Sandy Spring

Brooke Road, running north from its intersection with Route 108, began life in the early 18th century as the farm lane leading to the plantation of James Brooke, one of the first white settlers of the Sandy Spring area and a large enslaver.  By the last quarter of the 18th century, the lane, running down into the valley toward Chandlee’s mill, had become home to Free Blacks who took up residence in houses along the eventually extended road.

The Budds and the Powells were among the earliest settlers; the surname “Powell” appears among the enslaved listed in the 1763 inventory of Richard Snowden, James Brooke’s father-in-law. Among other enterprises, Snowden was a slave-trader, announcing in the Maryland Gazette the arrival of a number of enslaved loaded on his ship and headed for Annapolis.  Other surnames among the Snowden enslaved include Will, Power, Galloway and Bule.  Finding full names among slave lists is uncommon.  It is uncertain how many free Black men and women resided in Sandy Spring after freedom.

The area’s Free Black settlement roughly corresponded with the beginning of the manumission movement among Quaker planters in the 1770s who, at the insistence of thought-leaders in the community, finally decried the practice of slavery. Most of the enslaved had been freed from Sandy Spring Quaker plantations by the 1820s.

By the early 19th century, hundreds of enslaved men and women had been manumitted by area planters and established homes around the area, with many concentrated along Brooke Road.  The Free Blacks lived on land that, for the most part, remained in the ownership of white Quaker families until the 1840s, when small parcels of two or three acres were sold outright to the Black families. Before then, Black residents were laborers or domestic workers living in houses on land still owned by descendants of the 18th century planters.  In 1900, only a third of area Black residents owned their own homes.  Many became tradesmen, such as carpenters and blacksmiths, and established businesses.  They shopped at the white-owned Sandy Spring general store, had grain ground at the white-owned mills and visited the white neighborhood doctor.

The community, informally known as Freedman Village, was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, with escapees finding shelter in the Free Black community on their way north.  Samuel Cissel, a white plantation owner from Clarksvlle, Howard County, advertised that his runaway slave Tilghman Johnson “may be lurking in the neighborhood of Sandy Spring.”

By the 1820s enough Free Blacks had settled in Sandy Spring to warrant the construction of a new house of worship along the Olney-Sandy Spring Road, west of Brooke Road. James Stabler deeded, in trust, the lot to establish the “Sandy Spring Colored Church.”  The church became known as Sharp Street, named for the influential Black Methodist congregation in Baltimore, and is said to be the first Free Black church established in Montgomery County. By 1900, the Sharp Street Church congregation numbered more than 500 worshipers.

Emancipation brought new residents, together with the emergence of a number of social and educational enterprises that helped further distinguish the Black community as progressive and engaged.  Around 1864 a Free Black school started at Sharp Street, nine years before the State of Maryland appropriated funds for the creation of free Black schools in the county.  In 1865 a night school was established at the church; students were instructed by white teachers.  In 1866 the Sandy Spring Industrial School was organized, bringing new educational opportunities for Black residents.

Between 1869 and 1897, three groups of Black members of Sharp Street Church purchased parcels of land along Brooke Road to establish a cemetery.  Original called Cedar Mount for its gradually inclining hill of cedar trees, the cemetery was later renamed Mutual Memorial Cemetery in honor of the Sisters of the Mutual Aid Society, organized at Sharp Street.  Other social and missionary groups emerged in Sandy Spring in the years after Emancipation, including the Young Men’s Beneficial Society, the Female Beneficial Society, the Little Gleaners of Sharp Street, and the United Sons and Daughters of Wesley Society #6, among others.  The Odd Fellows would build their hall beside Sharp Street Church.

Although unmarked on maps of the 1860s, Brooke Road appears as a public road on maps of the 1870s; land deeds at the time referred to the section of Brooke Road running to New Hampshire Avenue as “the new cut road…from Pierce’s gate to Sandy Spring.”  The road remained dirt and gravel well after other area roads were paved in the 20th century.

Around the turn of the 19th century a number of younger Sandy Spring residents left the community for work opportunities in Baltimore, Washington, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and elsewhere, yet the village remained a hub of Black life. Residents built upon the community’s educational emphasis when the Montgomery County School Board authorized the beginning of the Maryland Normal and Agricultural Institute at Sandy Spring in 1908. (A series of unfortunate incidents forced the closure of the institute in 1911).  In 1909, the first of many Black agricultural fairs was held in the community, some on the expansive Hill farm, providing a setting for Black farmers and tradesmen to proudly parade their livestock and products before hundreds – sometimes thousands — of Black attendees gathering from all around the state.

