115 West Jefferson Street
Dates from 1839 to 1896
The headstones are worn and cracked. The setting has changed dramatically. A history book etched in stone, waiting to be read, the Baptist Cemetery is a quiet reminder of a previous era. After years of neglect and abandonment, old burying grounds such as this one on Jefferson Street are beginning to be recognized as social and historical resources worthy of preservation.
Bethel Baptist Church grew out of a congregation near Seneca Creek. In 1821, fifteen Baptists established a new church in Rockville and two years later acquired half an acre at the western boundary of the small town. They soon erected a church and began burials in the adjacent graveyard.
The group incorporated in 1863 and replaced the original wooden church with a brick building the following year. They erected a picket fence around the graveyard and kept it clean with whitewash. A half century later, the congregation built a larger church and parsonage at the corner of Washington and Jefferson Streets, demolished the brick church, and enclosed the old cemetery with a new iron fence.
From 1839 to 1896 there were nearly fifty burials in the cemetery. They include the miller Samuel Veirs and his family, clerk of the court Brice Selby and his namesake grandson, “Little Bell Key” (aged 2), the large family of Elizabeth and William Braddock, and three children from the Bogley family.
In 1897, the Trustees of the Baptist Church deeded a triangular piece of land to the Mayor and Council to widen Van Buren Street in exchange for “sufficient electric current to maintain 22 light of 16 candle power, and water to the church for the period of five years, and bringing the wires from the street to the church building.” In this trade, sixteen graves were moved to the Rockville Cemetery.
The Church sold its Washington Street property in 1971 and moved into a modern building on Adclare Road. The old cemetery was conveyed two years later to the Montgomery County Historical Society, which in 1983 transferred title to Peerless Rockville for caretaking. The cemetery was designated by the City of Rockville and listed in the National Register as part of the West Montgomery Avenue Historic District in 1974.
Peerless Rockville views its Baptist Cemetery as a window to local history and an opportunity to showcase preservation. Since 1983, Peerless has worked to document, interpret, maintain, and use the cemetery to create interest in restoration. “Adopt-a-Stone” volunteers assessed the condition of the stones and researched census and other records to learn about those interred here. Mary Ricketts, killed as she and her husband crossed the railroad tracks in a carriage, and William Veirs Bouic, president of the Town Commissioners and judge, now seem more real. Ground penetrating radar yielded more data, as did Church minutes. Peerless published a brochure, wrote a master plan to guide future plantings and work, and cleaned and straightened gravestones. To aid interpretation, Peerless installed a bench, sign, and plaque.
Through the Baptist Cemetery, Peerless Rockville has sparked interest in other historic Rockville cemeteries. As an early member of the Coalition to Protect MD Burial Sites, Peerless helped to pass State laws and call attention with workshops and networking to these special historic places in our back yards.