The semirural character in Ashton, Md., reflects its colorful past in more ways than one.

Ashton, in the northeastern portion of Montgomery County halfway between Baltimore and Washington, was first settled by Quakers in the 1720s. In 1777, the church prohibited its members from enslaving people, and Ashton later became a major stop on the Underground Railroad.

“You can actually walk from some of these homes through fields to see what the path was” on the Underground Railroad, said Ellen Coleman, a real estate agent who has lived in Ashton for 26 years. “Because of that acceptance, we are diverse here. Some of the people stayed here. They didn’t continue on, because it was rural here and the landowners needed help. But they were paid and they lived on the property. That’s very different from a lot of areas around here.”

Visitors can learn more about this aspect of Ashton’s history via the Underground Railroad Experience Trail, which also covers the nearby community of Sandy Spring. But anyone sticking around may decide they’d like to settle in on a more permanent basis.

Ashton remained largely rural through the 1980s, but it has slowly become more dense and suburbanized in the decades since. Still, Coleman said she feels like she knows everyone when visiting such neighborhood hot spots as Cricket Book Shop, El Andariego and Dempsey’s of Ashton. Even today, Coleman said, there are 374 acres of open space in the area.

“It’s kind of halfway between Baltimore and D.C., so it has easy access to I-95 and Route 32, but it’s a small town,” said Coleman, a New Jersey native. “You know everybody who lives here. Everybody goes to the same little restaurants and the same little diner. I wanted that rural feel, that small-town feel.”

The area has strong public and private school options, and houses with big yards for those who can afford it. The least expensive home sold in Ashton in 2021 went for nearly $550,000, while a six-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot home recently listed for $1.2 million.

Driving through Ashton reveals stately, older houses on large lots, with some newer subdivisions and even a few townhouses scattered about. The intersection of Ashton Road and New Hampshire Avenue represents Ashton’s downtown, with stores, a gas station and a CVS Pharmacy. The area’s still-rural nature is apparent driving in any direction, with houses set well back from the road, most without curb and gutter, and leaves as far as the eye can see.

But change is coming. A recently approved housing development will bring 135 townhouses, duplexes and apartments to Ashton, which Coleman said will change the rural feel. At the same time, she acknowledges the need for more housing in the high-cost Washington metro area.

Paul Mangus, president of the Greater Ashton Community Association and owner of the Greater Olney News, supports the new development and said it will offer “missing middle” housing that will allow professionals such as teachers to live and work in the area.

Mangus lives in a renovated farmhouse that was built in 1920. He said the one-of-a-kind home reflects the wider story of Ashton.

“This area is unique. It’s rich in history, a lot of people are very active in the community and a lot of the things going on have been around for decades,” Mangus said.

Like Coleman, Mangus points to Ashton’s history with Quakers and the Underground Railroad as key to its story and identity, emphasizing that there’s more to the community than meets the eye.

“It’s a nothing town when you drive through it, but it has a lot of deep history, especially when you compare it to the newer towns that were only built after World War II,” he said. “Ashton’s not off the beaten path, but it’s hard to get to. It’s not off the Beltway or a major highway. It has a rural character that everyone really enjoys. And you can go just north of town and be out in true farmland. That’s what we enjoy the most.”

Living there: As an unincorporated community, Ashton has no set boundaries. Its rough borders are Ednor Road to the south, the Patuxent River and Howard County to the east, Gold Mine Road to the north and Norwood Road to the west.

There are 10 homes for sale in Ashton, according to The costliest, with six bedrooms and six bathrooms, is listed at $1.2 million. The lowest-priced, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, is listed at $550,000. Fifteen homes sold in Ashton over the past six months, ranging in price from $549,000 to $1.5 million.

Schools: Sherwood Elementary, William H. Farquhar Middle, Sherwood High.

Transit: Metrobus Route Z2 serves Ashton. The Glenmont Metrorail station is a 15-minute drive away. Maryland Route 650 (New Hampshire Avenue) runs through Ashton. Northwest Branch Stream Valley Park features eight miles of bike trails.

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