Ijamsville, then and now: From busy town to sleepy suburb
Mar. 14, 2002
Karen Beck
Staff Writer

Bill Ryan/The Gazette

The old Williams' General Store by the railroad tracks at the intersection of Ijamsville Road and Mussetter Road dates back to before 1873. The store once catered to an Ijamsville that flourished around the railroad.

Much attention has recently been paid to the future of the New Market Planning Region, due to the upcoming update of its Region Plan. However, the area has a rich and diverse history, full of industries and workplaces which now exist only in rubble, and families whose adventures exist in the memories of their descendents.

An area with a particularly colorful history is one whose name pronunciation remains a mystery to those who merely pass it by: Ijamsville (that's with a silent 'j'.) Speckled on its rolling landscape was once a thriving town where farmers and miners butted heads, a nationally-acclaimed pottery maker and a sanatorium for nervous and mental health disorders.

A detailed account of Ijamsville's history can be found in a book called "Ijamsville: The Story of a Country Village," by resident Charles E. Moylan. According to Moylan's narrative, Ijamsville was first called by the name of the "Paradise" grant, purchased by its first resident, one Plummer Ijams I. As one might think, it was Ijams, who moved there in 1785, from whose family the town's name is derived. His land was to become sectioned off into the town, and the grist mill his son John built was to be one of the centers of business life in the 19th century.

Moylan states that in the 1790s, all farmers made their own shoes and also did their own blacksmithing. Common sights at the time were herds of sheep on the hillside, slaves and yokes of oxen in tobacco fields, and housewives spinning thread, making wool, or dipping candles.

Besides the mill, the other early hubbub of activity was the slate mines, opened by the Duvall brothers in about 1800. Veins of slate run through Westminster towards Frederick, but as Moylan said, the best examples of the volcanic-derived rock were to be found in Ijamsville. In time, two thriving quarries were established, in which men worked to provide slate material that was used for roofs all around Frederick and even in Washington, D.C..

It was around 1831 that the landscape-changing Baltimore and Ohio Railroad company sought a right of way for their new tracks. This Plummer Ijams granted, on the condition that the company build for him a depot and call it Ijams' Mill. The next year, a post office was established at that location with the new name of "Ijamsville."

The first day the B&O's initially-horse-drawn cars passed through the village tracks was probably the most exciting day for Ijamsville's residents, who sat and watched them along the railroad banks, according to Moylan. "Undoubtedly, what they saw was for months thereafter the chief topic of conversation as farmers met at Ijams' grist mill and their wives gathered at their quilting parties." The ride from Baltimore to Frederick cost $1.80 and took 8 hours. Aside from that fateful day, the "monotony of life" for residents was broken by the mail arriving from Baltimore by stage coach.

In the latter half of the 1800s, town businesses and institutions took root all over the area. In 1854 the Ijamsville Methodist Episcopal Church was erected, in 1862 a hospital, and in 1876 a redbrick Ijamsville school building.

Moylan writes that by the early 1860s, Ijamsville was a hopping mining town. "All day long, loud blasts of rock powder...could be heard above the rumble of passing freight trains, and children scurried to cover to escape the showers of falling slate." At night people congregated at the village store where, lit by whale oil lanterns, farmers and the primarily-Welsh miners would have lively arguments, sometimes leading to fist fights. "Asked by a travelling drummer about local crops one farmer replied: 'We raise wheat, tobacco, and corn, and on Saturday nights we raise a little hell.'"

The spoils of the earth were good for crafts, as well, as artisan Artemus Wolf found. He used a bed of clay of "superior quality" along Bush Creek to make all sorts of pottery, which Moylan states sold first in the region and then all around the country. His pitchers for milk and juice were found in every kitchen, and today his pieces are both rare and valuable.

Two other major institutions surfaced during that time. One was Glenellen Academy, a school started around 1878 by an English-educated couple, the lady of which claimed to have written the famous novel Lorna Doone.

The other was a hospital for "nervous and mental patients," established in 1896 by longtime family doctor George Henry Riggs. Moylan states that Riggs treated over a thousand patients at his Ijamsville facility, and that Riggs became "one of the State's leading psychiatrists."

At the turn of the century, Ijamsville was a thriving farming community with a flour mill running 24-7, two general stores and multiple other shops. However, all that was soon to disappear. As trucks and cars replaced the rails, Ijamsville suffered the fate of many of the villages along the B&O, as its store and mill shut down. A shale quarry business persisted into the early 1900s, but even that stopped in 1937.

As of Moylan's writing in 1950, the only businesses left were a grocery store and a car service facility. Despite the slow local economy, Moylan said that there was a social life composed of the Methodist Church, the Ijamsville Homemakers Club, and an award-winning set of Ijamsville baseball teams. He ends his account with "residents and former residents alike feel a real attachment for their home town."

Where Ijamsville was to grow, just like many areas in the New Market region, was in residential development. The 1992 version of the county Region Plan Update states that all that began in the late 1960s.

Currently, Ijamsville is home to a smattering of housing developments, and three prominent schools: Windsor Knolls Middle, Friends Meeting School, Urbana High (in its zip code). It is also the site of the Frederick Pony Club's grounds at Moxley Field, where kids can learn about horses and ride. Within its postal zip code lies a country club, a worldwide microscope dealership, a golf club repair shop and more.

The Glenellen Academy still stands, with most of its original fabric inside. Dr. Rigg's sanitorium, which operated until 1969, is now an upscale French restaurant called Gabriel's Inn. The last mill burned in the late 1890s, leaving a ruin.

The future of Ijamsville, like those of other New Market region areas, is to some extent being decided in the new Region Plan, the draft of which should come out sometime this spring. Ed Gorsky, Chief of Comprehensive Planning for Frederick County, said that it looks like the region will remain a rural community. No large-scale developments are planned, and any development will be linked into the existing road network. Any future business development will probably be to take existing businesses, and renovate them. Overall, he said that they are trying to "maintain the unique character" of the New Market region, with limited growth.

In the case of Ijamsville, some of that unique character will always be preserved in the descendents of hardworking entrepreneurs, and a landscape which has gone from sleepy back country to bustling town and back again.