Sandy Spring has a unique and celebrated history that we want to share with you. From its start as a Quaker community in the early 18th century, to stories of agricultural innovation, women’s suffrage, and progressive education, to establishing one of the largest land-owning African American communities in Maryland, to current residents who can trace their lineage back almost 300 years, the museum has many stories of local, state, and national interest. The nearly 300-year history of Sandy Spring is captured and preserved in a vast array of photographs, documents, and artifacts.
What is “Sandy Spring?”
Historically, Sandy Spring is both a village and a 100-square mile neighborhood encompassing many villages. The Sandy Spring neighborhood is thought of as a six-mile radius stemming from the Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House as a family traveling in a horse-powered buggy could travel about six miles to attend meetings and get home safely before dark.
The villages of Sandy Spring include Sandy Spring itself, as well as Ashton, Brighton, Brookeville, Cloverly, Brinklow/Cincinnati, Ednor/Norwood, Laytonsville/Mt. Zion,Norbeck/Oakdale, Olney/Davis, Triadelphia, Spencerville/Brown’s Corner, and Unity/Sunshine. See below for a brief description of each of these villages.
The permanent exhibit illustrates local history through photographs, documents, and artifacts collected from the families of the neighborhood’s earliest residents. Click here to see a list of current exhibits on display, here to see a list of upcoming exhibits, and here to see a list of previous exhibits.
From the handmade doll of a child to the tools of a farmer, the museum’s collection represents the daily lives of generations of Sandy Springers. The museum collects records of individual, families, corporations, and groups, documenting the life of the community, including its politics, economies, work, play, and family life.
All objects in the collection were donated to the museum, primarily by the descendants of some of the area’s earliest settlers. We still actively collect new artifacts to this day so please contact us if you have items that you wish to donate. Please do not bring items directly to the museum without first speaking with a member of the staff.
To browse through collection highlights, please visit the American Heritage Society’s website.
The Sandy Spring Villages
These villages make up the 100-square miles that are considered the overall Sandy Spring neighborhood:
The geographic name “Sandy Spring” first appears in Quaker records of the 1750s but the village itself came surprisingly late. In 1817 Quakers erected their brick Meeting House; simultaneously a Sandy Spring Post Office opened with James P. Stabler as postmaster. Two years later Stabler and Caleb Bentley opened a general store at the site of today’s Sandy Spring Store and built a blacksmith shop nearby, thus Sandy Spring village was born.
During this period Anglicans and other settlers were taking up lands among the Quakers. Slaves acquired their freedom and worked their own or others’ farms. Together, across the centuries, these neighbors interacted to spin the distinctive web of relationships and institutions that define today’s Sandy Spring – an admittedly peculiar entity often referred to as “a state of mind.”
Second only to Olney as a busy crossroad, Ashton was known as Porter’s Corner a century and a half ago when Charles G. Porter owned three of the quadrants. A historian described the hamlet of that time as consisting of “a general store, a blacksmith shop, a wheelwright shop … and a house or two.” There may also have been a slave market as the Annals record that here “the last public sale of a slave in Montgomery County occurred, when John Hood was auctioned off to settle the estate of the late Edward Porter.” However, the new owners quickly gave Hood his freedom, for which they were “greatly petted by the Abolitionists.”
Alban Gilpin Thomas rented the general store in 1870 and opened the first post office in 1889. At this point Ashton’s new name became official, derived from Thomas’ birthplace, Ashland, and another renowned Thomas home, Clifton. Paving came late to the busy crossroad – in 1917 the current Route 108 was surfaced and a decade later New Hampshire Avenue was as well.
The Civil War period saw the growth of Ashton’s black community, known as Ebenezer, half a mile east of the crossroads. Ebenezer’s cemetery marks the former site of a log African Methodist Episcopal Church that stood well into the 20th century.
Brighton of a century ago hummed with activity – a general store, post office, stage stop and stable, blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop, cattle scales, corn cannery, shoemaker shop, black Methodist church, white Episcopal church, a black school and white school, and a population of perhaps 150 persons (larger at the time than Bethesda or Olney). Every day the stage from Laurel stopped at the store with mail and passengers and turned around for the return trip.
Many residents were blacks whose forebears had been slaves on area farms and whose descendants still own homes – Hills, Awkards, Davises, Greens, Neugents, Powells, and Wrights. Near the intersection of today’s Gold Mine Road and New Hampshire Avenue were meadows where black athletes played Negro League Baseball and held week-long summer religious gatherings. Among white families were the numerous Browns (farmers and storekeepers), Peirces, Hartshornes, Leas, Iddings, Gartrells, Hollands, and, Hottels.
