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Sharp Street ChurchRoute 108 west of Norwood RoadSharp Street Methodist Episcopal Church was founded in 1822. The name "Sharp Street" was probably taken from the church of that name in Baltimore, founded in 1802 by free Negroes and considered to be the mother church of black Methodism. Four years later a Deed of Trust in the amount of ten cents for the "Sandy Spring Colored Church" was recorded. The congregation apparently had available to them a building in which to worship, for on April 24, 1855 a deed was recorded from Thomas S. Brooke and Sophia Annette Brooke, his wife, to William H. Stabler, Richard T. Bentley, and Alban Gilpin, in which the Brookes conveyed one acre of land for the sum of $40. The deed referred to the "colored people's Meeting House" and stated that this land was for use of the colored people of Sandy Spring,"Subject nevertheless to the reservation and agreement hereinafter contained, and it is hereby understood, covenanted and agreed and stipulated that whenever the free people of color aforesaid or their descendants shall cease to occupy said lot of ground for the purposes above mentioned or shall appropriate the same to any other purpose such as for a mart for merchandize (sic), spirituous liquors, or manufacturing establishment or in whatever other way it may be converted or diverted from the purposes first herein specified that this indenture be void and of none effect and said land and premises shall revert back to said Thomas S. Brooke and his heirs and assigns and not to the State of Maryland;..."The Sharp Street Church burned to the ground in 1885. The following year Richard T. Bentley sold to Remus I. Hill, Samuel E. Powell, Samuel Budd, Daniel Budd, and Levi Hill, trustees of the Independent Methodist Church of colored people of Sandy Spring for $1, the one acre of land which had been conveyed to him by the Brookes in 1855. This tract was "To be held for the people of Color inhabiting and residing near Sandy Spring Meeting House as a place for the interment of the dead and for erecting thereon a House of Worship or a School house and for no other use or interest whatsoever.”The title was held by those trustees until 1923 when Samuel Eli Powell, the surviving trustee, sold the tract to the trustees of Sharp Street Methodist Church, Inc. The church had burned again in 1920 and the present church was constructed. Besides being the religious center for generations of free Sandy Spring Negroes, the Church has been the center of numerous social and cultural activities. The Sandy Spring Annals note fairs, revivals, rummage sales for the benefit of the industrial school, sewing schools, Temperance Unions, debating and musical clubs, a anti-cigarette league and a trade parade. Sandy Spring hosted a Negro State Fair in 1909, attracting farmers from all over the State.Sharp Street has been an educational focal point of the community for almost as long as it has been a religious one. The Quakers fostered educational institutions early in the 19th century, long before the Maryland legislature established public schools. Teachers from those nearby private schools sometimes spent time after normal school hours with scholars in the black community. A free school, supported by the New England Freedmen's Aid Society and the Baltimore Association, was in existence at Sharp Street Church by 1864. Two years later, "Another school was organized in the neighborhood during the present year altogether as successful, and probably quite as useful as the preceding. A school for colored people was no new thing in our neighborhood; and though the attempt to keep it up was often interrupted and the school dispersed by violence under color of law, it served among sundry other causes to attract and retain the more valuable class of operatives. Viewed in a merely material and selfish light, it was a benefit to us all."Higher black education around the turn of the 20th century followed Booker T. Washington's philosophy of manual training. In 1908 the Maryland Normal and Agricultural Institute at Sandy Spring was opened with one teacher and seven students. The school grew rapidly and offered agricultural, manual training, household, and teacher training departments. Sponsored by the County School Board, the school received a state appropriation of $600 a year. However when principal George H.C. Williams left in 1909, the School Board could not find a replacement and the Institute closed in 1911. It was replaced by the Sandy Spring Industrial School, which operated until about 1926. The school building burned down and was replaced by the Odd Fellows Hall, which still stands.
