Drivers leaving the newly opened Intercounty Connector at Exit 10 for Layhill Road have a choice listed on the big, green overhead sign: They can head south onto Layhill to go to Glenmont or travel north to go to Norwood.
“Anybody who’s lived here any length of time would say, ‘Norwood? Where’s Norwood?’ ” said Elizabeth Hartge, a lifelong resident of the area whose great-great-grandfather built the family homestead in 1855.
Even local history buffs are stumped.
“I wouldn’t know to call it Norwood,” said Cathy Case, interim director at the nearby Sandy Spring Museum and a resident of the Layhill area for two decades.
Sure, Layhill Road (Route 182) north of the ICC ends at Norwood Road before turning into Ednor Road. But the ICC exit signs list destination communities, not roads.
ADC maps of Montgomery County include a “Norwood” at the intersection of Layhill and Norwood roads. But historians say the only community that went by the name was a farming village in the late 1800s that eventually lost its post office.
The rural hamlet barely commands a few pages in local history books and is apparently so obscure that the Montgomery County Historical Society doesn’t keep a file on it. Montgomery’s parks department, which owns the vacant Red Door Country Store where the Norwood post office was housed, lists the historic property as being in Sandy Spring.
The Norwood mystery surfaced publicly last month on the well-known eastern Montgomery blog, Just Up the Pike.
ICC officials say Norwood is the best they could come up with as a destination point for a relatively rural stretch of two-lane road. Scott Crumley, the ICC project’s lead traffic engineer, said state highway planners and ICC officials thought of Norwood in 2005, when the state was drafting the project’s bid documents. Those documents, which were used by the winning design and construction companies, listed the “control cities” to be listed on each ICC exit sign.
Crumley said such locales are intended to be “key destinations” to tell motorists quickly where an exit road leads. The ICC exit sign at Interstate 95, for example, lists a choice between heading toward Baltimore or Washington.
Crumley, who joined the project later, said notes from numerous meetings about the exit signs show that Ashton was considered a natural northern destination for the New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650) exit and that Olney was noted to be due north of the ICC via the Georgia Avenue (Route 97) exit.
“If you look at 182 [Layhill Road], it doesn’t go to Ashton. It doesn’t go to Olney. It really doesn’t go to Sandy Spring,” Crumley said. Norwood, which he said is on U.S. Postal Service maps even though it no longer has a post office, “was kind of the best of what they had to work with.”
Crumley said the meeting notes don’t mention consultations with residents or community leaders. ICC officials and local political leaders said they haven’t received any complaints about the name.
Just Up the Pike blogger Dan Reed, who grew up in the area, said the sign piqued his interest when he tried out the ICC while home for Thanksgiving from the University of Pennsylvania.
Reed, who is working on his master’s degree in city planning, said he was curious how the exit signs would refer to a broad swath of central Montgomery, where the mailing address is often Silver Spring but where many residents think of their communities as part of Sandy Spring, Wheaton, Aspen Hill or Olney.
Asked what northern destination he’d put on the Layhill Road exit sign, Reed chuckled and, after a brief pause, said, “I’d guess I’d say Sandy Spring.”
He concedes it’s a tough call. His friends who live in the area refer to it as Cloverly.
He said he thinks of the influence that the names of Metrorail stations, such as White Flint in North Bethesda, have had in identifying communities.
“I’d be curious,” Reed said, “if in 20 years people say, ‘I live in Norwood,’ because of the highway sign.”