Increased mobility saw Brighton’s commerce siphon off to Ashton and more distant entrepots. More change came with completion of Brighton Dam and Brighton Road and the severing of the old Patuxent crossing on Green Bridge Road, on the Walter F. Wilson farm. With Brighton Dam Road, rural Brighton became a busy crossroad that now boasts a traffic light.
However, then came a train of disasters – the Civil War strangled the flow of southern cotton, an 1868 flood swept away houses, and the end came in the 1889 deluge that also caused the Johnstown flood. Richard H. Lansdale, a grandson of Thomas and a future miller, recalled walking as a child away from the wrecked town with a pillow under one arm and a chicken under the other. Today, Triadelphia’s foundations slumber beneath the reservoir that bears its name.
Perched like an epaulette on the shoulder of Parr’s Ridge, Brookeville preserves the flavor and charm of Sandy Spring past. Quakers Richard Thomas and Deborah Brooke founded the town in 1794 and Thomas named it after her family. That same year he established a mill on Reddy Branch, which curls moat-like around Brookeville and whose water power fueled the town’s prosperity, as did progressive neighboring farms. In 1802 Caleb Bentley opened a store and post office. By 1813 the market town throbbed with activity – 14 houses on quarter-acre lots lining Market and High Streets, two busy mills, two tan yards with their vaporous vats, two stores, a smithy, the renowned Brookeville Academy, two doctors, and even a town constable. In 1825 half of the Quakers of the Sandy Spring Meeting lived in Brookeville.
Fame came on August 16, 1814, when President James Madison fled invading British troops and spent the night with Caleb Bentley, whose wife Henrietta Thomas was a friend of Dolley Madison. Madison’s guard camped in the meadow and legend tells that sacks holding the assets of the U. S. Treasury heaped the floor of the Brookeville Academy.
Still shaded and serene except for its heavy traffic, Brookeville stands with Unity as the two oldest villages in the greater Sandy Spring area, older by 15 years than Sandy Spring village itself.
The stories of two successful early farmers tell much about Cloverly’s pas – one was white, one was black, and both still live on in local memories.
Charles T. Hill (1853-1942) spent his boyhood with Asa Stablers much as an adopted son; he housed, fed, and clothed him and taught him to work. He needed little teaching; Asa Stabler, who had four boys of his own, often said, “I raised five sons, and Charlie Hill was the best.” Frugal to a fault, Charlie saved, saved, and saved. At mid-life he was able to buy a farm, 149 acres on Norwood Road, from Robert H. Millers. Soon he was running High Ridge Dairy with 100 cows and a milk wagon, which also carried passengers who sat on milk cans for five cents for a round trip to and from Washington.
Joseph Harding (1822-1894) bought 200 acres as a young man, cleared most of it, and built a log house on today’s Harding Lane. He began raising potatoes and eventually became known as the Potato King of Montgomery County. He served as toll keeper at the Ednor toll booth and he founded a small Free Methodist Church in Cloverly that eventually relocated in Spencerville. He established a family cemetery and the first Hardings he buried were his wife Elizabeth Moore and one of their five children. Soon after the Civil War he built the three-story Ash Grove, a substantial home reflecting a hard-working farmer’s success.
Quaker emancipation of slaves in the early 1800s gave Sandy Spring the county’s largest pre-Civil War population of free blacks. Some acquired land at Holly Grove on Norwood Road but the majority clustered in the village of Cincinnati, a community of small homes stretching for a mile along Brooke Road near Brinklow.
The Annals give glimpses of early Cincinnatians. A 1901 entry records the passing of Henson Hill at 91: “He was among the founders of Cincinnati, and one of the first of his race to own his home.” A 1902 obituary notes, “In Remus Q. Hill, Sandy Spring lost one of its old and valued citizens. He was born in 1816; his parents, Hazel and Margery Hill, were manumitted by ‘Mars Dickey’ Thomas. He was among the first to purchase land in Cincinnati, and there he built a house…in 1842; there he and his wife Ruthy lived for the sixty remaining years of their married life…he followed the trade of a carpenter.” And an 1899 entry notes, “March 5, Warner Cook, an aged and well-known colored man, died at his home in Cincinnati leaving 108 descendants.” By 1882, 54 blacks lived in Cincinnati, compared to 50 whites in Sandy Spring village.
