Gaithersburg began in 1765 as a small agricultural settlement known as Log Town. In 1850, the post office was named “Forest Oak.” The town officially became “Gaithersburg” when it was incorporated on April 5, 1878. A resolution was adopted giving it city status in the fall of 1968.
The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad came to Gaithersburg in 1873. The railroad brought a large summer community to town as the ease of travel allowed people to escape Washington, D.C. during the hot summer months. Agricultural businesses expanded as area farmers were able to ship products faster with less risk of spoilage. The brick station and freight house building were designed by Ephraim Francis Baldwin, a Baltimore architect, and constructed in 1884.
The City is named after Benjamin Gaither who built a house in 1802 on the property where the famous Forest Oak tree used to grow. The tree was more than 275 years old in 1975, when a boring was taken to determine its age. The tree witnessed much change along the “Great Road West,” Maryland Route 355, in its close to 300 years of existence. The tree saw the coming of famous generals like George Washington and Edward Braddock traveling between Georgetown and Frederick and the commercial development of the road in the modern era. In the summer of 1997 this City landmark was felled during a storm.
In 1899 the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory was built as part of an international project to measure the earth’s wobble on its polar axis. The Gaithersburg Observatory and five others in Japan, Italy, Russia, and the United States gathered information that is still used by scientists today, along with information obtained from satellites, to determine polar motion; the size, shape, and physical properties of the earth; and to aid the space program through the precise navigational patterns of orbiting satellites. The Gaithersburg station operated until 1982 when computerization rendered the manual observation obsolete.
The building that now houses Gaithersburg City Hall was once the home of Edward P. Schwartz who, in 1913, established a famous peony garden on land that stretched from the railway station to Hutton Street. The garden included 410 varieties of peonies from all over the world. Each spring the garden was a tourist attraction visited by admirers, including President Woodrow Wilson. The City purchased the estate in 1958 and renovated the house for municipal offices.
On June 14, 1961 the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) broke ground on its first Gaithersburg building. The move of this government agency brought an incredible amount of growth to the City. The complex maintains standards for scientific research and housed in the complex are the standard meter and kilogram to which all others are compared for accuracy. The organization’s coming gave Gaithersburg the designation as “Science Capital of the United States.” When the Bureau moved to the area, other science-related firms came to do business in the community.
Gaithersburg has undergone significant changes in recent years. The City is now an urban area and a suburb of Washington, D.C. It has become a major regional location for high-technology companies while commercial agriculture is close to non-existent. The rolling fields of wheat are now roads, housing developments and commercial enterprises, but at the same time a number of historic communities and traditions have been preserved. In the 21st century Gaithersburg continues to grow while retaining many of the qualities of a small town that cherishes its rich, diverse heritage.