Ebenezer ChurchRoute 108 east of AshtonClustered along the old post road from Ashton to Snell’s Bridge across the Patuxent (today’s Route 108) was a small free black enclave informally known as Ebenezer after its roadside log chapel and cemetery. Here were the homes of William Bowen (Ebenezer Church’s founder and minister), Remus Q. Hill, Thomas Marriott, Tilghman Mitchell, Henson Plummer, and their families.In 1801, Syrus Bowen, a free black from Maryland, purchased a plot of 42 acres from John B. Magruder for 40 British pounds, hoping to establish a foothold for his family in the Sandy Spring area. That same year his son William was born. Family tradition holds that Cyrus was one of twenty children, the son of a free African man who emigrated from England and one of his three reputed white wives.Gradually, over the next decades, Cyrus Bowen expanded his holdings, both real and personal. In 1804, he bought from James Currin a variety of animals and household goods, including a mare, a pig, a skillet, a Dutch oven, and farming tools. His buy also included six leather bottom chairs and six white oak bottom chairs. The 1810 census notes Cyrus Bowen as head of a household with six other free blacks and one white female.Cyrus’s son, William Bowen, began purchasing land for his own home in 1838, buying small plots of land along the Old Baltimore Road, east of the village of Ashton, from the Bentley, Porter, and Holland families. Though a free man himself, Bowen was known to have owned three slaves, whom he did eventually free in the 1850s. Speculation is that he bought freedom for the enslaved. There is no information on any blood relationship.Bowen made his living as a fence maker, digging post holes and nailing rails. He, like his neighbors, was a trustee of Sharp Street Church in Sandy Spring. However, Bowen himself became a Methodist minister and began his own church across the road from his home, first known as Bowen Chapel, later called Ebenezer Church.During the 1850s, the homes of more free blacks joined that of the Bowens along today’s Route 108. One of the earliest free African American family residents was Thomas Marriott, his wife Caroline, and their nine children. Marriott was a trustee of both Sharp Street Church in Sandy Spring and the Eureka Society, a local African American religious organization. Another early resident was Tilghman Mitchell. He and his family moved there about 1861. Mitchell was also a trustee of Sharp Street Church as well as Cedar Mount Cemetery, now Mutual Memorial Cemetery, in Sandy Spring.The 1870s saw more families move to the Ashton area, including Henson Plummer, a farmer, and Remus Ignatius “Q.” Hill, a carpenter, and shingle maker. Hill, a trustee of Sharp Street Church, Cedar Mount (Maryland Mutual) Cemetery, and the Eureka Society, was head of a large family whose descendants owned one of the only African American construction businesses in Montgomery County.William Bowen and his family became the center of the Ebenezer community, and by 1868 he had built a small African Methodist Episcopal log chapel on his property along Route 108. However, the land for the building and a burial ground was not formally conveyed to church leaders until Bowen’s will of 1878. Based on the surviving headstone inscriptions, it does appear that most burials are Bowen family members. Perhaps it was loyalty to Sharp Street Church by other community members that doomed Ebenezer to a short existence, primarily as a family chapel.After thriving for many years, Ebenezer Church fell into disuse in the early 20thcentury as family members began leaving the county. Though the log chapel no longer stands, the burial ground and gravestones remain.
Davis CornerRoute 108 and Dr. Bird RoadBy the 1840s, free African Americans had built a small community at the intersection of the area’s busiest market roads, the one to Bladensburg (Dr. Bird Road), the other to Baltimore (Route 108). The community was called Davis Corner.Standing at the intersection for nearly a century was the familiar four-room log home of black Civil War veteran Corporal Samuel Owens USA, an area farmer who lived on the corner with his wife, Sarah, and their seven children. Across Route 108 lay the houses and fields of the Budds, Hills, and other black farmers and laborers. Down Dr. Bird Road stood the homes of the Snowdens, Powells, Marriotts, and other early free black families. Thomas Marriott, like Owens, served the Union in the Civil War. Change came to the community in the 1920s and 1930s. The old frame homes along Dr. Bird were replaced by stylish brick cottages, designed and built by Robert H. Hill, one of the area’s most distinguished black builders. The Owens property was purchased by Richard Bentley Thomas and Ethel Farquhar Thomas, who in 1924 built a house and small lunchroom on the lot, called The Corner Cupboard. The restaurant was a favorite of Quaker President Herbert Hoover, who came for the pies. Blacks were served through a small pass-through window in the back of the house.Many of the Hill-built houses from the 1930s remain along Dr. Bird Road. The Owens log home stood until 1930 when it was torn down. All that remains is the parking lot of the Olney Ale House.The Corner Cupboard, 1925
OlneyRte. 108 and Georgia Ave.Olney began life as Mechanicsville, a small 19th-centurycrossroads village built around the intersection of the old road to Baltimore (today’s Rte. 108) and the road to Washington (Georgia Ave.). Both cities were major markets for the products of area farms. And while the town center grew before the Civil War, eventually assuming the name of Olney, on the outskirts of town, there appeared a number of free black households. West of the intersection lived Washington Hodge, a blacksmith, and Samuel Cole, a fence builder and later farmer. To the east, near present-day Old Baltimore Road resided, among others, the families of Arnold Waters and Edward Elkhorn, both free black farmers and landowners. North of the intersection, along Georgia Avenue, rested a small, free black cemetery. The stones are gone; its faint outline remained until recently.From the late 18th century onward, area farmers hauled their produce and drove their livestock to two major markets: Baltimore and Georgetown, Montgomery County’s original port town until the creation of Washington in 1790. A half-century later, the old rutted wagon roads had become hard-packed, plank-wooded turnpikes, operated by private companies: the Union Turnpike (Georgia Avenue), running from Brookeville to Washington, and the Olney-Ashton Turnpike (Route 108), connecting to pikes on the other side of the Patuxent. As traffic increased during the mid-19th century, a number of enterprises sprouted around the crossroads, aimed at servicing travelers, with wheelwrights to fix wagons, blacksmiths to fashion iron, Williams, and Boyer’s general store on the corner and eventually a Grange Hall for area farmers to meet.In the early through the mid-1800s, free blacks and slaveholders lived side-by-side. On the western end of Olney was the home ofSamuel Cole. Across Route 108 from Cole’s home, just west of St. John’s Episcopal Church, was the slave plantation of Josiah W. Jones.
