maryland is one of many interest areas that fall within the confines of the 534 acre Wheaton Regional Park. The acquisition program to fund most of the acreage took place between 1959 and 1961. During that time Jack Hewitt, then Director of Parks, acquired a private parcel of land contiguous with acreage the county already owned. Together this land would become the county’s first regional park. On this parcel were two houses. Hewitt wanted to develop a nature center interpretive program using one of the homes. The other house would be used by the senior naturalist as a residence. The larger house was renovated and named the Brookside Nature Center and the smaller home is now the Otter House Offices.

In 1960 the county’s first naturalist, Stanton Ernst, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Conservation Department, was hired. Ernst, with the help of Carl Schoening, the Park Department’s horticulturalist, set up an interpretive program with exhibits and graphics in time for the official opening in May of 1961. Later, Tom Whetzel, a park carpenter who knew Dan Rhymer, an exhibit specialist and taxidermist with the Smithsonian Museum; and Robert Young, a Supervisor of Exhibits and Education for the Maryland Department of Game and Inland Fish, were hired to form the nucleus of the county’s conservation education program through natural history interpretation.

Over the years exhibits have been added and revised. In addition to the main building and a rear courtyard, the nature center complex also contains a reconstructed log cabin and smoke house which serves as the “homestead” area. The Harper cabin was acquired by donation and was disassembled and reconstructed by the naturalist staff in 1975. The 240 square foot structure was originally built prior to the Civil War and the building along with the reconstructed smoke house (circa 1830), serve as interpretive examples of early Maryland log home construction. The meadow was created in 1983 when two acres of hardwood forest were clear cut, tilled and seeded with a wildflower mix.  The person-made quarter acre pond located adjacent to the Glenallan brook provides a different habitat for visitors to study and enjoy watching waterfowl, turtles, and the myriad of dragonflies that have made this home.

The current full time staff consists of three senior naturalists, a program and facility manager, and an administrative support staff. Our exhibited animals are cared for by a seasonal, part-time naturalist and to care for the facility and its grounds we have a seasonal maintenance worker. Additional help and support is supplied by a dedicated and talented volunteer program.

For more information on Brookside Nature Center and the park: Wheaton Regional Park

Learn more about natural and cultural resources at Brookside Nature Center: