Montgomery County is known today as the gateway to our nation’s capital. Being that the cities and towns in the county are in close proximity to Washington, D.C., they have more than their share of major U.S. government offices. They also have many private firms doing scientific research and, of course, the presence of a number of college campuses. So, it should come as no surprise that Forbes magazine recently rated Montgomery County as the 10th wealthiest county in the nation, and the U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that the county has one of the highest percentages of residents who hold postgraduate degrees. That said, sightseeing in Washington, DC, is certainly a step back into history.
The name Montgomery County stems from a September 6, 1776 act of the Maryland state legislature when, for the first time a county was named after someone other than a British national. Though born in Ireland, and having served in the British Army, Richard Montgomery eventually became a Major General in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He died leading Continental forces against Quebec in a failed attack on Canada. As for the county, most of it exists in what today is referred to as the Northeastern Coastal Forests, and, therefore, was blanketed with vast areas of forests, rivers, and creeks when the Algonquian tribes occupied the region.
The first European settlers in the area were the British, who arrived in the middle of the seventeenth century and began to put down permanent residence in the very early eighteenth century. One of those settlers was an Anglican minister from England, Robert Brooke, who was ceded a couple thousand acres in the region by Lord Baltimore. However, it would be one of his sons, James Brooke, for whom the oldest town in the county, Brookville, is named. Founded in 1794 and incorporated in 1806, it has the distinction of being the nation’s capital for one day. Located only a few miles north of Washington, D.C., it is where President Madison took refuge for a night after the British burned down the capitol in 1814.
Though not incorporated until 1860, the town of Rockville’s history goes even further back than Brookeville’s. The first land grants were given as early as 1717 and within a few decades, the first permanent buildings were constructed in the town. It was known then by a variety of names, of which one name was Hungerford’s Tavern, where county proceedings were held. It soon became the county seat of the newly designated Montgomery County and was briefly known only as Montgomery Court House. By 1801, the town was given the name Rockville because of its proximity to the Rock Creek. Needless to say, the city has numerous historic sites, including the Beall-Dawson House, built in 1805 and one of the oldest structures in Montgomery County. It is a 2 1⁄2-story, Federal-style house with three bays across and two bays deep, and constructed of Flemish bond brick. These, along with many other historic sites, dot the Rockville landscape.
There are officially 19 municipalities in Montgomery County, but few names are as recognizable as a Montgomery County town that no longer exists. The story begins in 1703 when a Scotsman named Ninian Beall purchased and named a 705-acre plot of land, the Rock of Dumbarton, in a reference to his native Scotland. The area was as far north as ocean vessels could travel because of the location of Little Falls on the Potomac River here. As such, it was an ideal place for a tobacco port. So, in 1745 George Gordon, a Scottish merchant and wealthy landowner, built an inspection house for tobacco on his plantation, Gordon's Rock Creek Plantation. The port thrived and by 1751, the tobacco merchants there lobbied the Maryland legislature to purchase 60 acres from George Gordon and Ninian’s son George in 1751.
By 1752, the town was surveyed and laid out and George Towne was founded. It is disputed as to whether it was named after the two George’s or after the King of England at the time, King George II. In 1789, the Maryland legislature formally issued a charter and incorporated the town. However, on July 6, 1790, the state legislatures of Maryland and Virginia signed the federal Residence Act, which mandated that a site for the nation’s capital include the port of Georgetown. At that time, the cities of Washington and Georgetown became independent municipal governments within the District of Columbia and for most of the nineteenth century, Georgetown would remain a highly successful port town on the Potomac. Then, in the fall of 1856, discussion between the two cities began to entertain the notion of their consolidation. Eventually, on June 1, 1871, Congress revoked the powers of both city governments and vested them within the District of Columbia. Today, Georgetown is but a neighborhood in Washington D.C., albeit one with a history that far precedes that of our nation’s capital. As you can see, sightseeing in Washington, DC, and the surrounding area certainly takes many pages out of our history and is filled with stories of our American heritage.
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