Oakley Cabin(Built circa 1820)The historic Oakley Cabin in Brookeville was built around the 1820s on the site of the colonial Oakley Farm, which had once belonged to Colonel Richard Brooke, the so-called "Fighting Quaker" in the Revolutionary War.The farm stood on part of a tract of land called Addition to Brooke Grove,” patented by Colonel Brooke's father, James Brooke, in 1762 as "Resurvey on Brookes Park." By the time of the cabin's construction, Oakley was in the hands of Colonel Brooke's grandson, Richard B. Dorsey. On March 18, 1836, Dorsey sold the entire 308-acre farm to the wealthy slaveholderDr. William Bowie Magruder.The 1860 census documented thirty slaves and two slave houses on Magruder's farm, including the Oakley Cabin and a second slave quarter that is no longer standing.With two rooms, a loft, and a stone and brick chimney, the Oakley Cabin was constructed of oak and chestnut logs on the north bank of the Reddy Branch. The cabin's framework includes two doors, the loft's three small windows, and three large windows on the first floor. During the cabin's use as a slave quarter, it may have contained the usual cornhusk or "straw bedding, barrels for seats, pots, pans, and ... a grindstone or handmill for beating corn into meal," basic furnishings and supplies that appeared in Chesapeake-area slave quarters for decades. In the 1980s, archaeologists began uncovering artifacts dating back to slavery. These objects ranged from everyday cookware to rock crystals used in rituals that echoed West African traditions.Following the emancipation of Maryland's enslaved people in 1864, the cabin continued serving as a living space. Shortly after Dr. Magruder's death in 1873, Josiah W. Jones bought 295 acres of Magruder's land. Josiah J. W. Hutton purchased 187 acres a year later. The G. M. Hopkins 1879 map of the Mechanicsville District, (newly-formed from the Cracklin District) recorded three structures, one of which was the Oakley Cabin, standing in a row on the northern bank of the Reddy Branch. Only two slave quarters appeared in the 1860 slave census so the third building may have served another purpose if it was constructed during slavery.The three cabins housed African American families in 1880. Washington Bowie, the census-taker for that year, traveled from east to west as he recorded the residents living along Brookeville Road. If he maintained that order with the three cabins, then the first (eastern) cabin would have housed David and Ginnie Dorsey. Formerly enslaved by Josiah W. Jones who lived several miles south of Brookeville Road, the seventy-seven-year-old David Dorsey worked as a blacksmith. The central cabin accommodated a family of fourteen: the farm laborer Westley Hackett, his wife, Eliza Ann, their five children, and seven grandchildren. The western cabin was the home of a carpenter named Resin Wallace, his daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, a cousin, and eleven-year-old Alexander Squalles, a student and nurse. Hopkin's 1879 map and the 1880 census record both show the three families as living between the residences of Josiah J. W. Hutton and Gustavus Jones. The Dorseys, Hacketts, and Wallaces also appeared in the 1870 census.The Oakley Cabin and the surrounding land remained with Josiah Hutton's descendants until the 1960s. The Oakley Cabin is the only one of the three structures still standing and currently serves as a living history museum under the stewardship of the Montgomery County Department of Parks.
