Where We Live: Washington Grove, a tiny oasis in Montgomery County

By Barbara Ruben
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, November 26, 2010; 5:48 AM

As one of Maryland's smallest incorporated towns, Washington Grove has just 225 houses. And Kathi Higdon-Kershaw has lived in three of them.

She took one look at the town's tiny historic cottages with steeply pitched roofs tucked under towering oaks and tulip poplars and decided it would be home.

"When I first found it, I felt like I'd driven into Brigadoon," she said of town, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located just outside Gaithersburg.

Many houses face trees and green space with walking paths rather than roads. An octagonal, wood-shingled building dating from 1902 houses a multitude of programs, from Mousetrap, the town's tongue-in-cheek-named year-round music program, to movie nights.

Washington Grove offers swimming lessons in its own lake, Maple Lake, and so reveres its trees that one homeowner built his front porch around one. The town owns several thickly forested preserves at its northern and western edges.

Higdon-Kershaw rented her first house in Washington Grove in 1990, bought a place four years later and moved on to her current home, a 1920 Colonial revival house, in 1998. Her two grown children love Washington Grove so much that she built an apartment over her garage so they can remain in the town.

It was also love at first sight for Alice Negin. She and her husband, Charles, had gotten lost looking for a house for sale and instead drove to Washington Grove on a whim. It was 1976, and the $75,000 price tag for the first house they saw there was too steep, so they asked their real estate agent if there was anything less expensive.

The agent took them to a $65,000 fieldstone-and-wood house, parts of which dated to 1896.

"I walked up the porch steps, put my foot in the front door and said, 'Oh, we'll take it,' " Negin recalled of her first look into her house's foyer, with its wood-paneled vaulted ceiling.

While Negin said she and her husband would like to join her two children and grandchild in California, she just doesn't want to leave Washington Grove.

"I love the trees, and it was a fabulous place to raise kids," she said. "There's just so much history here."

That history began in 1873, as the new Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Metropolitan Line chugged from Northwest Washington to Gaithersburg. With the new access to what was then rural Maryland, the Methodist Church chose a verdant 267-acre plot abutting the railroad for a retreat for its Washington members.

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