History of Aspen Hill, Maryland

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Aspen Hill, Maryland, is an unincorporated place in Montgomery County, Maryland.

There is a Talk Page for discussion or for recording your personal memories, if you lived here.

Geography

The US Census locates Aspen Hill at 39°5′19″N, 77°4′49″W (39.088525, -77.080267). The Aspen Hill Civic Association, Inc., defines the boundaries of its membership area as a subset of "greater Aspen Hill". Loosely speaking, Aspen Hill may be said to be everything north of Veirs Mill Road, east of Rock Creek, south of Manor Country Club and Leisure World, and west of the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek which runs through the Matthew Henson State Park and crosses under Georgia Avenue at the intersection with Hewitt Avenue. It also includes everything along Hewitt Avenue north of the "greenspace" which runs from Georgia Avenue just south of Hewitt Avenue to past Layhill Road just south of North Gate Drive, and then along Layhill Road north to just beyond Bel Pre Road.

Aspen Hill's boundaries are, in some places, diffuse and problematic. Arguably the northeasternmost bound could be thought of as the intersection of MD-28 (Norbeck Road) and Layhill Road, though it may be more useful to think of the northeastern boundary as being Bel Pre Creek, beyond which lies Layhill.

Perhaps you would like to see a MAP?

History

While not an actual part of Aspen Hill, the Manor Lake community to our north has its own well-researched brief history.

We also have US Census Records for Aspen Hill for the period between 1850 and 1930. These records list the names and occupations of residents and provide an interesting snapshot of how life in the area changed each decade during those early years.

Colonial to Antebellum

Early Land Grants

Prior to the Revolutionary War, land titles in Colonial Maryland were granted by "land patents", generally by the act of surveying lands not yet claimed, and supplication for such a grant.

In 1689, some 3866 acres of land were granted to one William Joseph, called Hermitage. In Aspen Hill, the northern bound of this tract extended from Rock Creek at a point approximately due west of the westernmost point of Dowlais Drive to a point roughly at the location of the present-day Bel Pre Neighborhood Park. This was, in part, the southern bound of the "Bradford's Rest" tract, as well as other lands to the east of Georgia Avenue, such as "Enster", "Garter Lost" and the Bel-Pre land grant.

In 1713-1718, some 4892 acres of land were claimed by one Major John Bradford and became known as Bradford's Rest. In Aspen Hill, the southern bound of this tract extended from Rock Creek at a point approximately due west of the westernmost point of Dowlais Drive to a point now located in the parking lot of 4110 Aspen Hill Road.

In 1718, 1298 acres of Colonial Maryland land were granted with the place name of "Lahill". The exact bounds are not known to this writer as of November 2009, but are believed to lie mostly between Bel Pre Creek and the main Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River farther to the east.

In 1743, one Basil Beckwith was granted patent to 200 acres, which he named Garter Lost. In the present day, most of this land remains as the Gate of Heaven Cemetery.

In 1753, a special warrant granted a vacancy between the tract of Bachelors Forest and surrounding lands to James Beall, with this tract named Bel Pre. The geometry of the modern Bel Pre Road just east of Georgia Avenue results from a long narrow neck of land attached to the larger body of the claim, the westernmost portion of which may have been roughly along the line of the modern Chelmsford Road.

Most of the very large land patents were later subdivided into farms of several hundred acres each.

One such farm was the 700-acre estate of one James Rannie (occasionally referred to as "Ranie"), originally from Scotland. This farm was established in the mid-1830s at the site of the present-day intersection of Georgia Avenue, Chesterwood Drive, and Heathfield Road. In the very early 20th century, another Rannie acquired title to the eastern half of the Cassell Tract, putting much of the land to the east of Parkland Drive and south of Heathfield Road into the hands of one rather large extended family. Large tracts of land included the Beall Tracts, Gill Tract, and Rabbitt Tracts.

At the time, Georgia Avenue was known as the Washington-Brookeville Turnpike, one of the few roads in the area and the only major highway. It was used as a military route during the Civil War, by both Union troops under General Ambrose Burnside (July 1862), and Confederate forces under General Jubal Early (July 1864). Long before that, it had been a trading route for the natives. Indeed, near the present-day intersection of Georgia Avenue and the Intercounty Connector (ICC) was a place where the natives (mostly Piscataway) gathered to make tools and weapons from the abundant quartz.

