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.