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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.