Germantown is an unincorporated municipality in Montgomery County, Maryland 26 miles northwest of Washington, D.C.. The modern boundaries of Germantown are Great Seneca Creek to the south, Little Seneca Creek and Little Seneca Lake on the north, Blackrock Road to the west, and on the east Brink Road, covering just under 16 square miles of land. That 16 square miles is home to over 55,000 people (as of census 2000).

When Europeans arrived in this area in the 1600s, it was hunting grounds for Piscataway Indians who lived at the mouth of Rock Creek (near modern-day Georgetown), and had a trading post at the mouth of the Monocacy River, a few miles up the Potomac. The village and the trading post were connected by trails that were to eventually become River Road, Clopper Road, and route 355.

The First Residents

The town seems to owe its existence to a tavern, or at least trace its early origins to one. The road that would become Route 355 led from Georgetown to Clarksburg, and then on to Middlebrook Mills. Along the road between Clarksburg and Middlebrook Mills, a man named Joseph Neels opened a tavern. Soon after, a short ways away three brothers, Zachariah, William, and Basil Waters and their brides, settled down into large adjacent farms1 that were gifts from their father. More farmers soon followed, including some familiar Germantown names; Thomas Dawson (Dawson Farm Road, Dawsonville), the Blunt Family (Blunt Commons), and Henry Waring (Waring Station).

The first settlers grew tobacco, flax, wheat, and corn. The need for mills was inevitable to take the harvests to market, and the creeks in the area helped to meet the need. The Waters brothers built the first mill in the 1790s, a grist, saw, and flaxseed oil mill on the Little Seneca Creek. McCubbins Mill, the Umstadt Mill, and the Blackrock Mill2 followed.

A Town At the Crossroads

In 1845, the first church (Neelsville Presbyterian Church)3 was built, near Joseph Neels' tavern. The minister also served at a church in Darnestown, and so a road was established to connect the two (now called Liberty Mill Road, or old route 118). This road, where it crossed Clopper Road, was to become the first commercial center of the area when a group of German immigrants opened a blacksmith shop, a general store, and a masonry shop to serve the local farmers. Although the majority of residents in the area were of Scottish and English descent, the area was coined Germantown, and the name stuck.

Sidenote: A Look at Germantown in the Civil War

Though no battles were fought in this area, there are several historical events of note during this time:

Germantown Station

The town grew and expanded; a post office was opened in the 1850s, and the first school4 was built near the Blackrock Mill in the 1860s. Then the Metropolitan Branch of the B&O Railroad opened its new line between Washington, D.C. and Point of Rocks, MD, placing a station one mile east of the crossroads. There were four morning trains and three evening trains to Washington, D.C..

The railroad provided a quick reliable way for shopkeepers in town to bring in stock, and it offered the local farmers a quick way to move their harvest to market. This allowed farmers to expand what they were growing for profit to include apples, peaches, and milk, which could now make it to distant markets while still fresh. In 1888, two brothers built a steam-powered mill next to the station, called Liberty Mill, which helped to improve the time-to-market even further.

The railroad and the new steam-powered mill helped to fuel the growth of Germantown for many years. In 1901, a church5 was built next to the station, saving the townsfolk a trip to Neelsville or Darnestown. In 1914, the Liberty Mill burned down, but was rebuilt in 1918 and sold to Agustus Selby. In 1916, Roy Marth opened a blacksmith shop out of his home. Electricity was brought into town in 1918. In 1920, an industrial scale was built at the station. Andrew Baker, Agustus Selby, William Waters, Norman Waters, and Henry Pumphry opened a bank in 1922. The Cider Barrel was opened by Andrew Baker in 19266. Liberty Mill eventually became the second largest mill in Maryland, and supplied the army with grain during World War II.

In the 1950s, the town began to decline due to a slump in the local agricultural industry and competition from larger mills.

On The Road to "Corridor City"

When construction on Interstate 270 began in the 1960's, a plan arose to build up the areas along the highway while maintaining the rural farmland elsewhere in the county. The plan for Germantown was called "Corridor City" by the Montgomery County government, and was begun in 1972. Germantown, a small town throughout its existence, was about to boom, and it's 1000 residents probably couldn't envision what the city would become. Since then, the population of Germantown has grown steadily by approximately 2000 people per year.

The Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) campus was opened in 1957. The neglected Liberty Mill was burned by arson in 1971. The sewer lines were completed in 1973 and shortly after an explosion of new homes, strip malls, office buildings, and schools began. The boom continues to this day. The railroad station, which once served a primarily agricultural and industrial purpose, now serves the commuters.

The development of the town carefully avoided the historic structures, however over half of them were burned by arson in the seventies, their neglect leaving them open to such cruelty.

As an inhabitant of "Corridor City", I must say it is rather bland, being very similar to so many other planned communities within the Washington, D.C. area. As a suburb of DC, it is rather lackluster, having far fewer fine restaurants, nightlife, and sites than other notable communities such as Bethesda and Rockville. Still, the town is a very safe place to live, fairly clean, and with easy access to Washington, D.C. and rural Maryland and Virginia.

If you happen to find yourself in Germantown, I would heartily recommend seeing the Blackrock Mill, and having cider from Cider Barrel. For a dinner date, I recommend Mi Rancho. The fajitas are the best around and they have a large selection of fine tequilas. The high spot of your visit, however, will be meeting the manager whose quirky sense of gleeful humour will crack you up every time.

Sadly, the destroyed history of the town is far more interesting than the town as it exists today.
These footnotes may be of interest only to people fairly familiar with Germantown.
  1. These farms are now occupied by the Waters Landing, Churchill, Beaumont Estates and Milestone neighbourhoods, and represent the land north of route 118 from Wisteria Drive to route 355. Only Basil's home is still visible, near the intersection of Royal Crown Drive and Observation Drive in Milestone.
  2. Blackrock Mill is certainly the most well known of our time, being the only one not in complete ruins. The mill still stands, with the exception of its floors and ceiling. Although it is on the very outskirts of Germantown, this is a must-see spot. I heartily recommend making a visit on a moonless night when the glow-worms are bright. The parking lot by the mill serves as a drop-off spot for hikers to access the 14-mile long Seneca Creek Greenway, a trail that follows Seneca Creek from the Potomac River to Howard County. The Greenway includes several sites that were used for scenes in the movie The Blair Witch Project, including "coffin rock", which is just a short distance upstream from the mill.
  3. Though the original log church building is long gone, the site still stands as one of the sites-to-see in Germantown. The red neon outlined cross on the steeple is, well, noticeable. Interestingly enough, research into the origins of the neon cross leads to the story of Rev. Kundahl, a reformed alcoholic who had used neon signs to aid in his urban ministries. He suggested the use of the neon cross in 1935 as a beacon to believers, and it has stood since.
  4. This school stood (despite being unused for a great many years) until the 1990s, when it was torn down because of its attraction as a nightspot for teens.
  5. This church is now my veterinarians' office.
  6. The Cider Barrel is still in business today, offering the best damn non-alcoholic cider from their red white and blue barrel-shaped store on route 355, just south of route 118.

Sources: Finding historical information on the most typical boring town in the United States is difficult, and my sources were few and quite scattered. It must be mentioned that the Germantown Historical Society and the websites were of the greatest help, giving solid timelines, historic locations and events.
  4. (Neelsville Presbyterian Church history)
  5. (Cider Barrel history)
  6. (George Atzerodt)

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