Culminating with what will surely be an epic display of rockets red glare in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in September, 2014 promises to be a banner year for Maryland. The War of 1812 even put a small town north of Washington on the map.
Brookeville is named after Richard Brooke, a Colonial in the Revolutionary War who distinguished himself as “The Fighting Quaker” (oxymoron collectors take note). The residential village (est. 1794) is centered on a sharp bend on Highway 97 (Georgia Avenue), a road once a turnpike to and from Washington. The town lies about 20 miles north of D.C. and just two from Olney. The population is tiny (pop. 135), but the village, founded by Quakers, earned the right to sport an impressive commemorative marker during the War of 1812. With the British burning Washington, President Madison escaped to Brookeville on August 26, 1814.
We drove up this morning. Brookeville reminds us of Waterford, the rural village north of Leesburg. Nary a spot to buy anything, and parking is tricky. I thought about not going for this reason, but places like this are unique, and besides, who else can make the claim – “Nation’s Capital for a Day?”
A National Historic District, Brookeville sports Brookeville Academy, a handful of interpretive markers, historic homes, and the lovely setting with lots of woods. Reddy Branch meanders around the town, once a source for the millers and their grist mills.
Madison House, 205 Market Street
The star of the show resides at 205 Market Street. Richard Thomas Jr., the founder of the town, built this Federal-style home around 1798. Since 2007, it has been the home of the Heilers, a couple who lovingly restored the house with the past in mind. If you visit, please keep in mind this is private property.
After the British won the “Battle of Bladensburg,” they pushed westward into Washington. That afternoon of August 24, President Madison and his small entourage fled the White House (then known as the President’s House). They took a circuitous route to Brookeville via northern Virginia. Passing by or stopping in what we now know as Falls Church, McLean, and Tysons Corner, they re-crossed the Potomac above Great Falls. On the night of August 26th they pressed on to Montgomery Court House (Rockville) and finally reached Brookeville around 9 p.m.
Ralph Eshelman (thanks for the great map!) pinpoints Madison’s stay here to - “9 p.m. August 26 to noon, August 27, 1814.” The President stayed up late to receive dispatches. The next morning, Secretary of State and future fifth President James Monroe arrived. Monroe informed Madison of the British withdrawal of Washington.
In a letter to his wife Dolly, who had her own escape stories to tell, he wrote:
I know not where we are in the first instance to hide our head but shall look for a place on our arrival.
Beginning in 1810, the Brookeville Academy taught young men in the classical style. After the school moved in 1869, occupants included the Odd Fellows Lodge and the American Legion. The town purchased the building in 1989 and restored it. This centerpiece of the town hosts meetings and events.
During my road trip planning, I’ve been frustrated when an historical town’s website does not have a walking tour. Brookeville’s is the best I have ever seen. It includes sketches, historic info and reminisces about prior occupants.
Not included in the walking tour but well worth the effort to walk or drive is Oakley Cabin. Built around the 1820s, this cabin has been restored and furnished to depict the various periods of its history.
Rebecca Sheir has an excellent look at Brookeville via MetroConnections.