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Montgomery County, Maryland

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History

Montgomery County came into existence on October 1, 1776.

In 1777, the leaders of the new county chose as their county seat an area adjacent to Hungerford's Tavern near the center of the county, which became Rockville in 1801. When deciding its name, the original idea was to call it Wattsville, after Watts Branch, a stream that runs through the land. Because Watts Branch is a small stream, the idea was reconsidered, and the area was ultimately named Rockville after the nearby and larger Rock Creek.

For tax purposes, Montgomery County was divided into eleven districts, called hundreds. The names and areas of each hundred carried over from when the area was still part of Frederick County. The eleven districts were named as follows.

  • Linganor Hundred (now Clarksburg, Damascus, and Hyattstown);
  • Upper Newfoundland Hundred (Brookeville, Laytonsville, Olney, Sandy Spring);
  • Lower Newfoundland Hundred (Ashton, Brighton, Burtonsville);
  • Rock Creek Hundred (Colesville, Layhill, Norbeck);
  • Northwest Hundred (Kensington, Wheaton, Silver Spring, Takoma Park);
  • Lower Potomac Hundred (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Georgetown);
  • Middle Potomac Hundred (Potomac, Rockville);
  • Upper Potomac Hundred (Darnestown, Dawsonville, Seneca);
  • Seneca Hundred (Gaithersburg);
  • Sugar Loaf Hundred (Barnesville, Beallsville, Germantown);
  • Sugarland Hundred (Poolesville).

The first court was held at Hungerford's Tavern on May 20, 1777. Court was held by Charles Jones, Samuel W. Magruder, Elisha Williams, William Deakins, Richard Thompson, James Offutt, and Edward Burgess, with Brook Beall as clerk. Clement Beall served as the county's first sheriff. The county's first courthouse was built soon thereafter, and the court was held at the new courthouse beginning in 1779.​

Montgomery County supplied arms, food, and forage for the Continental Army during the Revolution, in addition to soldiers.

In 1791, portions of Montgomery County, including Georgetown, were ceded to form the new District of Columbia, along with portions of Prince George's County, Maryland, as well as parts of Virginia that were later returned to Virginia.

In 1828, construction on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal commenced and was completed in 1850. Laborers were primarily Irish immigrants.​ Throughout the 19th century, agriculture dominated the economy in Montgomery County, with slaves playing a significant role, though the vast majority of farmers owned ten slaves or fewer rather than large plantations.​ In the first half of the 19th century, low tobacco prices and worn-out soil caused many tobacco farms to be abandoned.​ Crop production gradually shifted away from tobacco and toward wheat and corn. Prior to the Civil War, Montgomery County allied itself with other slaveholding counties in southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. Montgomery County was important in the abolitionist movement, especially among the Quakers in the northern part of the county near Sandy Spring.​

Montgomery County's proximity to the nation's capital and split sympathies to North and South resulted in it being occupied by Union forces during the Civil War. The county was "invaded" on multiple occasions by Confederate and Union forces.

In 1855, work on the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad began, in order to provide a route between Washington, D.C., and Point of Rocks, Maryland. In 1873, the railroad opened. The railroad spurred development at Takoma Park, Silver Spring, Kensington, Garrett Park and Chevy Chase. By providing a much-needed transportation link, it also greatly increased the value of farmland and spurred the development of a dairy industry in the county.​

During the Jim Crow era, masked mobs of local white men carried out two separate lynchings of black men in Montgomery County on Rockville's courthouse lawn. John Diggs was violently lynched in 1880 and Sydney Randolph similarly murdered in 1896. Neither man was found guilty in a court of law, nor was anyone punished for the lynchings. On that same lawn, the Maryland Historical Society maintains a monument to the Confederate army as "heroes of the thin grey line", because Montgomery County, like the rest of Maryland, was divided over the issue of secession.

On July 1, 1922, the Montgomery County Police Department was established. Prior to that time, law enforcement duties rested in the Montgomery County Sheriff and designated constables. In 1922, the police department consisted of three to six officers who were appointed to two-year terms by the Board of County Commissioners, one of whom would be appointed as Chief. In 1927, the police department was enlarged to twenty officers.

On November 11, 2014, the Board approved an amendment introduced by Rebecca Smondrowksi to modify the school calendar to delete all references to religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah. The amendment was in response to requests by an interfaith organization called Equality for Eid which asked that the listing for the Islamic holiday, Eid al-Adha be listed alongside Yom Kippur which occurred on the same day.

The Smondrowski amendment received both national and international attention. Criticism of the Smondrowski amendment came from a variety of sources including the Montgomery County Executive, Isiah Leggett, and congressman John Delaney.

In 2015, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett ordered that the Confederate statue on the courthouse lawn be removed. In February 2017, Montgomery County officials made a deal to move the statue to land owned by the operator of White's Ferry. The statue was moved to its new location in July 2017.

The remains of author F. Scott Fitzgerald, best known for the novel The Great Gatsby, are interred at St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery in Rockville.

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