Anyone in Germantown today can tell you a story of getting lost in a maze of streets in a development. Looking at a map of the city is like looking at a bunch of connected spider webs. But there was a Germantown before development. The roads of old Germantown are still there, but hidden within the labyrinth. How can you tell the old roads from the new?
In the past 40 years Germantown has grown from about 600 people to a population of nearly 85,000. With this growth has come a myriad of new roads and streets. But despite tremendous growth, Germantown still has many of its original roads. Many of these roads have been widened, shortened or lengthened, but some retain much of their original appearance. On the western edge of Germantown Black Rock Road, Burdette Lane and Schaeffer Road north of Burdette Lane are protected by the county’s “Rustic Roads Program” and cannot be changed. As you will see, the old roads were usually named for the place they lead to or from, or for a landmark along the way.
The ICC’s Great Granddaddy?
The oldest road in Germantown, other than Frederick Road (Rt. 355) which was discussed in last month’s column, is Clopper Road. This road was mandated by the Maryland General Assembly in 1792 to go from the Mouth of the Monocacy River where there was a ferry across the Potomac River to Virginia, to join the Frederick-Georgetown Road at what is now Gaithersburg. It actually goes even further back in time, having been based on an old Indian Trail. The part through Germantown was first called MacCubbin’s Mill Road as that was the first owner of the mill later known as Clopper’s. It remains essentially intact, although widened in some areas.
The next oldest is Baltimore Road, The sections in Germantown now named West Old Baltimore Road and Brink Road. Baltimore Road was actually the first intercounty connector, directed by the General Assembly in 1794 to connect the ferry across the Potomac River at the Mouth of the Monocacy River all the way to Rt. 40 east of Green’s Bridge over the Patuxent River. It was heavily used by miners and farmers in Virginia to bring their products to market and ships in Baltimore.
The main road through Germantown is Germantown Road (Rt. 118). This road was constructed in the 1840s to connect Neelsville Presbyterian Church with Darnestown Presbyterian Church as they were served by the same minister. Where it crossed Clopper Road German Immigrants built shops to serve the local farmers and the crossroads was soon known as Germantown, and that is how Germantown got it’s name. Originally named Darnestown/Neelsville Road, it changed to Darnestown/Germantown Road in the early 20th century, and became simply Germantown Road around 1960. In 1998 a six-lane bypass was completed from Middlebrook Road to just past Clopper Road. The old sections of Germantown Road were renamed Liberty Mill Road on one side of the overpass over the Railroad, and Walter Johnson Road on the other side.
Connecting Roads were built in the mid-1800s to link these roads with each other and with other main roads of the time. Waring Station Road, although not having the “Station” added until after the railroad in 1873, connected Clopper Road to Frederick Road at Middlebrook Mills as early as 1820, passing through the two farms of the Waring family. It continued as Blunt Road to link with the Baltimore Road (now Brink Road) near Goshen Mills. Riffleford Road connected Germantown Road with Darnestown Road (Rt. 28) crossing Seneca Creek at a ford, hence the name. A little later in the century Middlebrook Road connected Germantown Road with Frederick Road at Middlebrook Mills. Neelsville Church Road was also constructed around this time to link Frederick Road with the Baltimore Road and Goshen Mills via Blunt Road.
Farms and Mills
You can see already the prominence of mills in the building of roads. All of the farmers had to get to the mills to have their wheat and corn ground, so roads to the mills were often made by the millers and the farmers in cooperation. In Germantown the mill roads include Black Rock Road (1815), Watkins Mill Road (1783), and Hoyles Mill Road (1850). Black Rock Road, being a County “Rustic Road,” is very much the same. Watkins Mill Road has a somewhat different alignment where it crosses Seneca Creek and ended at Blunt Road and Neelsville Church Road. Only a small part of Hoyles Mill Road is currently open to vehicles. The remainder has been made into a hiking trail which crosses Little Seneca Creek on a new bridge. The southern section of the road, connecting with Schaeffer Road, is now Leaman Farm Road, Kings Crossing Boulevard, Cresmount Road and Bubbling Spring Road.
The last category of old roads are the farm roads, named for the farm through which they run. Blunt Road (c1800) is named for the Blunt family, owners of Woodbourne, a historic house which still stands overlooking the road near it’s intersection with Brink Road. Blunt Avenue (1890) near the Germantown Railroad Station is named for the same family who owned land there as well. Schaeffer Road is named for the Schaeffer Farm of the early 20th century, and Burdette Lane for the farm of the Burdette family of the same period. Mac Mateny was not a farmer but a cattle dealer who bought old caws from local farmers and held them in a barn and field near the train station until they were ready to be shipped out on the train. In the mid 20th century the zig-zaggy Mateny Road originally went from Germantown Road (now Liberty Mill Road) near the train station to connect with a lane to the Wallich Farm, and then on to Clopper Road. Now bisected by Great Seneca Highway, the northern part is called Mateny Hill Road, part is called Mateny Road, and part is no longer used.
Next month I will tell you how the naming of new roads and streets can be a power play.