Mt. ZionMt. Zion, located at the intersection of Brookeville and Zion roads, was one of the area’s most vibrant historically black communities. Free blacks had settled in the area before the Civil War, but emancipation swelled the community’s population. By 1866 a church and school were established at the crossroads, followed by a dry goods store, a grocery, the community post office, and dozens of homes, both humble and stylish. Curiously the village of Mt. Zion began in 1860 as part of St. Peter’s parish of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville. A small mission church was built at the crossing of the road from Laytonville to Brookeville (Brookeville Road) and the road north to Unity (Zion Road). The church apparently served white area Catholics unable or unwilling to make the 12-mile Sunday morning drive into Rockville. Before emancipation a handful of black families had appeared around the crossroads, building homes on small plots bought from white landholders. Most farmed on rented land or hired out as day laborers; some supplemented incomes by driving freight wagons to and from Washington and Baltimore.Eventually, the Mt. Zion community organized its own Methodist Episcopal congregation, at the first meeting in a log cabin on the lands of Charles Brooke, an area Quaker.By 1866 newly freed black families had swelled the village’s population and planning began for a new church. Encouraged by a promise of building materials from the Christian Association of Baltimore City, the congregation bought an acre of land from white farmer James Stabler for $100 and, with the help of the Association, constructed a frame building that served as both the community’s church and school. L.D. Snowden was installed as the first minister; the Snowden family plot lies in the adjacent cemetery. (The original 1866 church was destroyed by fire in 1968; six years later, the congregation built the current church.)Community-funded classes continued in the church building until 1873 when a schoolhouse was built using part of the first funds ever appropriated by the Maryland General Assembly for the support of “colored schools.” Hamilton Snowden, a resident of Mt. Zion, spearheaded the movement, applying to the Board of School Commissions for funding. The old school still stands.Between 1880 and 1920, the town flourished. By 1900 the Catholics had abandoned their mission church – which was converted into a residence and vegetable stand. Early residents, including the Snowden, Prather, Bowen, Johnson, Brown families, and more built on the village’s early founding. More than a dozen frame residences eventually lined the street, the most imposing being the church parsonage, a large American Foursquare-style house conspicuously built in 1920 beside the schoolhouse. Two stores opened at the corner: a grocer and a dry goods merchant. Thomas Brown’s store at the intersection became the Mt. Zion Post Office, a central gathering place.By the 1920s most of the original generation of town founders had aged. The next generation gradually abandoned the old family homes, leaving for opportunities elsewhere. The post office closed; the old store was razed by road widening. By 1940 the school had shut its doors. Today only a handful of turn-of-the-century residences remain around the original schoolhouse.
ClaysvilleClaysville, situated along the road from Olney to Laytonsville, appeared shortly after the Civil War and disappeared by the early 20th century. Freedmen from the nearly Riggs plantation reportedly first settled on small parcels of land situated on the outskirts of the village, building a black community in the marshy bottomland known as Blue Mash.Following the Civil War, a small community of formerly enslaved black families appeared on the south side of the white village of Claysville, on today’s Route 108, between Olney and Laytonsville. The black enclave became known as “Blue Mash,” a local pronunciation of the name “Blue Marsh,” drawn from the marshy landscape that surrounded the village. From its mid-19th century beginning as Stabler’s blacksmith shop, the white community of Claysville grew during the late 1800s to include two blacksmith shops, H.H. Kinsey’s general store, a grist mill and a cluster of homes along the Laytonsville Road. The white Riggs family were the community’s largest landowners; early residents of Blue Mash are believed to have been freedmen from the Riggs plantation. Oral histories claim that these early free black residents hid runaway slaves in the thick covering of Blue Mash. The majority of the community arrived after Emancipation.Because of frequent flooding in the area, the black homes of Blue Mash were reportedly built on stone piers, raising the buildings well off the ground. However, the small parcels and marshy conditions rendered much of the black-owned land unfarmable, forcing residents to hire out as day laborers. At one point in its existence, the small black community became informally known as Jackson City, named for longtime residents. The Barnes, Simpson, Thomas, Williams, and Johnson families as well lived in the Blue Mash area.Sometime during the 1930s, the majority of the black community was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. The Claysville Mill, built around 1880, closed down and was moved to the nearby Riverton estate. Little of Claysville's early beginnings still stand, yet it remains a place name on modern maps. Reportedly remains of foundation stones and a burial site exists in the woods of Blue Mash.
