A Brief History of Clarksburg, Maryland
In the beginning
The town we now know as Clarksburg began in the 1730s at the crossroads of two Indian trails called the Sinequa Trails. Scottish immigrant, William Clark, who lived in Lancaster, PA, came to this area with his son John Clark to hunt and trade with the local Indian tribes. Hunting and trading must have been good because in time William established a trading post at the crossroads. Likely because of the activity at the trading post and movement along one of the Indian trails that came to be called The Great Road (Route 355), Michael A. Dowden applied for a 40-acre land patent in 1752 called Hammer Hill. In 1754, a license was granted by Frederick County to open Dowden’s Ordinary. Note: Montgomery County was not formed until 1776.
Dowden’s Ordinary and its Famous Guests
What is an ordinary? It is like an inn. Dowden’s Ordinary provided a place for travelers to spend the night, rest their horses and to get a hot meal. It had 17 rooms with a fireplace on each end of the building and a separate kitchen for cooking called a “closeby.” Because Dowden’s Ordinary was a stopping point for travelers going from Georgetown to Frederick, our inn housed many travelers. In April 1755, during the French and Indian War, General Braddock stayed at the inn with his troops on their way to the battle at Fort Duquesne (du-cain). A 20-something George Washington was an aide to General Braddock. He had gotten the flu before General Braddock arrived at Dowden’s Ordinary and so did not stay in Clarksburg. He did meet up with General Braddock and his troops for the fight to take the fort. General Braddock was fatally injured in the battle along with many English soldiers and colonial settlers. George Washington was Braddock’s only aide to survive the battle. It is said that Andrew Jackson dined in Clarksburg on the way to his inauguration. Ben Franklin wanted to stay at Dowden’s but he heard the inn was full so he stayed with a local farmer. Dowden’s Ordinary also functioned as a social meeting place for locals. Stagecoaches stopped at the ordinary twice a week bringing mail and news from other localities. Clarksburg-area residents met here to discuss important political issues like their dislike of The Stamp Act imposed on them by the British. The Sons of Liberty, a group who advocated for independence from England, also met here starting in 1770. Local citizens who belonged to this patriotic group were the Dowdens, Belts, Williams, Willsons, Waters and Clarks.
Our Town Founder
In 1752, John G. Clark, our town founder, was born. It is likely that during his childhood he came to the Clarksburg area with his grandfather William and his Dad, John, to help at the trading post and to visit Dowden’s Ordinary. In 1776, the Continental Congress declared independence and it is likely that many residents in the Clarksburg area joined the fight. Toward the end of the war in 1781, John G. Clark, our town founder, built his home in Clarksburg. At the site of his grandfather’s trading post, he established a general store. In 1790, he surveyed the town and laid out lots. He was a founding member of the Methodist Society which formed in 1788 and the Methodist Episcopal Church which began as a log chapel in 1794 (this site, on Spire Street, is the longest place of continuous worship in Montgomery County). In 1798, our town founder was appointed the first town Justice of the Peace. In 1799, he served as county commissioner, and in 1800, he was the first town postmaster. John G. Clark was “Mr. Clarksburg” and that is why our town bears his name.
Clarksburg in the 1800s
In 1804, Clarksburg boasted 30 structures. By the 1870s, Clarksburg was the third largest town in Montgomery County after Rockville and Poolesville with 250 residents. Clarksburg had four general stores, two hotels, and an academy of learning. Also it had a literary society, a blacksmith, a doctor’s office, tanneries, shoemakers, winemakers, tailors, wheelwrights, fertilizer businesses, skilled farmers, master carpenters and two town bands.
Clarksburg was a bi-racial community with pockets of black homesteads along Frederick Road, Stringtown Road and Clarksburg Road. The quality of their houses, their brick John Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church (built on Frederick Road in 1878) and impressive, inscribed gravestones reflect the fact that black families were more prosperous here than in other communities. An example is John Henry Wims born as a slave c.1849 who was one of the few black postal carriers. He worked as a mail carrier for the Star route from Clarksburg to Boyds.
In 1883, the Clarksburg Academy opened. The school was considered to hold a rank between elementary and college level. The first public school in Clarksburg was built around 1860. The School Board authorized a one-room public school to replace the Clarksburg Academy at a cost not to exceed $300. A teacher’s salary at that time was approximately $284 per year. Later in 1909, a two-room schoolhouse was built. This school on Redgrave Place is still in use today. In 1878, public schools for African-American students were authorized to be built in Montgomery County. That year a lot on Frederick Road near the present recreation center on Wims Road was purchased for $50. Rocky Hill School which served many local African-American students was constructed on that site. Education has always been a priority for our town starting with the grandson of John G. Clark, who attended Yale.
Decline and Growth
When the B&O Railroad bypassed Clarksburg, our town began to decline. For many years, our town did not change much with a stable population of about 3,000 residents. In about 2003, the sewer and water capacity was extended to Clarksburg and development began. The small farming town began a transformation into a corridor city. Much has changed in Clarksburg but one thing remains the same. We are a town that welcomes new people and new ideas.
History in Names
Local schools and roads that reflect our past history & citizens: F. Wilson Wims ES, Hallie Wells MS, Clarksburg ES and HS, Rocky Hill MS, Snowden Farm Parkway, Stringtown Road, Shaw’s Tavern Court, King’s Valley Road, Kingstead Road, Kingsley Road, Burnt Hill Road, Catawba Manor Way, Foreman Boulevard, Ebenezer Chapel Drive, Sugarloaf Chapel Drive, Robert’s Tavern Drive, Latrobe Lane, Tannery Ridge Drive, Blacksmith Drive, Trading Post Drive, Moneysworth Way, Winemiller Way, Public House Road, Tailor Shop Place.
This history is compiled from the writings of Guy Jewel, Ralph Fraley Martz, Maria Elizabeth Lorain Waters, Gloria Winters, Karen Earp, Jean Hulse-Hayman, Black Historical Resources in Upper Western Montgomery County by George W. McDaniel, Historic Montgomery County by Roger Brooke Farquhar, The Dowden’s Ordinary Archaeological Site MN-CPPC of Montgomery County MD: Gallagher, Sorenson, Bouslog and Rogers as well as MD Historical Trust Clarksburg Historic District by Kevin Parker and Candy Reed, History of Western Maryland by Thomas J. Scharf, Letter to Deborah Franklin from Benjamin Franklin, Lancaster April 26 and Marian Jacobs.