(reprinted from The Communique, Summer 2007, by Jeanne North)
King Charles I
There’s nothing pretentious about Deer Park, a neighborhood of some 158 acres in size. It sits quietly behind City Hall, bounded by Frederick Avenue (Rt. 355), Summit Avenue, the railroad tracks and East Deer Park Drive. Modest homes line streets with evocative names like Peony, Tulip, Holly, Dogwood, Woodland, Hutton, Gaither. Who could guess at the history cloaked in this hidden-away section of Gaithersburg?
The Maryland State Archives tell us that “When King Charles I granted the Charter of Maryland to Cecil Calvert on June 20, 1632, he gave him ownership of all land within certain boundaries.” Included in the Charter was the authority to assign any parcels of the land to persons willing to purchase them. Down to the Revolutionary War, all land grants in Maryland came from the Lords Baltimore. One of the earliest such grants was to Ralph Crabb, in 1722, for the 470-acre tract known as Deer Park.
The trail of ownership of the 229.5 acre southern portion of that area (including today’s Deer Park neighborhood), leads from Ralph Crabb to his son Jeremiah; to Williamson and then John Bruce; to William and later Richard Holmes; to Newland and Sarah Irish; then to Francis Clopper and later to Mary Augusta (Clopper) Hutton and her husband, the world famous engineer William Rich Hutton. In 1877 the Huttons started selling off lots from their Deer Park holdings.
Deer Park history notes that in this forested tract is a four- or five-acre clearing called “Paradise” to which in 1894 the “sinful” sport of baseball was relegated. Because the area was heavily forested, it made for good hunting, says Janet Manuel, a longtime resident of Gaithersburg and a historian who volunteers at the Gaithersburg Community Museum.
Teenagers liked to go squirrel hunting in the woods, she says. Ultimately, Deer Park’s rural character began to fade. With the changing face of the City in the post World War II days came a ban on hog raising in City limits, and restrictions on chickens running loose (citizens complained that they were endangering their strawberry beds).
Deer Park remained just woods until they started developing it after World War II, says Judy Christensen, also a historian and volunteer at the Museum. The area didn’t become part of the Town of Gaithersburg until 1947; after that, it developed in stages, growing from an estimated population of 99 in 1950 to 1,293 today. Gaithersburg itself, in contrast grew from 1,755 in 1950 to 58,744 in 2007.
Deer Park today remains a quiet enclave close to, but somehow insulated and removed from, the bustling streets of the City. With few through streets and little traffic, the area retains its simple pleasant character, and on a spring day is bright with azaleas, dogwood and snowball bushes, with peonies and iris on their way to blooming. Small houses nestle on deep lots under large old trees, providing a sanctuary for the scores of birds who sing and twitter in the canopy of heavy foliage. Small wonder that for many, Deer Park remains a hidden treasure.