The history of Montgomery County, to be frank, is not terribly dramatic: It was not the site of major battles, nor the birthplace of major movements, although it was home to Thomas Moore, who patented the first refrigerator.
Yet Jane C. Sween, a lifelong resident and librarian of the county historical society, has made the most of it in her new 232-page book, "Montgomery County: Two Centuries of Change," which was released yesterday.
Sween begins her history with the first exporations by English settlers in the area, little of which had been settled by Indians, in the early 1600s. Henry Fleet, a young adventurer from the Jamestown colony, explored here in 1632 and declared in his diary about the area north of Great Falls:
"This place without all question is the most pleasant and healthful place in all this country, and most convenient for habitation. It aboundeth with all manner of fish. The Indians in one night commonly will catch 30 sturgeons in a place where the river is not above 12 fathoms broad. And as for deer, buffaloes, bears, turkeys, the woods do swarm with them and the soil is exceedingly fertile."
Sween says many of the settlers were people who came to the colonies as indentured servants, served their time and were looking for land to call their own. Others were the younger sons of Tidewater planters whose family plantations went to older brothers.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, Charles Hungerford's Tavern in what is now Rockville had developed into an important meeting place. It was there that local residents gathered to pass the "Hungerford Resolves," declaring themselves in favor of independence.
The county itself was created shortly after that, on Sept. 6, 1776, when it was carved out of the lower section of Frederick County. It was named after Gen. Richard Montgomery, the Revolutionary War general who had died in an attack on Quebec less than a year earlier.
There are no fewer than 18 other counties in the United States named after the same Gen. Montgomery, Sween reports, but this Montgomery County was the first.
No Revolutionary War battles were fought in the county, but the county sent troops to fight elsewhere. Sween notes that when county residents celebrated the end of the war, they did so at a dinner where 13 toasts were made, concluding with one to "the truly virtuous and patriotic ladies of America, who rejected luxuries, and even the conveniences of life, for the salvation of their country."
After a brief population drop following the war, growth continued steadily and relatively uneventfully until the outbreak of the Civil War. The war divided the citizens of the county, some of whom fought for the North and some for the South, and the county was the scene of many skirmishes, especially in the Poolesville area.
A statue of a Confederate cavalryman, erected in 1913 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and veterans of the Confederate army, still stands outside the old county courthouse in Rockville. It's inscription reads: "That we through life may not forget to love the thin grey line."
The late 1800s and early 1900s brought streetcar lines to Rockville, Bethesda, Glen Echo, Cabin John, Silver Spring, Kensington, Chevy Chase and Forest Glen, settlements in what was still a rural county. At first, residents of Washington came out for the fresh air and healthful climate, to escape the Washington summers. A number of vacation homes and hotels were built where the streetcar lines ended.
But as true suburban residential development started soon after, Sween notes, developers played on the same themes that attracted people to the resorts. "How to Get Health, Wealth, Comfort: Peerless Rockville," read one 1890 brochure. "Takoma Park: The Sylvan Suburb of the Nation's Capital," read a brochure printed in 1901.
Silver Spring, which grew into a large, unincorporated area after World War II, began as a summer residence for Francis Preston Blair, editor of The Globe newspaper and a member of President Andrew Jackson's kitchen cabinet. Blair was riding through the countryside looking for a site when his new horse, Selim, threw him near a spring in which sand and mica appeared to shine like silver. He purchased the property and built a house that he named "Silver Spring" in 1842.
Sween records the development that followed the laying of streetcar lines and roads, bringing, in the end, hundreds of thousands of new residents. In 1922, the first county police department was established, with five men and a chief.
"The men were required to have a telephone" at a time when there were only 1,250 phones in the county, Sween quotes one of the orignal officers. "With no training in weapons or law, they were sworn in and assigned beats. The officers were given Harley-Davidsons, a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun, a blackjack, and a law book." The chief drove a Model T Ford.
The last segment of the book, written by historian Philip L. Cantelon, is taken up with corporate histories of 49 business enterprises in the county, including the major development, law and high-tech firms.
"Montgomery County: Two Centuries of Change," is published by Windsor Publications under the sponsorship of the Montgomery County Historical Society, as part of Maryland's 350th anniversary. program. The book is on sale for $24.95 from the Historical Society and area bookstores.