In 1834, a house was built which still stands at 4510 Woodlark Place in Aspen Hill. Although later enlarged to more than double the size, and having passed through the hands of several owners, this house has a legend attached to it as having been a way station on the Underground Railroad.

Veirs Mill

Veirs Mill was built by Samuel Clark Veirs in 1838. It was operated by Veirs and Co., or Veirs and Bros., for 89 years. Known by many as Rock Creek Mills, it drew customers from Rockville and Mitchel's Crossroads (now Wheaton), through a route which in the early days was called "the New Cut road" which later became known as Veirs Mill Road, or as "the City Road" from Rockville to Washington.

The water-powered grist and saw mill was powered by a 12-foot drop of water directed along a mill race from Rock Creek. The first story of the building was stone, and the second two stories wood. The mill was located on the west side of Veirs Mill Road and south of Rock Creek. The miller's house was on the northwest corner of Veirs Mill Road and the road built sometime in the 1860s which later became known as the Aspen Hill Road. Samuel Veirs lived nearby at Meadow Hall, on the opposite side of Rock Creek. Samuel Veirs was a prominent Rockville citizen, serving as a judge in the Orphans Court from 1864 until his death in 1872 (Historical Marker Database).

Aspen Hill got its first post office operated by postmaster Alexander Leadingham, at a general store located near the present-day intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Georgia Avenue. At that time, the community was called "Euster". See Montgomery County Land Records, liber 825 folio 410; in later years the place-name as referred to in land title deeds changed to "Enster Rectified and Divided". The western part of Enster/Euster is now the English Manor subdivision.

The place name of "Aspen Hill" is said to have derived from a grove of trees at the post office. A family legend of the Rabbitt family says that a contest in the local public school chose the name "Aspen", and this community appears in many Census records as "Aspen", and the Census tract was known as "the Berry District". In this general area between the present-day Connecticut Avenue and Heathfield Road, there were two general stores and a blacksmith shop.

Maps

We have images of some maps of Aspen Hill in the Civil War period.

Perhaps you would like to see a 1878 map (Hopkins, GM, 1878, Library of Congress)? Aspen Hill is to the far left. Note the locations of Veirs's Mill. Aspen Hill Road and Bel Pre Road are already extant on approximately their modern routes. The Gill, Rabbitt, and Rannie lands are plainly marked, although the Rabbitt residence and store are misrepresented somewhat north of their actual location.

Aspen Hill Circa 1900

Perhaps you'd like to see a USGS terrain contour map from around 1900?

Circa Turn of the Century

Perhaps you would like to see a map of pre-development land tracts?

Large Farms Era

From the period shortly after the First Civil War, a variety of large properties dominated the area, until the decade or two after the start of the 20th Century.

In 1907, a variety of market players attempted to corner the market on the stock of the United Copper Company. The failure of this scheme caused an inordinate number of runs on banks, bank failures, failures of trusts, and in general the New York Stock Exchange's value dropped about 50%. This peak of a lack of confidence in October 1907 came to be known as "the Panic of 1907" (Wikipedia).

Any deeds discovered in the time frame of 1906 to 1912 or so may properly be considered in the context of this major economic downturn.

Interestingly, one George H Earle, Jr, a prominent and wealthy Philadelphia PA lawyer and banker, bought several large parcels of land in Montgomery County not long before the panic really started.

North Aspen Hill
Abert's "Homewood" and Manor Park

A bit north of Aspen Hill, in 1849 one Charles Abert established a sizeable estate called "Homewood", which sold to the Foreston Manor Club (Washington DC corporation) in September 1921. In August 1922, the Sixteenth Street Highlands of Maryland (Delaware corporation) was established to separate the Country Club entity from the property development aspect. Most of this can be credited to E. Brooke Lee and T. Howard Duckett. They restyled it as Manor Country Club, and in 1926 sold some of the land around the golf course for houses, as "Manor Park" subdivision. In January of 1929, the Maryland National-Capital Park and Planning Commission approved a Plat of Subdivision. It's interesting to note on this map that the present day Chesterfield Road in Manor Park was known back in the day as "the Layhill Road" to people in nearby Rockville, and as "the Rockville Road" to people in nearby Layhill.

Central Aspen Hill
Beall, Gill, Hewitt, Leadingham, Rabbitt and Rannie

In the general time frame of the late 1880s to early 1920s, large tracts of land dominated central Aspen Hill, which at that time was known as "Aspen". Supposedly the name was the result of a contest at the local school, located across the street from the Northgate Plaza Shopping Center, at the site of the modern-day Saint Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church.

