Small museums in Montgomery County range from the historical to the interactive to the just plain fun. You can choose from a historic home, a trolley museum, or even a museum dedicated to cows! There are lots of small museums to choose from.
The Beall-Dawson House
The Beall-Dawson House was built in 1815 by Upton Beall, Clerk of the Montgomery County Court. It is still close to the Montgomery County courts at 103 Montgomery Avenue in Rockville. It is a 2 1/2 story brick Federal-style home distinguished by elegant, highstyle architecture that was more common in Georgetown where the family first lived. It stood out from the more typical and smaller Rockville log and clapboard houses at the time. Now owned by the City of Rockville, it is operated as a museum by the Montgomery County Historical Society. The museum features period rooms containing 18th and 19th century furnishings and changing exhibitions on topics relating to Montgomery County history and material culture.
National Capital Trolley Museum
The National Capital Trolley Museum (NCTM) was established in 1959 to preserve and interpret the history of area electric streetcars after it was clear that the trolley system in Washington DC was coming to an end. In fact, when the trolley system ended on January 28, 1962, the founding members of NCTM are the last to ride! Now, the renovated Visitor Center features exhibits on streetcar history, a display of historic trolleys, and a model of streetcars and street life in Chevy Chase in the 1930s. You can ride vintage streetcars on a 2-mile track through Northwest Branch Park.
On September 9th,1965, the first trip under 600 volts was taken by a Vienna 6062 streetcar, and on October 17th, operations at the National Capital Trolley Museum officially begin! The Trolley Museum moved to a location off Bonifant Road in 2010 because the Intercounty Connector highway was slated to run straight through NCTM’s land.
The NCTM has an extensive collection of DC trolley cars, spanning 100 years of street car transit in the Nation’s Capital. The DC street car collection focuses on the diversity of both the cars and the stories of those that rode them. There are also street cars from NYC and Philadelphia and even from cities around the globe like Brussels, Berlin and Toronto.
The National Capital Trolley Museum is unique among the small museums in Montgomery County for its two mile ride through parkland on a trolley car. It is a great way to burn off some energy for the younger members in your group!
Sandy Spring Museum
Established in 1981 to preserve the Sandy Spring community’s history, the museum opened in its current location in 1997. Its exhibit hall, of post-and-beam construction, is reminiscent of barns and outbuildings of historic Quaker farms. The museum houses several exhibits and a research library and offers programs in the visual, literary, and performing arts. This is a great choice among the small museums in Montgomery County to exploring the county’s Quaker heritgage.
Sandy Spring Museum’s exhibits include a replica of a 19th-century classroom, a replica of a blacksmith’s shop, a replica of a general store, and a tractor made from a Model T Ford.The museum has archived more than 15,000 artifacts and photographs from the area around Sandy Spring. Some of its collection dates back to 1650.
There are temporary exhibitions that rotate quarterly which often focus on art and history or art and current events. The artists featured are frequently but not exclusively local.
Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine
This one-room doctor’s office was built by Samuel Thomas Stonestreet in 1852 for his son Edward Elisha Stonestreet of Rockville, who had just graduated from the University of Maryland’s medical school. Dr. Stonestreet was a practicing country doctor in the Rockville area until his death in 1903. During the fifty-one years of his practice, medical knowledge and technology underwent many radical changes. The Stonestreet Museum contains exhibits that highlight their extensive 19th and early 20th century medical collections including books, instruments and tools, pharmaceutical items, and more.
The office was originally situated in the front yard of the Stonestreet family home on East Montgomery Avenue at Monroe St. Some years after the doctor’s death the office was moved to the Rockville fairgrounds (now the site of Richard Montgomery High School), and it was thus spared demolition during the city’s urban renewal project in the mid 20th century. In 1972, Dr. Stonestreet’s office was donated to the Montgomery County Historical Society and moved to the grounds of the Beall-Dawson House. Today, the museum’s interpretation features information about 19th century medicine and Dr. Stonestreet’s life as a country doctor traveling to make house calls. The Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine is open by appointment. You can schedule your appointment by contacting Stonestreet@MontgomeryHistory.org. The museum asks that you please allow 48 for scheduling.
King Barn Dairy Mooseum
The MOOseum barn is the last remaining structure of the 350-acre King dairy farm dating to 1913. The state-of-the-art, 75-stanchion dairy barn was constructed in 1930. The MOOseum tells the story of dairying in Montgomery County through extensive exhibits and hands-on activities. The Mooseum is only open from May to October each year.
Among the small museums in Montgomery County, this may be the quirkiest!
Oakley Cabin African American Museum and Park
An African American roadside community lived and worked on this historic site from emancipation well into the 20th century. Their culture and traditions heavily influenced those of surrounding communities, and their story is deeply woven into Montgomery County’s rich history. At the center of this site is Oakley Cabin, which was inhabited until 1976 and now serves as a living history museum.
Step inside Oakley Cabin and immerse yourself in the history of those who have lived there. The main room on the ground floor wraps around an open hearth, and in a small adjoining room, 19th-century tools and artifacts are displayed. These items were excavated during archaeological digs around the park’s grounds. The two rooms are divided by a bead board partition wall, and a boxed staircase leads to the upper loft. Archaeologists are currently piecing together evidence in an attempt to date the construction of the cabin.
