Brookeville was once a U.S. capital of sorts

Brookeville has a unique distinction: It was the capital of the United States for one day. The British occupied Washington on Aug. 26, 1814, during the War of 1812. So President James Madison, along with his staff, sheltered in Brookeville.

Their presence effectively moved the capital for one day.

Contrails from jet planes passing overhead intersect the National Museum of Art in Washington, Thursday morning, April 17, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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History is evident everywhere in this Montgomery County community, especially in the architecture.

Brookeville’s streets are dotted with houses whose styles range from modern to the Federal era. They vary in size, too.

“The way I think of Brookeville is we have soldier houses and general houses,” said resident Miche Booz, an architect. Renovations are strictly reviewed so that new construction meets Brookeville’s historic standards. Most footprints of new homes, said Booz, stay under 2,000 square feet.

Even Brookeville’s community center, which is in the old Brookeville Academy, is historic. The building, which dates to about 1810, was originally one of the first private schools in Montgomery County. Later, the building was used by the Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the Odd Fellows and the American Legion.

Today, residents meet there for social and cultural events. Town offices and archives are housed there as well. A schoolhouse that dates to the 1860s has also been preserved with rows of desks, a portrait of George Washington and McGuffey Readers. It is open during Montgomery County’s Heritage Days, among other events. With three commissioners and three part-time employees, the town keeps residents informed and involved.

“It’s a small story and it’s a small town,” Booz said. “But it’s an interesting story.”

Affordable housing: Booz points to the inclusion of renters and extended-family members as a forward-looking feature of this historic town. Although many parts of Montgomery County prohibit homeowners from adding on to their homes specifically to rent out, Brookeville does not.

“We allow accessory apartments here, and consider it enlightened housing policy,” Booz said. “There were already lots with accessory apartments when you would have a second dwelling. We were not going to make any uses in town illegal. There are at least 10: family members of rentals, teachers, caregivers for older people. Some are detached, some are in a basement. We were able to see that it is a reasonable, enlightened thing to do. We are short on affordable housing in Montgomery County.”

The most pressing issue: For years, Booz said, a bypass has been on the master plan for Brookeville. Right now, Route 97 (Georgia Avenue) runs through the center of town, where it is called High Street and then Market Street. Large trucks are forced to negotiate a sharp turn, and homes along the road sit close to exhaust and noise.

“It’s probably the most important issue for the town right now,” Booz said. “It has degraded the historic fabric, all those trucks.” When the bypass is built, the road will host far less traffic, and the two sides of Brookeville will be more accessible to each other. “This road will become a town road, and these residents will be the big winners,” he said.

Capital anniversary: This summer will mark the bicentennial of Brookeville’s day as the U.S. capital. According to the town newsletter, Brookeville has received a mini-grant from Heritage Montgomery to create a Web site for the War of 1812 Bicentennial Celebration in Brookeville.

A larger grant will cover the costs of making a documentary to commemorate the events. The town is gearing up: In October, residents dressed up as the Madisons to host a fundraising dinner for 250 people. Booz said that the August event will include reenactments, food and celebration.

Living there: The boundaries roughly are Reddy Branch Stream to the north, Old Mill Race and Spring Branch streams to the east, Maryland Highway 97 to the south, and Meadow Branch Stream to the west.

Although the Brookeville name is applied to a fairly large area and Zip code, the incorporated town is small — it includes about 60 acres and around 135 residents, according to Booz.

Houses do not change hands very often. Last year, there was only one sale in the incorporated town, said Kathy Virkus, an agent with Re/Max.

“Things don’t come up on the market too often,” she said. “It’s just a little tiny place. I would say most often the homes are offered to other people that might know someone in Brookeville, but a lot of them do go on the market.”

That one home sold for $279,000. There is one Brookeville house on the market right now, for $449,000. Many people come to Brookeville to rehabilitate historic homes. “They’re moving in as stewards more than homeowners,” Virkus said.

Schools: The town of Brookeville is zoned for Montgomery County public schools: Greenwood Elementary, Rosa Parks Middle and Sherwood High. Some residents send children to the nearby private Sandy Spring Friends School, St. John’s Episcopal School, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and Saint Peter’s School.

Eliza McGraw is a freelance writer.

 
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