Established 1794 Incorporated 1808
The Town of Brookeville was established by Richard Thomas, Jr., and his wife Deborah Brooke Thomas. Both were members of long-standing and well-respected Quaker families responsible for the settlement and growth of this area and among its largest planters and landowners. The property on which Richard Thomas laid out Brookeville’s fifty-six lots was part of the 248 acres of the “Additional to Brooke Grove” tract that Deborah inherited from her grandfather, James Brooke.
At the time that Deborah received her lands, it is likely that Richard had already built a gristmill on the east edge of the future site of Brookeville. David Newlin would soon build a sawmill and a mill for pressing oil and grinding plaster on the west end of town. The mills were important to the agricultural economy and to the advancement of this area as a prosperous farming region. Thus the establishment of the Town of Brookeville foretold the growing prosperity of the greater Sandy Spring Quaker community and the movement from a predominately agrarian economy to one enhanced by light industrial and commercial development.
While Sandy Spring was the religious center of the Quaker community, Brookeville was the center for its trade and commerce. Within a broader context, the period during the late 18th and early 19th century, known historically as the National Period, was characterized in part by the rise of commercial/artisan villages or small manufacturing town such as Brookeville.
Richard and Deborah planned the town well, so that incorporated both industry and housing in a neat, orderly, and refined manner. The mills and tan yard were located beyond the confines of Brookeville’s town plan, a factor that contributed significantly to its scenic beauty and peaceful character. Its contours were defined by the meandering Reddy Branch of the Hawlings River, and by its hilly terrain, upon which Richard Thomas imposed a grid of fifty-six quarter-acre lots.
Richard and Deborah sold the first lot to Caleb and Sarah Bentley in 1798. (A surveyor’s stone marks 1794 with their initials, as week as those of surveyors Richard Thomas, and still sits on the front edge of that lot.) Thirteen, mostly quarter-acre, lots were next sold for $12 apiece, on 31 October 1800. By 1806, twenty lots had been sold. Brookeville followed a typical linear town plan, laid out along a main thoroughfare optimistically dubbed Market Street. It was intersected by High Street, and the road to Sandy Spring, and by perpendicular side streets, North, South, Spring, and Race, with Back Street paralleling to the south. The plan took into account amenities such as a broad main street, sidewalks for pedestrian traffic, embankments, and setbacks to create front yards.
In addition to the mills, by 1813 Brookeville has two stores, a tanyard, and a blacksmith shop. The first store and post office was operated by Caleb Bentley and located in the east wing of his house, and Thomas Parsley soon opened another store. John McCauley operated a blacksmith shop and Thomas Moore a tan yarn.
A private boy’s school know as the Brookeville Academy reflected the interest in education held by the Town leaders. By 1814 Brookeville has fourteen residences that covered the social spectrum, ranging from the small cottages of workers and artisans to the refined federal style homes of the more affluent merchants and local planters. By 1825, half of the members of the Sandy Spring Meeting resided in or maintained a residence in Brookeville – a unique community bound by common values. Their mutual inheritance of land, kindship, and Quakerism fostered a unity that was once the foundation on which the neighborhood was built and the source of its enduring strength.
The Town was laid out along what eventually became the Brookeville Turnpike and this provided the resident’s ready access to markets and communication between the Town and Washington, D.C., and Georgetown (then part of Maryland). Brookeville was strategically located at the intersection of tow post roads, one that ran between Washington and Taneytown, the other between Baltimore and Leesburg.
The Town expanded during the 19th century, embracing additional manufacturing and commercial interests such as the production of agricultural implements, carriage and wagon building, harness and saddle making, shoe making, tailoring, and dress making. Many of the latter activities represented home manufacturing or” cottage industries.” This is reflected in the extant building stock in Brookeville, which included very little in the way of commercial storefronts. Richard Thomas continued to operate his mill, passing it along to his only surviving son, Roger Thomas, ca. 1823. Roger lived across from the mill and continued to operate it until 1842 when it was sold to the Weer family, who operated it into the 1920s. Newlin’s Mill also passed from father to son, remaining in the family until 1865.
As the Town grew and prospered, it looked to the intellectual betterment of its citizenry. Miss Porter’s Cottage School for Young Ladies offered secondary education for girls between 1844 and 1864, complementing the education offered to boys at the Brookeville Academy. The Town also included a debating society and a private circulation library that was among the first in the state, opening in 1838. Brookeville also enjoyed the services of three physicians by that time. And in 1865, Artemus Riggs began practicing medicine in a separate brick office building that stood along the street in front of his large brick home, the grandest in Town (the office was later moved and appended to the side of the house).
By 1880, Brookeville boasted the third largest population in Montgomery County. The Town was incorporated in 1808 with a local government that included three elected commissioners. However, by the turn of the 20th century, like other small self-sufficient communities in the region, Brookeville’s industrial and commercial development was supplanted by larger operations in the county. This transfer was facilitated in part by the fact that such industries were no longer near main transportation routes and railroad lines. By the 1920s the mills had all closed, as has the last blacksmithing, shoe making, and other manufacturing enterprises, although a few local merchants operated stores until the latter part of the 20th century. Brookeville today is a quiet residential community, with a church, a restored Brookeville Academy now used as a community center, and a handful of home-based businesses.
Many thanks to Catherine Lavoie, Chief, Historical American Building Survey of the NPS, for preparing this historical overview.
More detailed history here about the War of 1812…
Read about the 5 Myths about Brookeville and the War of 1812 here.
Full information about the Madison House and other historical homes in the Town of Brookeville is available in the Walking Tour Guide.