West Montgomery Avenue Historic District
Rockville, Montgomery County
The West Montgomery Avenue Historic District is primarily a residential area with single-family homes predominating; several churches and homes converted to offices reflect both the old residential character and the new uses to which historic buildings are being put. The majority of the properties within the district date from the 1880s, with a few older homes and somewhat more from later periods. The predominant character of the district is set by the rows of Victorian houses in a vernacular residential mode with Eastlake and Stick Style influences. The homes which provide the flavor of the district were generally built between 1880 and 1900. Construction is frame with clapboard, shiplapped, or tongue-and-groove siding, with wood shingles frequently used for contrast. Many of the homes feature towers, elaborate porch balustrades, cornice trim, and other typical features of the era. One identifying feature of the district is a form of bay window which has been identified with homes built by Edwin West, a local builder. This "Rockville Bay" has a semi-octagonal ground floor plan with a rectangular second-floor plan. The second floor of the bay, therefore, overhangs the ground floor on the corners, allowing the builder to use bracket and arch motifs to give the entire bay visual unity. While the majority of the structures in the district are residences, also included are attorneys' offices, churches and parsonages, a funeral home, a former hotel, the headquarters of the Montgomery County Historical Society, an 1890 structure built for use as a private academy and subsequently used as the public library and for church purposes, and a graveyard remaining from a church demolished c. 1900. The churches interspersed among the residences reflect different aspects of the Gothic Revival style. The one remaining hotel, later used as a sanitarium, recalls the summer resort character of the town in the time of the district's construction "boom." The West Montgomery Avenue Historic District shows in its style and setting the visual and aesthetic qualities of a Victorian county seat. The district achieves a sense of cohesiveness through the consistency of style, rhythm of spacing, similarity of style and massing, and the predominance of clapboard and shingle materials. Many of the structures remain in original condition and remodeling that has occurred within the district has not impaired the effect of an 1890 neighborhood.
The structures within the boundary of the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District present a summary of the history of Rockville. Rockville became the County seat when Montgomery County was created in 1776. Through most of the 19th century, Rockville was a courthouse village surrounded by agricultural land. Some structures remain from this period. Rockville remained a sleepy town until the coming of the Metropolitan Branch of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1873. Summer and weekend visitors stepped off the train to be taken in carriages to one of three grand hotels. The only remaining hotel in the district dating to this period is the former Woodlawn Hotel, later called the Chestnut Lodge Sanitarium. Around the resort trade, Rockville rapidly expanded in size and population. Many summer hotel patrons built summer residences in the district, and some stayed to live year round. Professional land developers also constructed houses, but by 1900 economic depression ended Rockville's building boom. Following the Victorian growth spurt, Rockville expanded slowly in size and population until rapid growth began following World War II. The West Montgomery Avenue Historic District is significant as a surviving contiguous area of a small 19th century town. It's structures strongly present the scope of Rockville's social, cultural, and architectural history.