305 Lincoln Avenue: The Reuben Hill House

The house located on the south side of Lincoln Avenue has a meaningful history in Rockville, told both by the lives of its residents and the architecture of the dwelling. The home at 305 predates the Lincoln Park subdivision and its occupants were pioneering members of the black community of early Rockville. Reuben Hill (1832-1915) was a former slave of the Stonestreet family. He was drafted into the Union army during the Civil War, for which his owner received $50 in compensation.

His marriage to a free “mulatto” woman, Rachel Martin, was not recognized until after the Civil War. Because Rachel was a free woman, their seven children were also free. In 1867, he joined 19 other men in a pledge to the Freedmen’s Bureau to financially support a school in Rockville for black children. Reuben legally married Rachel in 1871, after which they purchased acreage near Lincoln Avenue, east of Horners Lane. They were one of five black families recorded as landowners by 1879.

The Hill family was well-known in Rockville at this time – Reuben worked in a local hotel and he officiated at weddings and funerals. In 1880, a former confederate soldier from South Carolina named Simeon Berry purchased one acre of land on what today is Lincoln Avenue from Chandler Keys. Only two days later, Berry sold half the land to the Hills’ eldest son, Reuben Thomas Hill (1856-1936). Berry willed his remaining land, including a small dwelling on the property now known as 305 Lincoln, as well as his personal possessions, to Reuben Hill, Sr. The relationship between Berry and the Hills is uncertain. Locals suggest Berry may have been related to the Stonestreet family. The property passed into the Hill family when Berry died in December of that year.

linc305

The Reuben Hill House today, vacant, and in need of new preservation-friendly owners. Photo by Peerless

The elder Reuben Hill may never have lived in the home he inherited from Berry, as he still owned his nearby property. At the end of his life, he lived with an adult daughter at 302 Lincoln Avenue. In 1896, the younger Reuben Thomas Hill, a sexton for Christ Episcopal Church, and his sister Sarah Hill Carlisle, purchased 305 Lincoln. A skilled carpenter like his father, Reuben T. Hill may have been the one who expanded the home from its beginning as a small 1-1/2 story dwelling with a loft. By 1917, a two room addition was built on the eastern side,as well as a full width porch with decorative cornice.

The community of Lincoln Park grew around the Reuben Hill House. In 1891, William Wallace Welsh, owner of the General Store, purchased 8 acres of land and laid out thirty-one lots on 2 blocks on
either side of Lincoln Avenue as building sites for sale to blacks. The eastern boundary of the subdivision of Lincoln Park bordered 305 Lincoln Avenue. The Reuben Hill House has passed out of the hands of descendants, but its distinctive vernacular architecture still speaks to black history in early Rockville. Today, it is bank-owned and vacant. This historic property faces an uncertain future, in need of dedicated owners who will value its past and be good stewards of its present.