In neighboring Brinklow, Hallie Lea and George Stabler opened a store around 1890 and a post office a few years later. Successive owners included Richard Cuff, Charles E. Hill, and Wilbur Dayton. Homes rose that still stand – Grove Hill (1796), Waters House (1825), Springdale (1837), Homewood (1843), Riverside (1855), Osceola (1874), Eldon and Enderley (late 1880s), and Argyle, today Springdale South, (1900).
For two centuries Brinklow/Cincinnati boasted the oldest of all Sandy Spring houses, hilltop Charley Forrest, built on the frontier by James and Deborah Brooke in 1728 and tragically leveled in 1913.
Recent decades have almost erased the earlier roles of Ednor and Norwood as busy commercial crossroads having their own post offices. Before his death in 1999, Stanley Stabler recalled these villages as they were more than three quarters of a century ago when he was a boy:
“On Ednor’s southwest corner J. Herbert Cuff ran a yellow frame country store and post office. In front stood the toll booth. Next door Cuff stabled the horse that carried him to Laurel each week for merchandise. South of the stable were a smithy and cider mill, and next door was Cuff’s house, later to be bought by the Barger family. Across present New Hampshire Avenue lived the Patties and Latleifs. The road heading east, then called Cedar Lane, led into Brown country. Generations of the large Brown family farmed the slopes and valley of the Patuxent, and Charles Brown built the bridge that gave his name to the crossing. Secluded in its grove, the old home Clifton slowly aged across the centuries.”
Norwood at the time was known as Holland’s Corner. Where the Red Door Country Store trades today, James Holland opened a store around 1860 and in 1889 became the first postmaster. Nearby was a scales and a smithy run by Lawrence Budd. All around stood fine homes – Snowden Manor of the Quaker Hollands, Llewellyn Fields, Plainfield, Woodlawn, and the home called Norwood.
Laytonsville lies beyond Sandy Spring’s indefinite boundaries, but the two enjoy strong ties of land and kinship. The town lies on the vast estate once owned by Quaker pioneer James Brooke but was never “Quaker country.” From early days, however, Laytonsville’s Anglicans and Methodists attended Sandy Spring social events, maintained business relationships, joined Sandy Spring farmers’ clubs and other organizations, and intermarried.
When John Layton built his brick farmhouse around 1785, his farm occupied the land of today’s town, and the nearest commercial center lay a mile to the east. There a tavern, store, tailor shop, and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church made up short-lived Cracklin Town. Surrounding Layton were other farmers with other familiar names – Gaither, Griffith, Riggs, Dorsey, Penn, Warfield.
“In the 1840s the town began to take shape,” wrote lawyer/historian James C. Christopher. “Stores, business establishments and homes came into being. Laytonsville was a post office in 1861…A Methodist Church was established in 1867.” Today Laytonsville stands with Brookeville as an oasis of charm and preservation.
Mt. Zion prospered as a black community after the Civil War, when Stabler-family owners of surrounding farms gave land to emancipated blacks.
Southwestern outpost of the greater Sandy Spring neighborhood, Norbeck put down roots as a free-black community shortly before the Civil War. With emancipation it grew, with the largest population concentrated in a community known as Mt. Pleasant between present Georgia Avenue and Muncaster Mill Road. In Mt. Pleasant were a church, school, and meeting hall, along with a store run by whites.
White families, too, settled along the area’s intersecting roads. Unlike most Sandy Spring crossroads, Norbeck was slow to sprout the usual general store and blacksmith/wheelwright shops. Not until the1880s did a store and post office open, and another decade elapsed before a smith set up shop. By 1900 A.E. Stonestreet was operating his large store and the postal service, Walter H. White owned the blacksmith shop and Norbeck’s commercial course was set.
Oakdale today is easily overlooked by the passerby yet is one of Sandy Spring’s more intact early communities. Perhaps its earliest business establishment was Higgins Tavern, which comforted the weary traveler during much of the 1800s; it later became the Martin family home and now is boarded up. The old one-room public school still stands on Emory Lane, as does the ancient Oakdale Methodist Church, now clad in stone; both are now private homes. Similarly, Linton’s General Store building and post office are now a home, just south of Hyatt House.
