"My great-grandfather was Blucker Stewart. He built a log cabin over there just after the Civil War," Margaret Butler said, as she stood in the parking lot of the Stewarttown Homes development and pointed to a rise several hundred yards away.
"Blucker Stewart had four sons, and each of them had a home here," she continued, nodding her head toward different sections of the 90-town house complex at the intersection of Goshen and Stewarttown Roads east of Gaithersburg in Montgomery County.
Mrs. Butler stood with several of her neighbors and friends whose ancestors helped settle Stewarttown as a small, all-black enclave a century ago and watched yesterday as county officials and residents ceremonially proclaimed the new development open.
For them it was the realization of a 10-year effort involving county, state and federal money to build a moderate-income housing complex on their ancestral homesite.
"I've lived her since I was 6," said Mrs. Butler, whose silver hair frames a light brown face that belies her 67 years of age. "I've never wanted to live anywhere else."
Mrs. Butler's new home is a twobedroom town house. Like the others which contain up to four bedrooms, hers contains a fully-equipped kitchen, central heating and air conditioning, a fully carpeted second floor, a utility room and several storage units inside and outside the house.
Residents, whose rent may be subsidized by the federal government if they meet income guidelines, pay from $221 a month for a two-bedroom unit to $260 for a four-bedroom house.
"We're here today on a high note," Leslie Plummer, president of the Stewarttown Citizens Association, told the 70 persons gathered in a parking lot of the complex for the outdoor ceremonies.
"This is the culmination of 10 years of head-knocking. We've had some rough times," said Plummer, 63, a life-long Stewarttown resident and a driving force behind the development's construction. "But we've received a lot of help, and we've been able to see it through."
Stewarttown was settled after the Civil War by a small group of exslaves and freedmen. For nearly a century it remained isolated from the main currents of life in Montgomery County. Its residents, sustained by their church and family bonds, were either farmers or workers on farms owned by whites in the area.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, residents in the 25-family enclave realized they faced serious problems that would perhaps engulf and obliterate their homes.
Montgomery Village, a 2,000-acre middle and upper-middle-income development, with its own golf course, swimming pools and man made lake, was being built at Stewarttown's doorstep, and the developers were seeking to convince Stewarttown families to sell their valuable land.
Also, in 1965, the county government noted the dilapidated condition of many of Stewarttown's homes and said the area should be redeveloped, which would have forced the residents to move.
After several false starts and years of planning, the Stewarttown families "have kept faith with our ancestors and saved our home," as 28-year-old Gregory Wims put it.
Wims, an aide to Rep. Newton Steers (R. Md.), is the fourth generation the enclave's founding family.Wims, who lives with his wife and son in a home he built last year adjacent to the complex, said he grew up in one of the settlement's original homes that was condemned in 1968 because it had no indoor plumbing or electricity.
"We had to move into an apartment in Rockville temporarily," Wims said, "but I made a vow I would come back and build a house on our original land. It took me seven years, but I did it."
To Wims. the development means "Stewarttown will be here for another hundred years. We've saved it," he said. "It means I'll live out my life in Stewarttown, and that's what I always wanted to do."