Who would have thought in 1974 that a small organization like Peerless could change the mindset and landscape of one of Maryland’s largest cities? The Americana Centre and Rockville Mall had opened recently, the Pike was being widened again, and the air was abuzz with plans for new courts, County offices, and Metro. Many of the 43,000 residents assumed local landmarks would go the way of our traditional main street. However, the demolition of the Masonic Lodge changed all that. In May of 1974, a group of dedicated Rockvillians gathered at 203 West Montgomery Avenue to create a citizens’ organization that would advocate for and support protection of important local historic resources. They named the new organization “Peerless Rockville” after an 1890 real estate booklet that promoted the new Rockville subdivision of West End Park.
Peerless Rockville’s priorities were clear: preserve Rockville’s historic character, demonstrate the value of preservation, and rescue endangered Rockville buildings, starting with the B&O Railroad Station which was scheduled for demolition because it was in the path of Metro construction. This Gothic landmark of Rockville’s 19th century boom was saved through bold action and a decade of tenacity. Next, Peerless persuaded the State Highway Administration to turn over the dilapidated 1909 Montrose Schoolhouse for one dollar. With the help of community groups, Montrose alumni, and State and County government, Peerless restored and renovated the school and put it back into use.
The Dawson farmhouse (1874) became a Peerless Place in 1983, when this unwanted building was conveyed to Peerless by the City. Following the — by then — customary research and feasibility study, Peerless declared the house salvageable and eventually sold it to a young couple who had the talent and energy to bring the property back. Retaining a façade easement, Peerless returned one of Rockville’s last farmhouses to the tax rolls.
The tiny Baptist Cemetery came to Peerless Rockville the same year. A 19th century burying ground on West Jefferson Street, it required care to survive automobile fumes and other modern intrusions. After Peerless took title, it developed a master plan, cleaned and repaired gravestones, recreated the historic fencing, and created an “outdoor museum.”
Peerless Rockville’s middle decade was consumed with the Red Brick Courthouse. Although the decision not to raze the 1891 building was made long before, questions remained about its use and condition. Peerless documented the landmark, raised public consciousness about its significance, galvanized the community to raise funds to restore the Grand Courtroom, celebrated the building’s Centennial in style, and opened its own office and library there.
Changing economics led to Peerless once again becoming the purchaser of last resort, this time of Wire Hardware store. The roof leaked in all four corners of this beloved landmark when Peerless bought it in 1993. Eighteen months of ownership and a court case drained the organization’s resources, but we found an appropriate purchaser who restored and rejuvenated the old store.
Most recently, Peerless received title to and restored Frieda’s Cottage, a 1936 Colonial Revival house on the grounds of the former Chestnut Lodge. Working with a cadre of dedicated volunteers, Peerless returned this beloved cottage to residential use.
In addition to educational programs, a growing museum and archival collections, trusteeship of properties, and advocacy for preservation as a community value – Peerless Rockville has taken historic cemeteries and the recent past under its wing. Through identification, documentation, and the recognition of significance, Peerless is aiding the preservation of cemeteries and recent past buildings. This bodes well not only now but for the future.
Peerless Places have become Rockville’s special places. They provide us all with a flavor and scale that is at once historic, personal, comforting, and viable. Enjoy visiting these Peerless Places in our town, but remember that new challenges and opportunities lie ahead.