Little about the Potomac community of Scotland hints at its historic significance as one of the earliest African American settlements in Montgomery County or the subsequent treatment that nearly obliterated it.
Today, Scotland is a 10-acre enclave of 100 townhouses off Seven Locks Road, built with the assistance of grants and government funding in the 1960s. But the community dates back to 1879 when, for $210, former slave William Dove bought 36 acres of land at auction.
Other former slaves followed suit. Eventually 48 acres along Seven Locks Road, between what is now Tuckerman Lane and Democracy Boulevard, became a rural, African American community. Much of that land has since become subdivisions, a shopping center and part of Cabin John Regional Park. What is left of Scotland is now home to residents of various races and nationalities.
Clustered throughout the neighborhood, however, are families that have been part of the community for generations. They are the ones for whom the neighborhood was created. Their needs and financial situations dictated how the housing was set up. Those who could afford to -- 25 families as it turned out -- bought their townhouses when they were built. Everyone else rented; most of the neighborhood is still rental property, some government subsidized.
"I'm descended from the Doves. My grandmother's mother had 15 children. The row across from me" -- seven townhouses -- "all but two are cousins," said Scotland homeowner Bette Thompson, 69, who lives in a section her neighbors have nicknamed "Dove Land."
Thompson is president of the Scotland Community Civic Association. She said it used to hold monthly meetings, but interest has waned in recent years.
"We're trying to get people to come out. It's hard. We used to pay dues, but not in a long time. We've been talking about starting back up. We have to do something," Thompson said.
Initially called "Snakes Den" because of its rocky terrain, the area came to be known as Scotland in 1920. According to local legend, a sign bearing the name "New Scotland" was removed from a nearby property and relocated with the "New" painted over.
As the countryside around them gave way to subdivisions and shopping centers, financially strapped Scotland families began selling off their property to speculators. Surrounded by affluence, they continued to live in ramshackle homes of tar paper and tin.
"We didn't have bathrooms or running water. That tree was where a pump house was," said Scotland homeowner, Dove descendant and Thompson cousin Odelia Cooper, 68, pointing toward the front yard of the townhouse that has been her home since 1971.
Indoor plumbing was not the only amenity lacking in Cooper's childhood home; a wood stove supplied heat. Her family was among the handful in Scotland to have electricity. That meant they did not have to rely on kerosene lamps for light, as their neighbors did. It also made it possible for Cooper's mother to use a wringer washing machine instead of a tub and a scrub board, but "we had to go to the spring to get water for it," Cooper said.
Growing up during segregation and going to a community school attended only by Scotland children, Cooper said the inequalities of her situation did not resonate as strongly as they might have.
"We were here all together and we had good times. We plowed through the woods at Democracy Boulevard and at a hill over where Montgomery Mall is, we'd roll eggs," Cooper said.
The generation of Scotland residents after Cooper's confronted the disparities between their lifestyles and those of the rest of Montgomery County residents every day. Integration made it possible for Courtney Holsey, 45, to attend nearby Seven Locks Elementary School in the 1960s. There, she was introduced to indoor plumbing, heat and running water, all of which she left behind every afternoon to return to the four-room shack on a dirt road that she shared with her parents and eight brothers and sisters.
"We'd stand around the wood stove to get warm. There was an outhouse. We used to bathe in a big tin tub, but we had to go down the hill to a pump on Seven Locks Road first," Holsey said as she sat in the living room of her Scotland townhouse, not far from the one her family moved to in 1968, when she was 8. Her family rented their townhouse, and when she returned to the neighborhood as a single parent after living in Washington and Florida, she also became a renter.
"It was good for my son. It was affordable and the best in the area. The school district was good, and my mother was still here," Holsey said.
An employee of the Montgomery County Public Schools Building Services Unit and a folk artist who sells her work at area shows, Holsey pointed to one of her paintings depicting the Scotland of her childhood and compared it with what Scotland later became. "To me, it was a castle when we moved here. It had steps," said Holsey.
Scotland's transformation from impoverished squalor to a community where families of low and moderate incomes could comfortably live began in 1965. That was when a handful of concerned residents from elsewhere in the county teamed with Scotland families to form the Save Our Scotland committee, or "SOS."
"They were land rich and money poor . . . and the county was threatening to condemn and annex [the property] . . . for stables at Cabin John Park. They were told they could get jobs mucking them out. It was unbelievable and totally insulting. We pride ourselves as being a liberal county, but it was so insensitive. This was not urban renewal, it was urban removal. This community almost went down the drain," said the Rev. James G. Macdonell, the retired pastor at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville, who was involved in salvaging Scotland.
Pivotal to the success of Save Our Scotland was an early garbage-removal project, Macdonell said. Because of its dirt roads, Scotland residents did not have access to county trash collection. In addition, their community had become a dumping ground for the rest of the county.
"For six Saturdays, we hauled out trash and over 200 junked cars. What we couldn't haul away, we backhoed and buried. Then we bought trash cans and hired a group to come in and haul it out," Macdonell said.
After years of having their needs overlooked, Scotland residents were united and inspired by the trash removal project, Macdonell said. They formed the Scotland Community Development Inc. to combine land holdings -- some parcels were as small as one tenth of an acre. All but 10 acres would then be sold and new houses built on what was left. While those with enough equity were able to buy homes, the majority of families became renters. Over the years, several property-management firms have been involved with the rental section. Today, the Whetstone Co. has an on-site office near the entrance of the community.
The division between those who own and those who rent has led to some problems over the years, particularly as families with longtime ties to Scotland have moved out, Macdonell said.
"The solidarity is not what it used to be," he said.
Holsey agreed. She said some programs, such as an annual community day when health workers donated their services, don't regularly happen anymore, but pre-school and tutorial sessions are still held at the on-site community center. There have also been benefits to the turnover in housing, and Holsey said she is happy to call Scotland home.
"It's a multicultural community now. People are from Egypt, Africa and Asia, but we still watch out for each other," Holsey said.
Scotland's transformation from impoverished squalor to a community where families of low to moderate income could comfortably live began in 1965.
Scotland's community center has a day care. The neighborhood is a mix of renters and homeowners and is nestled in Potomac.