Neelsville: The Village That Disappeared
New homes occupy the site of a once-thriving village
In Germantown there is a Neelsville Presbyterian Church, a Neelsville Middle School and a Neelsville Village Center, but if given a map, could you point out the village of Neelsville?
Today, new homes occupy the site of a once-thriving village, located one mile north of the church, middle school and the shopping Center.
Neelsville dates back to about 1800 and was on both sides of Frederick Road just south of the intersection of West Old Baltimore Road. This was a major crossroads in the early to mid-19th century, before Ridge Road (Rt. 27) was built and before
there was a Germantown or even a Gaithersburg. In the mid-1860s Neelsville
included a general store, a school, a blacksmith shop, an inn and 10 homes.
It began with a Quaker family
Neelsville actually began with the Hughes family. Benjamin and Elizabeth Hughes, who were Quakers, moved from Sandy Spring to open an inn called The Tavern House at the intersection of Frederick and Baltimore roads in 1802.
Their oldest son, Edward Hughes, was 16 when they moved, and he took
over the operation of the Tavern House in 1811 when his father died. But Edward
answered the call of his country in 1812 and joined the American forces in
their fight against the British. He moved his mother and younger siblings to
Rockville and put The Tavern House up for sale.
During the War of 1812 Edward Hughes was a captain of the Maryland militia. He formed his own company, the Concord Uniform Company, with 92 men from the surrounding area. He remained in the militia until 1824, but continued to buy
land in the Damascus and Neelsville areas and was elected to the Maryland
legislature in 1825.
It seems that he had left his parents’ faith as he was a member of Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville when he died in 1843.
So how did Neeslville get its name?
Although Hughes had offered The Tavern House for sale in May, 1812, it was not purchased until 1814, when it was bought by John McAtee, who sold it four years later to Joseph Neel and became known as “Neel’s Tavern,” a name it would keep long after the last Neel had left.
Joseph B. Neel, who eventually lent his name to the village, moved here with his wife, Isabella, from Lancaster County, PA. They had four children who lived to adulthood: Thomas, James, Mary and Roseanna. The farm that they owned ran along the east side of Frederick Road from just south of Baltimore Road south to where Germantown Road would later be built. Thomas married Mary Willson, the daughter of the Willson's of Clarksburg; Mary married the local doctor, William A. Waters; and Rosanna married Reverend James S. H. Henderson, who would later be pastor of Neelsville Presbyterian Church.
Tragedy came to the family when Isabella was killed by lightening on July 14, 1833. With small children to raise, Joseph soon married Mary. They were staunch Presbyterians and drove their horse and buggy to Rockville to attend the Presbyterian Church on Sundays.
Since this was 11 miles each way and took up the whole day, Joseph and Mary, along with William and Sarah Anne Musser, founded the Neelsville Presbyterian Church in 1842.
In 1843 Joseph and Mary Neel gave about 5 acres of land from the southern tip of their farm to the church, along with $50 for construction of a church building. This land included the family burial ground where Isabella was buried and which would later be included in the Neelsville Church Cemetery. Joseph died in November 1855, Mary in December 1855 and their son James in 1858.
Brink Road is named for Mr. Brink who’s house, no longer standing, was on Rt. 27 just east of Brink Road. He is said to have walked to Baltimore every week on the Baltimore Road, a distance of 40 miles. Land on the west side of Brink Road, where Ridge Road Recreational Park is today, was given to the former slaves of the Waters family after the Civil War. Dowden’s General Store hosted the Neelsville Post Office from 1898 to 1905. The Neelsville School operated from 1868 to 1913.
Neelsvillle no more?
Today, nothing is left to mark the place where Neelsville once stood. Only a small white house that sits where the school once was on Brink Road just east of its intersection with Frederick Road.
Changing transportation bypassed the village and diminished the importance of
the crossroads. The railroad that was completed through the county in 1873 created
a new focus for transportation and diverted traffic away from Frederick Road. The
building of Ridge Road (Rt. 27,) soon after diverted east-west traffic to the
south of the town, so that by the time that the automobile became the dominant means of transportation, Neelsville was no longer a destination, but just a blip seen
through the windshield.
The homes and businesses of Neelsville succumbed one by one to neglect and destruction. One of the last to go was the old Neelsville Tavern itself, being burned down by the fire department for a practice drill in the 1960s.