Commerce blossomed early at this important wagon crossroad; only Brookeville and Unity predate it as villages. By 1800 William Kelly had opened a blacksmith and wheelwright shop and Quaker Whitson Canby ran the Fair Hill Pottery Manufactory, employing a dozen Irish potters and producing earthenware plates and bowls. For his home Canby built the log core of today’s Olney House, barracking his potters in the old Brooke home Fair Hill. Soon Benedict Duley was operating a general store and William Starkey a tavern. With this cluster of artisans the village acquired the name Mechanicsville. In 1837 Charles and Sarah Brooke Farquhar took over Canby’s home and named it Olney, after poet William Cowper’s village in England. Eventually the house gave its name to the local post office and ultimately to the village itself.
A succession of merchants, farmers, and developers helped shape the crossroads – Barnsleys, Hawkinses, Olands, Hineses, Finneyfrocks, Hoyles, Murphys, Sopers, Burnses, Bells, Ladsons, Armstrongs, Downeys, Berlins, and Lambornes. A black community grew up near today’s Hines Drive south of the crossroad. In 1978 the growling of bulldozers signaled the widening of the Olney intersection and the leveling of virtually all of old Olney.
Born of the Patuxent River and then destroyed by it, the mill town Triadelphia knew years of glory as a leading Maryland industrial center. Triadelphia (“three brothers”) was founded in 1809 by brothers-in-law Thomas Moore, Isaac Briggs, and Caleb Bentley, who married Brooke sisters. Its water wheels powered a cotton spinning mill with six carding engines and 444 spindles, a sawmill, grist mill, and mill for grinding bone and plaster. Around the mills sprang up a structured little city – a smithy, cooperage, wheelwright shop, stables, church, cotton factory, company store, post office, cabinet shop, orchard, garden area, meat house, lime kiln, school house, Odd Fellows Hall, 15 detached houses, and 11 double houses.
Triadelphia’s golden years came after 1840, when Thomas Lansdale took over the factory and mills and the town throbbed with 400 people. Straining eight-horse teams brought wagonloads of raw cotton and supplies from Baltimore and returned laden with muslin, products of the grist mill, and cotton duck for making ship sails.
However, then came the same set of disasters that befell Brighton – the Civil War strangled the flow of southern cotton, an 1868 flood swept away houses, and the end came in the 1889 deluge that also caused the Johnstown flood.
Spencerville counted 100 residents and Brown’s Corner did not yet exist when T. H. S. Boyd published his History of Montgomery County in 1879. Boyd found Spencerville land “productive and yielding excellent crops of wheat, corn, and hay. Land worth from thirty to eighty dollars per acre.” He went on to list the principal white males – Postmaster W. H. Spencer, Carpenter James Barnes, Nurseryman William H. Phair, Farmers H. S. Chaney, Louis H. Duvall, Joseph Harding, W. P. Miller, George Reigle, and three Stablers, Asa M., Caleb, and F. The numbers seem small, yet Spencerville loomed large for the time, as big or bigger than Bethesda, Damascus, Germantown, Laytonsville, Norbeck, Olney, and the Sandy Spring village itself.
At the crest of Parr’s Ridge above Brown’s Corner the small Oakley public school opened in 1889 and educated area youngsters until 1933. In the 1950s the ridge was crowned with another landmark, a WSSC water tower, against which a local wag leaned a sign saying, “This rocket will never get off the ground.”
Northernmost of Sandy Spring’s many villages, Unity and Sunshine are also the most rural. Separated by only a half-mile, their residents probably saw themselves two centuries ago as part of older Unity. Both were oriented toward the markets of Baltimore, Annapolis, and nearby Triadelphia. Unity, once a small commercial hub and substantial village, today is soothingly residential, disturbed only by its increasing traffic flow.
The growth of Unity parallels that of Brookeville, with Griffith’s 1794 map showing a “Unity T.” While Brookeville was a planned village, however, Unity grew naturally, along the dirt road connecting Rockville and Annapolis. Drovers herding cattle and sheep to Annapolis lodged at Unity’s tavern. By 1806 Unity was officially established by the Legislature and by 1824 it had a post office, store, smithy, wheelwright, and half a dozen houses.
Sunshine’s sense of identity probably emerged after the Civil War, when stores and shops opened. In 1870 it captured the Unity post office in the first of several such switches. Soon came an undertaker. Never populous, Sunshine lacked a public school, its students walking to Unity’s two-roomer. But Sunshine is a survivor – it now boasts the Brookeville post office in its tiny “mall.”