The Beall family owned land in the vicinity of the modern-day Strathmore Elementary School. Their family cemetery is located on Beechvue Lane, and is the final resting place of many of the Bealls, with the earliest legible date being Daniel Beall, departed February 4, 1835.

James Rannie had arrived from Scotland and established a family farm of some 700 acres, most of it in Euster/Enster, in the 1830s. This farm covered most of the lands which now lie in "the triangle" between the modern-day Georgia Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, and Bel Pre Road. James and Isabella Rannie are buried in the Beall family cemetery.

Part of Rannie's farm had been acquired in 1846 from one John Rabbitt.

Slightly south of Rannie's farm, one Edward Palmer Rabbitt owned some 350 acres at the site of the present-day Gate of Heaven Cemetery, as well as a 103-acre farm situated roughly at the present-day intersection of Georgia Avenue and Hewitt Avenue (click for MAP).

In more recent years (1960s?), one Donald Rabbitt eventually sold the remaining lands which were "diagonally across the road from Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery". In the modern day, this last remnant of the Rabbitt Tracts is a vacant parcel behind the Citgo. We have a surveyor's map available from 1969, showing quite a bit of detail including former streams, housing, and roads. Please see this MAP.

One James P. Gill, by marriage to his wife -- the former Anna Maria Rannie -- owned some 150 acres around and including the site of the present-day Home Depot. An excellent and well-researched resource on the Gill family and their neighbors and relations in "Aspen" at the time may be seen under the heading "Third Generation" at the "Descendants of James Gill -- Four Generations" website. It's interesting to note that at the time and in this part of Aspen Hill, the modern Aspen Hill Road was known and is recorded in deeds as "the Veirs Mill road", not to be confused with the modern Veirs Mill Road.

A one-room schoolhouse was located at the present site of Saint Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church. In roughly 1914-1915, Georgia Avenue was first paved in this area. President Woodrow Wilson supposedly visited to buy strawberries in season. The Birney (alternatively, Burney) family had a home at the site of the present-day Aspin Hill Pet Cemetery and bred dogs, Boston Terriers or Schnauzers, depending on source (Gooding, Helen Rabbitt, Rockville Gazette, 1988).

Woodworth Estate

On the eastern side of Georgia Avenue, some of this land originally belonging to the Rannies and the Rabbitts came into the hands of the Woodworth family. Much of the lands between Bel Pre Road, Georgia Avenue, and Grand Pre Road were at one time owned by the Woodworths.

Long-time locals will remember "the House on the Hill" which sat atop a large hill across Georgia Avenue from Heathfield Road. Sometime in the timeframe of the late 1960s or early 1970s, the house either was razed or burned down. The local rumor was that for some years the estate was caught up in probate, but in the late 1970s the land was subdivided and has since become apartments, condominiums, and townhomes.


"Earle Tracts"

George H Earle, Jr, began to purchase large tracts of land in and around Aspen Hill starting in about 1905. Eventually, he owned most of the lands in Bradford's Rest west of the present Marianna Drive, all of the way over to the vicinity of the modern Earle B Wood Middle School, later developed as Bel Pre Woods and Manor Woods subdivisions.

His holdings extended to the north of Aspen Hill proper. Southwards, in Hermitage, he owned at least 280 acres in separate lots, from the vicinity of the modern-day intersection of Arctic Avenue and Oriental Street to nearly the modern-day intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Turkey Branch Parkway.

Southern and Western Aspen Hill
Goebel and Lucas Tracts

In early 1904, pursuant to case 173 Equity, Clara C Ertter (Erlter?) et ux complainants, Catharine Graeves et ux defendants, James B Henderson and William Veirs Bouic, trustees, transferred title for some 142 acres to one John W Lucas (liber JLB 176, folio 251).

In 1924, some 47 acres were transferred to Marcella Hogan (liber PBR 352, folio 136), and in 1935 some 20 acres of land were transferred from Marcella Hogan and husband William J Hogan to Louise E Goebel (liber CKW 594, folio 271).

Thereafter, Marcella Hogan transferred various small parcels, mostly to relatives (see liber CKW 1038, folio 279 which contains reference to many of these transactions), over a period of several years. In June, 1955, many of those landholders united to sell their properties to the Royal View Construction Co., Inc, which issued several plats of subdivision. Subsequently, this was developed as the Royal View subdivision.


The Goebel Tract was developed as the subdivision of Robindale, with only four streets and not quite a hundred homes, around 1953.