The 1½-story oak and chestnut log cabin is a reflection of vernacular architecture. The logs are joined with dovetail joints and chinked with stones, now largely covered with cement. The dove-tailed notching and artful pegging represent superb craftsmanship. The rafters on the roof are “bird-mouthed” over the top log that serves as a plate. The floor of the first level sits on a double sill with a notch in the foundation to allow room for two supporting logs – one for the floor and one for the wall.
The cabin sits on a 2-acre tract running along Reddy Branch. The mill pond for Newlin’s Mill was located in the low area behind the building. A trail, partially laid inside the old millrace, leads from the cabin to the site of the mill at the intersection of Brookeville Road and Georgia Avenue. You’ll see numerous wild plants here, many of which are edible or medicinal and were used by local people. Hawks, foxes, deer, raccoons, and other wildlife can often be seen from the cabin or trail, which also passes stone quarries used to dig local stone.
Oakley Cabin was originally part of the Oakley Farm, which occupied a portion of Colonel Richard Brooke’s large land tract known as “Addition to Brooke Grove.” Brooke was a Revolutionary War hero known as “the Fighting Quaker.” He built the “big house” called Oakley in 1764, which was destroyed in the 1970s.
Brooke died in 1788 and willed all of his property to his only child, Ann, who later married William Hammond Dorsey. They had five children. Like her father, Ann and William never lived on the Oakley Farm. Instead, William built their home, Dumbarton Oaks, in Georgetown. When Ann died in 1802, William sold all of his Georgetown property and moved to Oakley, where he died in 1818. The Dorseys’ son, Richard B. Dorsey, transformed Oakley into a farm, on which his 23 slaves worked.
Dr. William Bowie Margruder bought Oakley farm in 1836. A local doctor to both white and black families, Margruder owned 19 slaves to help farm the land. Prior to 1879, two more cabins were built on the property, though neither remain. After Dr. Margruder died in 1873, Josiah J. Hutton purchased the farm.
According to census records from 1880 to 1920, between 22 and 37 people lived in the three cabins. The residents were both black and white, and worked as farm laborers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and laundresses. They likely shared household tasks and sold produce and hand-made articles to travelers on the Brookeville Road. The cross-section of cultures found here is representative of the unique African American folk experience.
The cabin is open from 12-4 on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month from April through October. It is located at 3610 Brookeville Road in Olney.
Clara Barton House in Glen Echo
The Clara Barton National Historic Site, which includes the Clara Barton House, was established in 1974 to interpret the life of Clara Barton (1821–1912), an American pioneer teacher and nurse who founded the American Red Cross. Her final residence (1897-1912) is located 2 miles (3.2 km) northwest of Washington DC in Glen Echo, MD and is open for visitors on Friday through Sunday. The property includes 9 acres of land and the 38-room former house. The site is managed by the National Park Service and is the first national historic site dedicated to the accomplishments of a woman. It preserves not only the last home of Clara Barton but also the early history of the American Red Cross. Clara Barton NHS is open for visitation on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays by guided tours of the first floor at 1:00 pm, 2:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 4:00 pm. Entrance is free.
The 30-45 minute program will explore the many stories of Clara Barton’s amazing life as well as some of the other individuals who lived and served in this unique home.
Josiah Henson Museum
The Josiah Henson Museum is another of the small museums in Montgomery County that tells the history of a real person, Josiah Henson, whose story is told in the 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Born into slavery near Port Tobacco, Maryland, around 1789, Henson’s father was sold south and separated from his family. Henson was later separated from his mother and sold Adam Robb of Rockville, while his mother was sold to Isaac Riley. Eventually they were reunited on the farm of Isaac Riley. The story of Henson attempting to buy his freedom and that of his wife and children is truly painful (and too long to recount here.) Thwarted at every turn as the price of his freedom kept getting raised, he eventually escaped to Canada with his family.
Once he was free in Canada, he helped to establish a settlement of freed slaves, spoke as an abolitionist, became a Methodist preacher, an officer in the Canadian militia, met with Queen Victoria while in London, and was featured on a stamp in Canada. He returned from Canada to the United States several times as a conductor on the underground railroad between 1831 and 1865. He published three books, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself (1849), Truth Stranger Than Fiction, Father Henson’s Story of His Own Life (1858) and Uncle Tom’s Story of His Life: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (1876.)
The actual cabin in which Henson and other slaves on Isaac Riley’s farm were housed on Isaac Riley’s farm no longer exists; it was demolished along with other outbuildings in the 1950s when much of the former Riley plantation was developed into housing. The Riley family home, however, remains and is currently in a residential development in Rockville. After remaining in the hands of private owners for nearly two centuries, on January 6, 2006, the Montgomery Planning Board agreed to purchase the property and the acre of land on which it stands for $1,000,000 (~$1.31 million in 2021).
The Josiah Henson Museum and Park, containing the Riley house is open to the public. The site contains exhibits and a visitor center. There are ongoing archaelogical exhibitions trying to find where Josiah Henson may have lived on the site. It is located at 11420 Old Georgetown Road, in Rockville, MD.
You Have Lots of Small Museums in Montgomery County From Which to Choose!
If you are hosting family guests, you might want to try one of the small museums in Montgomery County, rather than immediately heading to the Mall to see the Air and Space Museum or the National Gallery of Art. They will be wonderful of course, but they will probably be crowded and parking is difficult. Instead, why not try a local museum that is a little closer to home and truly unique.