Of Simple Pleasures And Independent Folks

February 21, 1993|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

LAYTONSVILLE — Seven miles north of Gaithersburg, on the cusp of urban sprawl, lies the tranquil town of Laytonsville, a low-tech reminder of Montgomery County's verdant past.

Here, just beyond the business parks, twin arches and fitness centers pushing toward them, live townsfolk addicted to simple pleasures: well water, pig roasts and 4-H.

Here, people reside in ancestral Victorian homes. They measure time by catastrophic events -- everything happened before or after George Mobley's barn burned down. And they rent P.O. boxes so they can mosey in and chat with Ethel Clemons, the postmistress.

There are six antique shops in town, and more collectibles in the homes of older residents, some of them third- and fourth-generation families so entrenched here that their names are on street signs, such as Riggs and Griffith roads.

Laytonsville has little crime; culprits can't hide in small towns. Cases rarely get to court, as disputes are often settled between families.

"It's probably the least-changed of any little town in the county," says Charlie White, the second-generation mayor of Laytonsville population 248).

Amid gentle rolling wheat fields on rich, clay-loam soil, one finds a hodgepodge of houses: for instance, a lavish $500,000 estate alongside a home offering "Eggs 4 Sale."

Times are changing. There is an auto repair shop where the blacksmith used to be, and a tire store on the spot where a wheelwright once stood. In Laytonsville, businesses don't move, they evolve. There is a 19th-century buggy hearse in the front window of the funeral home, which is owned by descendants of the town's first undertaker.

Main Street got its first stoplight two years ago, angering commuters who like to zip down Route 108 as if Laytonsville doesn't exist. Pity. The town has character. At Laytonsville's centennial celebration last year, someone placed sunglasses on the roast pig as it turned on a spit.

Folks still talk about that birthday bash, and the parade and square dance and games for which they closed Main Street to traffic all day. People decorated their porches Gay Nineties style, and led tours of their homes, some of which predate the Civil War.

Laytonsville is 100 years old, but its roots are deeper still. For a century before, it was a dusty respite for farmers driving their livestock to Baltimore. People called it Cracklintown, after a sinful rich corn bread served in a local tavern.

"Cracklinbread is good, my yes. It has bits of crisp pork rinds running through it, just like chocolate chips," says Maude Burke, 78. She still makes the bread, on special occasions, from the recipe of her great-great grandfather, who ran the Cracklin Tavern.

In 1892, the town's name was changed in honor of John Layton, its first postmaster. His descendants have long since moved away, but Layton's 18th-century house still stands with its seven fireplaces and 11-foot ceilings.

Laytonsville hasn't grown much through the years. Some services have shrunk. There is no community hall, pharmacy, library or beauty parlor. The last doctor left in 1954. Once, there were five places to buy gasoline; now there is one.

An old Shell station is now an antiques shop. Tacky, it's not.

Townsfolk rebuilt the firehouse, which burned in 1965 with the engines inside. The heat burned the brakes on one ladder truck, causing it to drift toward the street as if trying to escape the blaze by itself.

News of the fire brought donations from as far away as California.

"The people of Laytonsville have looked out for each other for 100 years," says Phyllis Sterling, a member of the Town Council. "We've always had the ability to pull together in the face of adversity."

Residents spent seven years and $500,000 fighting a county landfill, which was eventually built on the south side of town. That battle has triggered cries for Laytonsville to annex 1,400 TC acres of open farmland, as a buffer against county


"We are independent people who want to govern ourselves," Ms. Sterling says.

The reason, she says, is obvious.

I= "Look two miles in any direction, and see what's coming."


COLLECTOR'S ITEMS: Silver coins minted for the town's centennial.

WORTH REPEATING: Five generations of the Griffith family were married in the same Episcopal church. All the women were named Louisa.

SWEET INVESTMENT: Mars Inc., the candy company in McLean, Va., owns 843 acres of farmland.

RESIDENTS WANT: A bypass to route traffic around town.

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