Goodman and Gruver Tracts

One Jacob S Gruver owned much of the land that would later come to be known as Aspen Hill Park subdivision. The much smaller subdivisions known as Robindale and Royal View, all of which had southern bounds along Veirs Mill Road, were to the east of this tract.

The majority of this land was sold to one Nathan Goodman on Winter Solstice Day, 1946 (liber 1058 folio 93), along with other lands belonging to Gruver's relatives Fulton Russell Gruver and wife Mildred G Gruver , Helen Gruver Kline and husband Robert E Kline, Jr (liber 1058 folio 94).

On March 23, 1955, Minnie Goodman Bobys transferred some 279 acres to one Lawrence L Levin (liber 2036 folio 553). Not long thereafter, subdivision and construction followed in Aspen Hill Park.

Northwestern Aspen Hill
"Vale Tract"

In October 1926, one James S Taliaferro and partners sold nearly 300 acres of land to one Julius M Sauber. Mr Sauber immediately sold the land to one Ruby R Vale and others. In 1961, the land was sold yet again to John E Baker and Charles A Camalier, Jr. Shortly thereafter, this "Vale Tract" was developed as Rock Creek Manor subdivision.

After the Second World War

You may wish to download a very large PDF file of the 1979 USGS topographic map for the Kensington Quadrangle, which includes Aspen Hill. It is color coded; the orange tinted areas are as developed in 1965, with purple-tinted areas showing development as of 1979.

The Fifties and Sixties Building Boom

A comprehensive series of historical aerial photographs is available from Historic Aerials dot Com. The images from 1957 and 1963 are invaluable.

After the Second World War, more development occurred in the area, with the core of modern Aspen Hill being built up along Aspen Hill Road in the early part of the 1950s, and in the second half of the 1950s, even more development occurred.

Perhaps you would like to see a Historical Aerials map from 1957? In that map, the immense wooded tract to the northwest of Aspen Hill Road would later become Bel Pre Woods subdivision, Manor Woods subdivision, and Rock Creek Manor subdivision. At this time, most of that is owned by the Shapiros. Not long before, much of this land was Earle Tracts and the Vale Tract. Also, the working farmlands of the Beall Tracts can be seen to the east of Georgia Avenue.

In early 1955, "north Aspen Hill" was barely developed. The Harmony Hills neighborhood is laid out on the April 1955 MNCPPC map as "roads dedicated, not constructed". Aspen Hill south of Aspen Hill Road and west of Parkland Drive is seen in approximately its modern form on this map. Hewitt Avenue had some housing on it along its length, though much later that would be converted into apartment units, in the so-called Hermitage Park neighborhood. North of Aspen Hill, the Brookhaven and Aspen Knolls neighborhoods were laid out but little construction had occurred other than the stubs of Landgreen Street that are blocked by the lot of the Aspen Hill Library, and Marianna Drive to the south of Landgreen. Also completed was Parkland Drive south of Heathfield Road; most of the houses in the Wheaton Woods subdivision show on State tax records as being built in or around 1954. Interestingly, at that time, Heathfield Road to the east of Parkland, and Bauer Drive to the west of Marianna Drive were mere stubs, both bearing the name of Niagara Road. There was nothing much to the east of Parkland Drive nor to the west of Marianna Drive, nor to the north of a stub of Oakvale Street. A new wave of homebuilding in that neighborhood occurred around 1959 according to State tax records.

By 1962 most of the English Manor subdivision to the north of Oakvale had been paved and significant construction had been completed. Brookhaven Elementary and Parkland Junior High schools have been built, yet west of Chadwick Lane, Bauer Drive remains a mere stub and there is little sign of the Sycamore Creek development. Arctic Avenue does not exist north of a stub above Oriental Street, and Bel Pre Road ends just west of Merton Street. English Manor Elementary School school is a mere proposal. To the east of Georgia Avenue, through to Layhill Road, there is little even by 1966 other than the Gate of Heaven Cemetery, and second or third-growth forests and farmlands.

Perhaps you would like to see a Historical Aerials map from 1963?

Much of Aspen Hill's modern shape had been set by the mid-1960s. A local high school of the Montgomery County Public Schools opened as Robert E Peary HS in 1960-1962 (first "full attendance" graduating class graduated in 1963 {citations needed}) and closed in 1984 due to declining student enrollment, and which now operates after significant renovation as the Melvin J Berman Hebrew Academy.

