The People of Summit Hall
The area known as Summit Hall Farm Park goes back to Gaithersburg's earliest history and the people associated with Summit Hall helped shape the city we know today. The house itself has changed through the years, undergoing three major renovations. Its Smoke House is thought to be Gaithersburg's oldest building.
The house stands on DeSellum's Hill, a high point on the ridge overlooking the surrounding valleys and Maryland Route 355. An important road in Maryland history, Route 355 began as a Native American path connecting the head of navigation of the Potomac River in Georgetown to the Cumberland Gap, the pass through the Appalachian Mountains. The "Great Road" became a major trail for people moving west.
The 18th Century
In 1722, Ralph Crabb received one of the earliest land patents1 in the area, a 470-acre tract called DEER PARK. In 1730, Gaithersburg was at the edge of colonial settlement. By 1755, most of Montgomery County was settled and there was a prosperous lumber industry here known as "Log Town." A string of tobacco farms owned by Thomas Lamar and his sons lined the west side of the Great Road from today's Gude Drive to Muddy Branch. The Summit Hall land was farmed under a 1745 land patent to Robert Lamar titled ROBERT'S DELIGHT. This area was in the Lower District of Frederick County in Seneca Hundred.2
Most of the Lamar family left during the 1750's – 60's for richer tobacco growing country. Thomas Clarkson purchased ROBERT'S DELIGHT in 1755 for 20 pounds sterling. He combined this with 20 acres of DEER PARK at Muddy Branch and the Indian path he had purchased from Ralph Crabb. In 1769, Clarkson sold his holdings to Gerard Briscoe, who combined them with parts of ORONOCO and BELT'S DESIRE.
Between 1769 and 1773, Briscoe subdivided 12 acres into ? to ½ acre town lots along the trail from about where the pond now lies past Gaithersburg High School to just past present-day Summit Avenue. He called the town "Germansburgh." One of his sons, Robert, operated a tannery that made use of lumber byproducts. The tannery employed Log Town residents (the name Germansburgh was not adopted) as well as the services of some 20 slaves.
Many of the lots were leased. Baltus Fulks, a shoemaker, purchased the first two lots. His family would figure prominently in Summit Hall's future. Typically, lots were developed with small wooden or log houses, vegetable gardens, orchards, and outbuildings. Rocks carved with the owner's initials marked lot corners.
Montgomery County was created in 1776 by the Maryland Revolutionary Convention. Gerard Briscoe became one of its first justices. Briscoe decided to sell his land and advertised 1,000 acres in two parcels for sale in the September 16, 1777 issue of the Maryland Journal. He described his "large and commodious brick house" as "elegant and convenient for a large genteel family."
When the property sold in 1783, it was resurveyed and patented under the name ZOAR. Despite the survey, the dispute between Roger Ponsonby and the Briscoes ended up in the Chancery Court. The land included two log dwelling houses and two old log cabins, the unsold Log Town lots, and the Briscoe home on BELT'S DESIRE, today's National Institute of Standards and Technology campus. The property was finally assigned to Colonel Edward Burgess, a Revolutionary War hero, County Justice, State Legislator, and merchant.
In 1791, Burgess opened a store on the Great Road just north of the Log Town lots. It failed several years later. In late 1799, Thomas Plater, acting on behalf of the creditors, sold 300 acres "adjoining Log Town" to Thomas Beall, a wealthy merchant, land speculator, and mayor of Georgetown. The Log Town settlement prospered and a road petition was granted in 1806 to connect it with Maccubin's Mill and Barnesville.
The 19th Century
Beall was not assessed for the property after 1807, which evidently came into the possession of Baltus Fulks' son-in-law, Jacob Swamley. Swamley already owned 2¾ acres in Log Town, including the former tannery. His tax records show slave ownership. In 1808, he was elected Constable of Seneca Hundred, an office which required significant assets and the posting of a large surety bond. Further improvements are reflected in the 1813 assessment. In that decade, it is clear that the estate on what is now Summit Hall Farm Park was prosperous.
Swamley's sister-in-law, Catherine Fulks, married James DeZelm (later spelled DeSellum). DeSellum purchased her father Baltus Fulks' old log house in Log Town at his death in 1806. They lived there until purchasing the ZOAR tract in 1828 from the estates of Swamley and Beall.
James DeSellum died in 1847. Catherine died in 1856 and was buried alongside him in the family cemetery on the grounds. Their children, John T. and Sarah, who never married, inherited the farm. They applied for a patent to resurvey and rename the acreage. The patent for 251 acres of SUMMIT HALL was granted in 1857. SUMMIT HALL included all the lots of former Log Town and the new plat reflected relocation of Clopper Road and West Diamond Avenue.