Brooke GroveAbout a mile west of Laytonsville, straddling Brink Road near the intersection with Route 124, sat the Black community of Brooke Grove. Free Blacks were living in the area by the early nineteenth century, but it was after Emancipation that the community truly emerged, eventually growing to include a church, school, meeting hall, and more than a dozen houses situated along either side of the road.The Black community of Brooke Grove saw its rise after Emancipation when the now-free Black families began putting down roots at the western border of Laytonsville, a community closed to Blacks. By 1870, enough Black residents had moved into the area to warrant the construction of a new Methodist Episcopal church. That year, trustees Wesley Prather, Levi Prather, Wesley Randolph, Vachel Duffie, and James Ross purchased two acres from Duffie, a Black landowner, for $150. The deed stated that the land “shall be used, kept, and disposed of as a place of divine worship for the use of the ministry and membership of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” Community contributions toward the new building were supplemented by the Methodist Board of Home Missions and Church Extensions. The property originally belonged to a much larger tract of land called "Addition to Brooke Grove," hence the community name.The new church was completed in 1871, although the earliest gravestone in the adjoining cemetery dates from 1865, before the church’s construction. Brooke Grove shared a minister and social activities with its sister church in Stewartown, outside of Gaithersburg. The original Brooke Grove church was destroyed by fire in 1876 and rebuilt on the site. In 1919 a parsonage was added to the property. Another disastrous fire in 1952 necessitated the building of a new church that still stands today.The community of Brooke Grove grew rapidly in the late 19th century. By 1879 the church was doubling as a schoolhouse; although outside the Laytonsville town limits, official records referred to it as “the colored church at Laytonsville.” Later that year, land for a separate schoolhouse was acquired. Black carpenter James Hall received $35 as partial payment for buildingthe school.By the turn of the 19th century, Brooke Grove had become a lively community, boasting a church, schoolhouse, the Brooke Grove Masonic Lodge, and more than a dozen houses. Black resident Rezin Prather, Jr.’s home stood across a farm lane from the church on the south side of Brink Road. Vachel Duffie's residence stood farther down the road.Yet by the early 20th century, the younger generation was leaving the old family homesteads in search of better opportunities up north. Modern suburban houses gradually replaced the 19th-centuryhomes. Facing declining membership, Brooke Grove and Stewartown united in the 1990s to form Goshen United Methodist Church. Brooke Grove is now the home of Agape A.M.E. Church.
Mount PleasantMuncaster Mill Rd and Norbeck RdIn 1869 Adrian Rowe Wadsworth, a Connecticut lawyer, prosperous area landowner, and former enslaver, subdivided a section of his property into 11 two-acre lots that ran along Muncaster Mill Road, near its intersection with the road to Rockville. The subdivision was unique as Wadsworth, a White landowner apparently had created the segregated community for Black residents. Some sources claim that the property was occupied by the formerly enslaved from Wadsworth’s estate, settling near the intersection as early as 1862. On Wadsworth’s plat a “burying ground” is indicated as already existing, suggesting a community had begun before 1869.The small enclave became known as Mount Pleasant after the community’s Methodist Episcopal church, a name that distinguished it from the adjacent White community of Norbeck, which by the mid-nineteenth century was emerging at the intersection of the Washington-Brookeville Turnpike (Georgia Avenue) and today’s Route 28. Norbeck would eventually become a commercial center with a post office, general store, blacksmith shop, and a variety of residences.In 1872 the year the State of Maryland first appropriated money for “Colored Schools,” Wadsworth sold a half-acre plot on the eastern edge of his development to the county school commissioners to build a school for area Black children. Mount Pleasant thus became one of the first communities in the county to have a publicly-supported Black school. The Methodist Episcopal congregation met in the schoolhouse until the construction of a formal church, around 1890.Gradually houses rose on the lots, while across Georgia Avenue a satellite Black enclave emerged near the intersection of Route 28 and Bradford Road. By the mid-20th century, the lively community of Mount Pleasant included a church, school, meeting house, ballfield, a dozen houses, and a local beer garden with a White proprietor and a Black clientele.The first school building at Mount Pleasant was destroyed by fire in 1925, rebuilt, then demolished in 1927 to make way for a new school, paid for in part by the Rosenwald Fund.* The new two-room frame schoolhouse had no indoor water or central heat and held more than 60 students.Closed in 1951, the building was transferred to the county government in 1954 for use as a recreation center. The schoolhouse still stands beside the 1890 Mount Pleasant church. A cemetery lies behind the little chapel. Suburban houses today surround the remnants of the historic community.*The Rosenwald Fund was created by Julius Rosenwald, a wealthy American merchant and philanthropist, who contributed to the construction of Black schools throughout the South.
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