With a history of nearly 250 years, Gaithersburg, Maryland, has enjoyed a front-row seat for the development of the United States. Half an hour’s drive north of Washington, D.C., Gaithersburg began as Log Town in 1765, a quarter of a century before the streets of the nation’s capital were laid out. Not until 1878, five years after the B&O Railroad reached town, did it incorporate as Gaithersburg.
Today a major thoroughfare, Route 355, cuts through the city center to connect the Potomac River and Cumberland Gap, following an ancient path developed by Native Americans. Among the many notable figures who passed through town on this road is General George Washington.
A less-welcome visitor to the community was General Jubal Early. His Confederate army occupied the town shortly between the July 9, 1864, Battle of Monocacy and the July 11-12 Battle of Fort Stevens on the outskirts of Washington. Early’s troops stripped horses, livestock, food and anything of value they could find from Summit Hill Farm before moving on in their attempt to take the capital. Today the land is known as Bohrer Park at Summit Hall Farm—which is where families go when looking for things to do in Gaithersburg. The 57-acre city-run park includes a double water slide, miniature golf course and skate park.
This city of 60,000 residents is now a booming technological hub. The National Institute of Standards and Technology, with more than 2,000 names on its payroll, is Gaithersburg’s top employer. The institute is a federal agency that has no regulatory powers but is charged with advancing the science and technology of measurement. Unfortunately, security concerns caused the institute to curtail public tours.
Gaithersburg has long had a special relationship with technology. In fact, one of the most interesting tourist spots in the city is the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory, built in 1899. The International Geodetic Association erected this unimposing structure, together with a handful of others around the world, to study the polar movements of the earth. Now a National Historic Landmark, the building is well worth a visit.
Another of the fascinating things to do in Gaithersburg is a drive through the Kentlands neighborhood. This award-winning neighborhood of 1,800 homes, billed as a neo-traditional community, captures the feel of an old country village. One of the unique Kentlands structures is the Gaithersburg Art Barn, originally built as a stable in 1900. The renovated building houses a 99-seat theater, an art gallery and four studios for artists in residence. There is also an art shop on the premises.
No visit to Gaithersburg would be complete without a stop at the Spagnvola Chocolatier, on Main Street. Using only cacao beans from their farm in the Dominican Republic, Spagnvola creates handcrafted truffles, bon bons and chocolate bars. Visitors can purchase chocolates, tour the factory or even sign up for a class, where a maximum of 15 students learn such skills as tempering chocolate on a granite table.