The community had grown and changed in the first half of the 19th century. The commercial center shifted to the north. In 1851, the community got its own post office, "Forest Oak."
John DeSellum became a prosperous farmer. He was active in the Agricultural Society, was secretary of the Grange, donated land for the Ascension Chapel, and was County Commissioner of Education. Gaithersburg School was originally built on DeSellum land east of the Frederick Road.
The Civil War
DeSellum owned slaves, but was a Unionist in the largely pro-Southern community. As Enrollment Officer in charge of the local draft, he was, as he wrote in his journal, "vilified from pulpit to grog shop." DeSellum was arrested in Rockville in June 1863 when Lt. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry occupied Rockville on its way to Gettysburg. He was released at Brookeville the next day.
In July of 1864, after the Battle of Monocacy, General Jubal Early's troops occupied Gaithersburg and the Summit Hall Farm. Early was an unwelcome guest in the DeSellum home. The farm was emptied of its remaining horses, livestock, corn, hay, meat, and fencing, although $3,000 in cash hidden under Sarah DeSellum's skirts was overlooked. Early's troops continued on to threaten Washington in the Battle of Ft. Stevens. Unsuccessful, Early's army retreated and fought a second battle in Rockville before withdrawing through Muddy Branch, Quince Orchard, and Poolesville into Virginia.
Gaithersburg prospered after the war. The railroad, which cut across the northern part of the Summit Hall Farm, was completed in 1873. Goshen Road (now Summit Avenue) was extended through the farm and the old school was demolished. DeSellum and his cousin, Ignatius Thomas Fulks, invested in a number of businesses including the First National Bank of Gaithersburg and the Gaithersburg Milling and Manufacturing Company.
Sarah DeSellum died in 1885 and was buried in the family cemetery. John DeSellum sold the farm in 1886 to Ignatius Fulks, retaining the use of one room and the family cemetery where he was later buried in 1891. DeSellum engaged in meteorological and astronomical observations during his retirement, which played a role in the federal government's decision to establish the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory at Summit Hall.
Ignatius Thomas Fulks was a former schoolteacher and a merchant in the family firm of Ward and Fulks. He married another cousin, Elizabeth Matilda Gloyd. She was the daughter of Samuel and Rebecca Swamley Gloyd and great-granddaughter of Baltus Fulks. They modernized and expanded the farm and house. Fulks was instrumental in obtaining a new charter to incorporate Gaithersburg from the Maryland General Assembly in 1878, which included part of Summit Hall Farm within the new town boundaries.
The 20th Century
Fulks died in 1931, and Summit Hall was sold by the courts in 1936 to Frank Wilmot of Bethesda. Tenant farmers worked part of the farm. In the late 1930's, the Wilmots remodeled the house, removing its Victorian towers. This is the house as it is seen today. After World War II, William H. Wilmot, his son, converted the farm to the country's first commercial turf farm and raised a number of new strains of lawn grass. The farm's most successful crop was a strain of grass called Meyer Z-52, or zoysia, which was so successful that the Gaithersburg Post Office was elevated to independent, first class status. Summit Hall Grass can be found everywhere, including the lawns of the White House, Washington Monument and Arlington National Cemetery.
Summit Hall Today
William Wilmot died at 56 in 1981, and the City of Gaithersburg purchased 58 acres of the farm the following year. His son, Frank, continues to operate Summit Hall Turf Farm in Poolesville. Frances Wilmot Kellerman, William's sister, and her husband Gladdin remain as life tenants of the one-acre historic Summit Hall estate house and outbuilding complex. The lawns and ponds of the farm are developed into a City recreational facility with a gymnasium, meeting rooms and physical fitness areas. The campus also includes an outdoor swimming pool, skate park and miniature golf course.
From its beginnings some 250 years ago, Summit Hall Farm and its people have played an important role in the development of Gaithersburg. Summit Hall continues to serve Gaithersburg. It reminds us of our history and is an active part of our future.
1 – Land Patent: A government grant to a person or a private company indicating that they have the right, title, or interest to a tract of land.
2 – Hundreds: A minor civil subdivision roughly equivalent to New England townships.
2007 Text by Maizie Cummings and Janet Manuel from Richard L. Arkin's manuscript titled, "The People of Summit Hall and Early Gaithersburg, Real People, Real Places and Real History" based upon Montgomery County: A History written by Anne W. Cissel.
The Community Museum puts up exhibits from time to time concerning the founding families of Gaithersburg. Many of the descendants of these families still live in the community. We welcome corrections and comments for errors and omissions.