Howard Chapel (ssblackcommunities)

Situated near the intersection of Howard Chapel and Elton Farm roads, east of the 19th century village of Unity, the small enclave of Howard Chapel owes much of its existence to a single man: Enoch George Howard.  Born enslaved on the Griffith plantation near Unity, George Howard, as he was known, purchased his own freedom in 1851 from Sarah Griffith; two years later he would purchase his wife, Harriet’s freedom from Samuel Gaither.  Harriet would purchase her four oldest children from Samuel R. Gaither in 1860.

The reunited family resided on the farm Howard had purchased from the estate of Beal Gaither, on land spreading west of the Patuxent River.  Their home, a stone manor house called Locust Villa, was one of two houses owned by Howard near what would become the community of Howard Chapel.

Several sources relate how, in the 1850s, the Howard home provided lodging for the enslaved Dred Scott, who had come to Washington for a Supreme Court case involving Scott’s right to sue for his freedom. In 1857, the court would rule that Blacks—whether enslaved or free—were ineligible for citizenship and therefore unable to legally petition for their freedom in court.

At the same time, family histories tell how Howard assisted with runaway slaves headed northward.  Sometime prior to Howard buying his family’s freedom, two of his sons reportedly escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad.

By 1870 Black farmers in the Howard Chapel area were producing hundreds of acres of rye and oats, along with corn, rice and barley. Nearly 70 percent of Howard’s land was under cultivation.  Although unable to read or write, Howard was nonetheless a man of great business acumen, who added to his wealth over the years by buying and selling hundreds of acres of land in Montgomery and Howard counties and investing in stocks.

Following Emancipation, the Howards were joined by other Black families settling in the area, many of them related.  By the 1870s enough families had gathered to warrant the construction of a new school for Black students, and in 1878 Howard would sell a tenth of an acre for its establishment.  His daughter Maria was already a school teacher.  In 1868, another of Howard’s daughters, Martha, married John H. Murphy; she would later provide $200 her husband needed to found Baltimore’s historic Afro-American newspaper.

In 1889, Howard would build a chapel near the school, with its attendant cemetery holding the graves of several Howard family members and descendants. The chapel served the rural Black community until its closure in 1930 and was destroyed by fire in 1979.  Neither of the Howard houses remains standing.

Following Howard’s death in 1895 his property descended to his five children.  Today, the Patuxent River State Park encompasses much of Howard’s land.

Holly Grove (ssblackcommunities)

In 1879 the Tyson family, prosperous white landowners from Howard County, partitioned off a piece of their extensive Montgomery County holdings to create a small subdivision of some two dozen lots tucked along Norwood Road, between today’s Ednor Road and New Hampshire Avenue.  The subdivision apparently was created for Black residents, for, within a few years, the lots were being sold exclusively to Black families, many with kin already in the area.

A narrow entrance lane was built for the residents to access their property.  That private lane eventually became a public road named Holly Grove.

The Holly Grove community grew steadily through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with Black families filling new houses built along Holly Grove Road and Awkard Lane.  Many of the small lots held garden plots, with the harvested vegetables headed for the Washington market.  Some of the men of Holly Grove worked as laborers on the nearby farms of white landowners.

Unlike other Black communities in the area, Holly Grove did not grow around a church or school.  Worshipers traveled to Colesville or Sandy Spring to attend services; schoolchildren were transported to schools a mile or more away from the community.

New homes continued to be built in Holly Grove through the first half of the twentieth century, with many of the modern masonry houses replacing the simple wood-frame houses of the original settlers.  Although populated with new family homes, the boundaries of the Holly Grove community continued to follow the original plot lines as first laid out in 1879.