What Was There Before Germantown Town Center?
When standing at the Germantown Library or BlackRock Center for the Arts, ever wonder what was there before Germantown Town Center was Germantown Town Center?
The first people who roamed this few acres of the earth we call Germantown were, of course, the people native to the land. There is evidence that there were people in this area during the Ice Age, 10,000 years ago, when the climate was much colder and drier and the glaciers reached south into what is now Pennsylvania. But they were concentrated along the Potomac River, as were the Woodland people of 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.
When the first Europeans settled here the Piscataway people inhabited the area from the mouth of Rock Creek to the Mouth of the Monocacy River. There is a Rock Shelter used by these people across from Black Rock Mill in Germantown. By the time what we know as Germantown was settled by Europeans in the late 1700s most of these native people were gone.
The first European settlers named their property rather than numbered it as we do today. The Town Center is comprised of land named “Bachelor’s Choice,” New Found Land,” and “Well Paid For.” Until the mid-1800s this land was either native forest or part of larger tracts belonging to the Waters family and planted with wheat, corn and flax.
After Germantown Road (Rt. 118) was completed in the 1840s, the land along this route began to be divided into smaller farms. But, according to the 1865 Martinet and Bond map and the 1879 Hopkins map, the land mid-way between Frederick and Clopper Roads where the Town Center is today continued to remain unoccupied. This was probably because of the swampy nature of this land during wet weather due to the numerous springs on the property.
By the late 1800s and early 1900s there were two farms on this land, that of Mr. Appleby and that of Mr. Hickerson. Henry C. Hickerson had come to Germantown from Virginia as a school teacher in 1857. His original house, torn down in 2008, was just east of Old Germantown, which was at the intersection of Clopper and Germantown Roads (now Liberty Mill Road). He soon purchased 185 acres where the Town Center is today and farmed the land with the help of his children, who later inherited the farm and continued the farming legacy.
William Appleby and his son, James, were the town carpenters and undertakers. In those days carpenters often also took on the duties of undertaker since they were the ones who built the coffins. The Applebys had shops opposite the Germantown train station, about a mile west of their farm, and probably walked to work along Germantown Road. The Appleby farmhouse was where EuroMotors is today.
Although the coming of the train in the 1870s stimulated some growth around the train station, Germantown didn’t begin developing in earnest until the 1970s after I-270 (first called 70-S) was completed and a new sewer line went in. Population then grew by about 2,000 people a year, along with shopping centers, companies providing local employment, and finally schools and recreation fields.
One hundred years ago was a quieter and less hectic time in this rural farming community, where moms stayed home to raise the kids, and everyone had a vegetable garden and chickens, even in town; when making a living was more important than making a fortune, and family and community were more