Vitro Labs opened in 1957, occupying the site of the present day Home Depot store at 14000 Georgia Avenue, for some time was the largest civilian employer in Montgomery County. Throughout the early to mid-1960s, Georgia Avenue was widened from a two-lane road progressing northwards from Wheaton, to a point a bit north of the intersection with MD-28, which was known as Old Baltimore Road to the west of Georgia Avenue and as Norbeck Road to the east of Georgia Avenue. MD-28 was widened to a four-lane highway from Georgia Avenue westwards into Rockville in the late 1960s, concurrent with Rockville's disastrous Urban Renewal project which lasted from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. As Georgia Avenue's enlargement progressed into Aspen Hill, a segment of Connecticut Avenue was laid down between Georgia Avenue and Aspen Hill Road, forming the now-familiar triangle around the Northgate Plaza Shopping Center. A tunnel connected the main campus of Vitro to the annex beneath the present-day SuperFresh, which at the time was an outlet of the W.T. Grant department store chain. An obscure local joke referred to the basement Vitro Annex at that site as "Grant's Tomb".

In the later 1960s, Connecticut Avenue was opened to traffic as far north as the site of the present-day North Gate Park, where it dead-ended in undeveloped second-growth forest, much of which remains as the site of North Gate Park. A grade-separated crossing ramp system was built over the Turkey Branch of Rock Creek in preparation for an expected freeway that was never built. That right-of-way below the overpass has been reverted permanently from the State Highway Administration by an amendment to the State Constitution, which defines the streambed and adjoining lands as Matthew Henson State Park. Once this bridge was opened, traffic could flow through and from Aspen Hill all of the way into Northwest Washington DC.

Completion in the late 1960s and early 1970s of several roads, which had been awaiting approval of bridge designs, brought great change to the character of Aspen Hill. The completion of Bauer Drive from end-to-end made that one of the most heavily-traveled neighborhood roads, especially during winter when the designation as a Snow Emergency Route combined with heavy storms. The completion of Arctic Avenue from end-to-end had comparable effects of increased traffic flow. All of this was contemporaneous with the completion of MD-28, which allowed heavy traffic flows which were not previously possible due to the narrow two lane nature of Old Baltimore Road.

Shopping Centers proliferated and expanded during this time. By the mid-1970s, new shopping centers were in place at Rock Creek Village Shopping Center and Plaza del Mercado Shopping Center, and both Northgate Plaza Shopping Center and Aspen Hill Shopping Center expanded significantly, and a new and immense K-Mart adjacent to North Gate Park became one of the largest department stores in Montgomery County. A US Post Office was built between K-Mart and North Gate Park along Connecticut Avenue, but later relocated to a new site in the Aspen Hill Shopping Center in the 1990s. The old facility is now mostly a mail handling and sorting facility, which also has a US Passport application office and processing center.

Through the 1970s, apartment complexes proliferated throughout Aspen Hill, accompanied by massive loss of open fields and the remaining wooded areas which had not been acquired by the MNCPPC Parks.

End of the Millennium

Source Credits

Maryland State Archives ("MSA"), via Plats.Net

Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC),
particularly referencing Eliot Chabot's timeline of Aspen Hill History 
in Master Plan documents.

Montgomery County Land Records, 
via Maryland Land Records Network (MSA)

Historical Marker Database (hmdb.org)
 
Manor Country Club

"Map of Norbeck-Colesville and Vicinity", MNCPPC, April 1955

"A Street Address Map of Lower Montgomery County", La Rue, Robert, 
 Second Edition October 1962

[http://www.sciway3.net/clark/gill/MDJasGill.htm 
"Descendants of James Gill -- Four Generations" website] 
(Clark, Dr Frank O; Taylor, Janice)

Anecdotal recollections of Helen (Rabbitt) Gooding as transmitted 
by Leta Sheaffer to RootsWeb [MDMONTGO] Aspen Hill
mailing list, including by reference the Rockville Gazette 
(1988, issue unknown)

Anecdotal recollections and significant geneological research 
by Ms Leta Sheaffer, whose correspondence has proved invaluable.

Anecdotal recollections of Thomas Hardman

Additional History

Additional history of specific locations, addresses, and business entities may sometimes be found on the entry describing that location, address, or business entity. For example, we are trying to develop at least minimal histories of all shopping centers, churches, and properties with significant code-violation histories or frequent calls to 911 for police services.

Special Interest

External Links

  1. Historical Marker Database "hmdb.org" transcription of a marker installed by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission.
  2. Manor Country Club website.