Derwood’s history was the theme of the talk given to an audience of 45 Mill Creek Towners and others from broader Derwood by local historian Ralph Buglass at the Mill Creek Village (MCV) Annual Meeting on April 12. If you could not make it, here is some of what he shared, along with a few photos from the event. For more photos, visit the gallery on MCV website’s News and Events page at:
The area that became Derwood was first recognized on maps in the late 1700’s. One of those making Derwood their hometown was Jeremiah Crabb, a Revolutionary War hero whose body lies in a cemetery at the south end of what was then the village near Route 355 at Indianola Drive and is historically marked. Crabb served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1794-97. Other active local Revolutionary War patriots included Nathan Magruder and his son Isaac. In 1734, the family patriarch John Magruder established a tobacco plantation. When wheat cultivation replaced tobacco, Magruder’s farm became known as Waveland. Ownership of the farm passed to Thaddeus T. Bussard in 1888.
Farming by the Bussard family continued until the 1970s. The Magruder-Bussard Farm is now the cite of the Agricultural History Park on Muncaster Road.
Compared to areas further south, Maryland was welcoming to freed people who wished to purchase land. Such was the case for Albert and Mary Newman, who left Virginia and settled “Newmantown” as a kinship-based African American community in Montgomery County following the Civil War. Historic markers for this settlement are in Derwood, on Rock Creek Park Road, near the postal address: 18400 Muncaster Road. It is on the western edge of the current Agricultural History Farm Park. Mr. Buglass discussed the Civil War Battle of Rickett’s Creek off the current Crabb Branch Way and told the story of a Confederate spy in Derwood who ultimately met his death at the hands of Quaker farmers that the Rebel Army had harassed.
In the late 1800’s Derwood, previously just a crossroads with a blacksmith shop and a post office, began its transformation into a small but thriving community. The catalyst was the opening of the Metropolitan Branch of the B & O Railroad, a 43-mile link between Washington, DC, and the B & O “main-stem” at Point of Rocks, MD. The Derwood Station was located at Indianola Drive and Route 355.
In 1887 Stephen B. & Robert Lyddane and Charles B. Jones constructed a flour mill in 1887 on Chieftan Avenue near the railroad tracks (on the northeast corner of Redland Road). In 1925, the mill was purchased by Richard T. Schwartz and a partner. The mill produced pure cane molasses and pig feed and they served several surrounding farms in the area.
Following the establishment of the B&O station and the mill, the town of Derwood was officially platted out and recorded on August 3, 1888. Lots were sold off and the town began to grow as developers took greater interest in the area. Some folks in the Mill Creek Village Annual Meeting audience recalled attending a 100th Anniversary Parade in 1988 on Redland Road, with former radio broadcasters Harden and Weaver as marshals and a party with speech-making held where the Red Mill Shopping Center is today.
In addition to railroad station and mill, other structures significant to the history and development of Derwood (and still standing) are a store and warehouse building, a small frame Baptist church and the old schoolhouse. All three were obviously centers of activity for the town and are located on Redland Road, Derwood Road, and Paramount Drive respectively. There was also a two-room schoolhouse.
Among its historical, turn-of -the century architecture, there is a 1903 Colonial Revival house built by store keeper Clarence Hoskinson which later became the home of the town’s miller, Richard Schwartz (at 15919 Chieftain Avenue).
Other homes of note were the Welliver-Hickerson House and a Victorian-style mansion owned by the Gude family, who had a very successful nursery business know as A. Gude & Sons and located off Crabbs Branch Way at the current Gude Drive. The property was purchased in the 1920s. The edifice became the Gude Plant Sciences Center was given to the American Society of Plant Biologists by the Adolph E. Gude, Jr. family. It is now the national headquarters of the Society and has been a topic of controversy of late, as preservationists vie to maintain this historical Derwood landmark in the face of the Society’s interest in razing it and building a modern facility.
A Gude son, Gilbert, was appointed to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1953, elected to the House of Delegates in 1954 and served until 1958. He was elected to the Republican State Central Committee in 1958 and the Maryland State Senate in 1962 until 1967. He also served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1974-77.
As automobile use grew substantially, rail passenger traffic through Derwood fell steadily in the 1900’s. On January 7, 1954, 67 years after its construction, the Schwartz Mill caught fire in the early morning hours and was destroyed, as was the Derwood station. The fire put an end to commercial rail traffic there. In 1974 the old Derwood post office closed and was reopened in its present location in the Redland Shopping Center. It retained the name “Derwood Branch” thereby designating the 20855 Zip Code area as present- day Derwood. The Derwood area was originally referred to as “Deer Park” and it is possible that “Deer Park” later became “Deer Wood” which local idiom translated into “Derwood.”
With the construction of the Metro’s Red Line to Shady Grove in 1984, the last remaining bits of evidence of the B & O station and the mill in Derwood were erased. There is a current effort by members of the Derwood community to define a “Sense of Place” for our home area as part of the Shady Grove
Sector plan. Sharing a Zip Code with Rockville leads many to believe that we are an extension of that city while, as someone in the Annual Meeting audience suggested humorously, we are more apt to see Rockville as “South Derwood.”
Perhaps the Metro’s Red Line’s terminus stop, now called Shady Grove, can be renamed “Derwood Station” (or at the very least Derwood- Shady Grove Station) since it is indisputably located in Derwood. That would not only honor Derwood’s railroad district history but also acknowledge the source of great pride Derwood residents have in their special hometown. After all the White Flint Station was recently renamed North Bethesda Station so there is precedent for such name changes.
Ralph Buglass is a native of Montgomery County and is a member of the nonprofit “Montgomery History” organization’s speakers’ bureau. The group’s mission is to collect, preserve, interpret, and share histories of the County and its residents.