In 1733, a Quaker named Amos Janney moved from Pennsylvania to an isolated corner of northern Virginia, where he built gristmills and sawmills along the banks of a narrow creek.
About a decade later a group of German immigrants established a frontier community in Maryland that became a place of rest and provisioning for pioneers driving wagon trains to the West. In 1761, English colonist Robert Harper launched a ferry service across the Potomac River and a settlement evolved at the site that still carries his name.
Today these historic towns within a short drive of Washington, D.C., relate chapters of American history as interesting as those explored in the nation's capital. Anyone coming to Washington for the inauguration — or any reason — might wish to check one or more of these close-by communities.
Waterford, the hamlet that grew around Janney's Mill, is now a bucolic settlement of about 300 residents. The community has changed so little in size and shape since its founding that were Amos Janney to miraculously return, he would feel right at home.
By several decades after its founding, Waterford had grown into a bustling commercial center. Because its largely Quaker population remained loyal to the Union, the town suffered harassment from Confederate troops during the Civil War, as well as from Union forces seeking to destroy anything that could be of value to the Southern army.
Wandering along the handful of streets, visitors encounter traces of life as it used to be. Miniscule smokehouses and icehouses still stand in some backyards. A small stone structure that was built in the 1700s now serves as the kitchen of a large 19th-century brick home. The Bank House, Doctor's House and Williams Storehouse are among homes whose names indicate their past function.
The Waterford Market fills several roles. Antiquated soft-drink machines in front, which dispense beverages for 50 cents, set the stage. Shelves are stocked with a sparse supply of canned goods and other basics. Linda Landreth, the jovial proprietor, often is on hand spinning wool provided by sheep she raises and knitting socks, ear warmers and other items that are for sale.
The laid-back lifestyle of the tiny town greets visitors in other ways, as well. During my recent outing, only occasionally was the constant sound of birds chirping drowned out by a passing car.
The sign identifying the little post office, which has been in operation since 1897, lacks a ZIP code because it was installed before they came into use. Among hand-written notices on the bulletin board just outside it are ads for services like horse-boarding and hoof-trimming.
When a resident pointed me in the direction of what she called "New Town," I expected to find an enclave of recently built contemporary houses. I was relieved to learn that the term applies to a mini-neighborhood that was given the name when it was originally developed — beginning in 1815.
Many Americans believe that the Boston Tea Party was the first act of rebellion against Great Britain that eventually led to the Revolution. Many Americans are wrong.
Eight years before that event in December 1773, colonists in Frederick, Md., repudiated the Stamp Act, which imposed taxes on legal transactions and printed material. Frederick County judges declared the law to be null and void, and angry residents hung the tax collector in effigy.
That historical, often-overlooked fact is one of many that come to life during a visit to Frederick. Originally laid out in 1745, the community was settled by German and Pennsylvania Dutch immigrants. To exert control during the American Revolution, the British stationed a Hessian regiment in town, and two stone barracks where they were garrisoned still stand as reminders of their presence.
During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops marched through. As battles raged in the area, the churches in downtown Frederick became temporary hospitals where innovations in handling the wounded were implemented for the first time.
That tale is told at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
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