History of the Town of Barnesville, Which Recently Celebrated its 275th Anniversary

The Town of Barnesville recently celebrated its 275th anniversary on October 2nd with a celebration that was to originally include a morning fun run and afternoon parade, but cancelled all planned outdoor activities. The celebration, however, continued indoors with a Barnesville history exhibit and pot luck dinner. Located at the top of a ridge with views of Sugarloaf Mountain to the north and the Catoctin Mountain and Blue Ridge ranges to the west, Barnesville enjoys a connection with the rhythms of the natural world while being within commuting distance of the nation’s capital. Barnesville is served by the MARC commuter rail system. The town’s motto, “A Caring Community,” is a testament to the sense of place enjoyed by the town’s residents and their neighbors in the Agricultural Reserve of Western Montgomery County.

History, Per the Town of Barnesville: At the heart of the Agricultural Reserve and within commuting distance of Washington, D.C., the Town of Barnesville lies today on land first surveyed for Jeremiah Hays in 1749.  After taking the Patriots Oath of Fidelity in 1778, Hayes served in the Revolutionary Army Militia before his death in 1783. What is now Barnesville was first known as Barnestown after James Barnes, who bought the land known as “Jeremiah’s Park” in 1803 from Vachel and Margaret Hall. His father, David Barnes, who was a younger son from a prominent English family, emigrated to the United States in 1758 and settled in Frederick, Maryland along with his two brothers. Until about 1798, James Barnes worked as a tenant farmer as he does not appear as a property owner until in the 1800 Census. However, James Barnes leaves the area in 1804 for Ohio because of the lack of Quaker meeting houses.

As the town grew steadily in the early 19th Century, Barnesville was situated in the middle of a rich, tobacco-growing region. By 1808, there were several residences, a log store, a tavern and other businesses in Barnesville. Abraham Simmons Hays opened one of the first schools in the area in Barnesville in 1819. With the expansion of the nearby Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, there was a rise in the number of residences in town and the construction of the Methodist Episcopal Church. With the onset of the Civil War, Barnesville was a strategic stronghold for both the Union and Confederate forces because of its proximity to White’s Ferry. Following a lengthy battle for the summit of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, the Union army emerged victorious on September 9th, 1862.

In May of 1888, 139 years after the land was first surveyed, the town of Barnesville was incorporated by the state of Maryland. Dr. R. Vinton Wood, William T. Hilton, Richard T. Pyles, Nathan E. Miles, and Charles S. Nichols were elected as the first Commissioners of the town. Legendary American World War Two spy Virginia Hall lived in Barnesville with her husband Paul until her death in 1982. Born in Baltimore, Hall was crucial in establishing resistance networks throughout France and was named by the Gestapo to be the most dangerous American spy. Because of her artificial leg with which she smuggled important documents, Hall was known to the French as “la dame qui boite” or the lady who limps.

In 1980, the Montgomery County Council created the Agricultural Reserve as a way to protect productive farmland and agriculture in the county. Heralded as one of the best examples of land conservation policies in the country, the Agricultural Reserve, encompassing 93,000 acres, protects the agricultural landscape that surrounds the Town of Barnesville and offers town residents scenic vistas and outdoor recreational opportunities. Barnesville has maintained its small-town character in large part because of the Agricultural Reserve’s restrictive zoning in addition to the town’s own zoning authority. Today, the town is a third of a mile in area, with two churches, a Post Office, under 200 residents, many talented artists and artisans and is located on the Marc train line. As Barnesville has proved throughout its long history, we are truly “A Caring Community.” 

Bibliography:

Barnes, M. (n.d.). Re: Barnes family of Barnesville, Ohio. Retrieved October 13, 2020, from https://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/barnes/1463/

Walston, M. (2016, June 06). How Some Montgomery County Slaves Became Free. From https://bethesdamagazine.com/bethesda-magazine/may-june-2016/how-some-montgomery-county-slaves-became-free/

Cuttler, D., & Brown, I. L. (1999). The History of Barnesville and Sellman. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books.

All information and photos courtesy of The Town of Barnesville website.

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