Settlement along Brooke Road continued apace into the 20th century, with many of the older homes replaced by stylish, new residences.  A store and pool hall appeared in one of the older Brooke Road residences. A one-room schoolhouse was built along the road in the 1930s; the skeleton of the schoolhouse remains, enclosed in brick and siding and converted to a residence.  Sandy Spring remained the educational center of the area until the 1950s, when school integration began in the county and the earlier Black schoolhouses closed and consolidated.  Eventually a new brick elementary school was established in the center of town – today’s Ross Boddy Community Center — built in the 1960s and converted to a recreation center in 1982.  The all-white Sherwood High School began integration in the 1950s, saving Black Sandy Spring students from the long bus ride to Carver High School in Rockville, a segregated, all-Black high school.  Integration throughout the Montgomery County school system persisted until 1962.

At the same time, beginning in the late 19th century, a small collection of Black families had settled along Norwood Road, a cut-through road created in the 1800s to connect the old road to Bladensburg (Dr. Bird Road) and the road to Baltimore (Route 108).  Growth in the area east of Sharp Street Church was slower and later than the Brooke Road settlement.

Few of the buildings of the Free Black community date from the 19th century; some, like the Budd House along Brooke Road, were restored, others maintained among the mid-20th century Cape Cods and brick ramblers.  A number of the older buildings – including several of log construction – were demolished in the 1960s and 70s, when Montgomery County undertook an urban renewal and code enforcement program in the area.  Despite all the changes, descendants of the early Sandy Spring Black community still reside in the area, including the Budd, Dorsey, Hill, Bowen, Mitchell, Hopkins families and more.

Brighton (ssblackcommunities)

By the mid-19th century, a small agricultural center emerged along upper New Hampshire Avenue, south of its intersection with present-day Brighton Dam Road.  Primarily white before Emancipation, the community of Brighton was a hub of area commerce, with a blacksmith and wheelwright shop for wagon repairs, cattle scales to weigh livestock, a general store, a cannery, and a gathering of houses along one of the county’s major routes leading to Washington, DC.

Following Emancipation, a Black section of Brighton emerged at the southern end of the village.  Families gathered around the Brighton Store where white Quaker shop owners Edward Pierce and Isaac Hartshorne offered any manner of goods to the surrounding clientele.  The store became a stop on the stage line to Laurel and, in the 1860s, the official post office.  Pierce’s wife Sophie reportedly named the community Brighton.

By 1878 the Black community had grown to warrant the founding of a new Methodist Episcopal church, erected near the store.  A school for Black children would soon open on an adjacent lot.  Reportedly the original school burned in 1917 and was replaced by an old schoolhouse transported from another community.  Black educators at the time met the challenges of teaching a room full of students of every grade using cast-off books and materials. With diminishing enrollment, the school closed in 1931.

In 1902 the Centennial Methodist Episcopal Church of Brighton was incorporated.  Soon its Black congregation was holding services in a small wooden chapel built next to the community school.  Little is known about the fate of the earlier church.  By the early 1900s, the congregation was large enough to warrant its own minister, rather than sharing pastors with other area churches. In 1916 the Lincoln Chapel Lodge No. 9885 of the United Odd Fellows bought a lot beside the church and school, with the purpose of building a new meeting hall.  (A social hall of some type for the Black community had existed since the 1870s.)  Thomas Edwards, Franklin Murphy, John Pumphrey, David Thompson, Jeremiah Spriggs, George Askris, and William Hill served as trustees.  For entertainment, the community built a baseball field on the western side of New Hampshire Avenue, with the Brighton team hosting other Black baseball teams from communities around the area.

New houses appeared around the church and school in the early 20th century.  Gradually the center of commerce shifted southward, to the Ashton-Sandy Spring-Olney corridor, diminishing Brighton’s importance as an agricultural center.

Cincinnati (ssblackcommunities)

Centered around the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Brooke Road, north of Ashton, was the community of Cincinnati, a mixed Free Black and white community that emerged in the first half of the 19th century.  Early white families including the Chandlees, Leas, Gilpins, and Stablers built spacious homes near the intersection, along “the road to Unity,” today’s New Hampshire Avenue.  The formerly enslaved, manumitted from area plantations, also settled in the area before 1840. However, those early Black residents were not landowners but mostly laborers and tenant farmers for local white families.

Henson Hill was reportedly among the Black founders of Cincinnati and, according to the Annals of Sandy Spring, was “one of the first of his race to own his own home.”  His brother Remus Q. Hill was another early Black resident and a master carpenter. “He was among the first to purchase land in Cincinnati,” the Annals noted, having purchased a small plot of land from white planter Bernard Gilpin in 1842.

Remus Q. Hill was born in 1816; his parents, Hazel and Margery Hill were manumitted by Quaker planter Richard Thomas at his death in 1806.  Remus Q. built his home in 1842, south of Brooke Road on the west side of New Hampshire Avenue, where he lived with his wife Ruthy for the next sixty years.  Warner Cook, another early Black resident of Cincinnati, left 108 descendants at his passing in 1899.

Reportedly Cincinnati was one of the stops along the Underground Railroad as it passed through the Sandy Spring area.  Local white Quaker families aided the escaping enslaved as they made their way north to freedom.  Mt. Airy, the Gilpin home that stood on the southern boundary of Cincinnati, was reportedly a well-known stop along the railroad.  The attribution is interesting since Bernard Gilpin, a hat-maker by trade who moved into Mt. Airy ca. 1800, was himself an enslaver, holding more than 15 men and women at one point, some inherited by his wife Sarah at the death of her father Richard Thomas in 1806.  Gilpin began manumitting his enslaved in 1809 including “Negro Rezin,” “Negro Caty,” “Negro Lucy” and others.

Emancipation swelled the community’s population after 1865.  Small parcels of land were sold to the formerly enslaved.  Because the plots were too small for farming, many of the men were hired out as seasonal or day laborers, while the women worked as domestics for area white families.  Some, like Remus Q. Hill, offered specialized skills such as carpentry and blacksmithing.  Early Black families expanding the community included the Squirrel, Budd, Cook, Bacon, and Awkard families (found spelled several ways: Awkard, Awkward, and Offord.)

By 1880 Cincinnati had become a place name on local maps; the U.S. Census for that year noted a number of residents, both Black and white, living in the designated community of Cincinnati.  Unlike other Black communities in the area, Cincinnati was not centered around a church; most residents attended Sharp Street Church in Sandy Spring.  By 1882 fifty-four Black men and women lived in Cincinnati, compared to 50 whites in the village of Sandy Spring proper.  Yet when it came time to establish a post office for the community, for some unknown reason it was named “Brinklow” and was housed in Lea and Stabler’s general store, opened around 1890 just north of the intersection of Brooke Road and New Hampshire Avenue. Eventually, Brinklow replaced Cincinnati as the community name.

Many other area Black communities saw declining populations in the early 20th century as younger generations left for greater opportunities elsewhere, yet Cincinnati remained a vibrant neighborhood well into the 1900s.

Etchison (ssblackcommunities)

By the 1880s a small Black community had emerged at the southern end of the white village of  Etchison.  Black families built homes on small lots along Damascus Road, about a half-mile from its intersection with the road to Laytonsville.  Eventually, the community included Fairview Methodist Episcopal Church, begun in the 1880s, and by 1900 its own schoolhouse.  Yet by 1937, the school had closed and by the 1940s, the church had discontinued services.  The building was later dismantled.  None of the historic structures remain.

Round Oak (ssblackcommunities)

Around 1868, a small group of Black residents in the Spencerville area met in the home of Robert Taylor, a local tenant farmer, with the intention of establishing a new church to serve the spiritual needs of the families settling in the area shortly after Emancipation.  Together they constructed a small house of worship along current-day Good Hope Road, near its intersection with the Spencerville road, on property formally conveyed to the congregation in 1872.

The pioneering parishioners named their church Round Oak Baptist Church, reportedly for the large, round oak trees that stood on the small church lot.  Robert Taylor became the first pastor, and he and a few other founding members cut down one of the oak trees for lumber to erect the first church building.

As more Black families established homesteads on small plots of land surrounding the church, a number of new community-minded features appeared.  A graveyard was established circa 1885.  Around the same time, the Rising Sun Lodge was organized to provide for the community’s social and charitable activities.  Additionally, the members of Round Oak helped establish the first Black school in the Spencerville area, with classes held in a separate structure.  Students from Black neighborhoods, including Good Hope, Holly Grove, and Smithville, traveled miles to attend classes in the Round Oak school.

In the 1920s, Black families in the area donated money and land to erect a new schoolhouse, funded in part by a grant from the Rosenwald Fund, created by wealthy merchant Julius Rosenwald to aid in the education of Black students throughout the South.  Located south of the church on the east side of Good Hope Road, the Rosenwald School served the community until 1951.  Later it was converted into a recreational center operated by Montgomery County, then torn down to make way for a parking lot.

As the community continued to grow in the years after World War II, the church required a larger building to house its expanding congregation.  In 1947 dedication services were held in a new house of worship, constructed near the old building.  The second church continued in use until 1982 when the current brick church was dedicated.

The earliest buildings associated with the church and the community have disappeared.  The graveyard remains as a reminder of the area’s 19th-century beginnings.