DICKERSON -- For old-timers and newcomers alike, the picturesque burgs and farms here in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain are more than a retreat from the growing urban sprawl of Washington.
The patchwork of fields and woods around the 3,200-acre Sugarloaf Mountain -- one of the state's easternmost mountains and a popular spot for hikers, bikers and anyone who likes nature -- is an area rich in history and culture.
Visible for miles as a protuberance on the otherwise flowing Piedmont Plateau, the 1,281-foot mountain at the southern edge of Frederick County provides hundreds of residents with a sense of heritage and place.
Some residents -- with support from a host of local historic and preservation groups -- are pushing to place 17,000 acres surrounding and including Sugarloaf Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places. The acreage would include portions of Frederick and Montgomery counties.
Such a designation would at least crimp development by adding a layer of government review for new projects financed with state or federal government money.
"The area is important in the industrial, transportation and cultural history of Maryland," said Steven Lubar, a Barnesville resident and proponent of the historic designation. "We want to let people know about it and preserve its history. Putting it on the register is one way to let people know that."
The focal point of the district would be Sugarloaf Mountain itself, a recreational area owned by Stronghold Inc., a private, nonprofit foundation that maintains and oversees the mountain's use. The foundation was started in 1946 by Gordon Strong, a Chicago businessman who admired the mountain during his travels by train and eventually bought it. He is buried there.
The mountain is open to the public daily.
Sugarloaf dominates an area that includes small towns such as Dickerson and Barnesville, and "historically significant" farms and homes of varied architecture.
Serving as the proposed district's boundaries would be notable 18th and 19th century transportation routes: old farm roads, the Monocacy River, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.
If approved, the Sugarloaf Historic District will become one of the largest such districts in Maryland. Other sizable Maryland districts on the National Register of Historic Places include Lower Deer Creek Valley, which totals 17,000 acres in Harford County, and My Lady's Manor, about 11,000 acres in Baltimore )) County.
Ronald Andrews, who administers the nomination program for vTC the Maryland Historical Trust, said state officials agree that the Sugarloaf area is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. State officials will review the application and make a recommendation at a meeting this month.
Mr. Andrews said state officials are likely to deem the district eligible for nomination. The application would then go to the National Park Service for consideration, which could take an additional six months.
Creating a Sugarloaf Historic District would provide residents with state tax breaks for rehabilitation of historic homes and federal tax breaks for businesses renovating historic structures, Mr. Andrews said. The designation also would make residents eligible for federal and state grants and state low-interest loans for historic preservation.
In addition -- and more important, to some people -- a historic designation would add another of layer of government review for projects using state or federal dollars.
Development approaching from the nearby Interstate 270 corridor is a concern for some people, including Minny Pohlmann, who moved to Dickerson about four decades ago. She is among those who have been seeking the historic designation for about 20 years.
"It's a very scenic and beautiful area," she said. "Little by little, the area is being nibbled away. I-270 has made an enormous difference. It's made the area much more accessible."
In fact, I-270 has brought thousands of new residents, homes and businesses to all of northern Montgomery County and northward to Frederick, many within sight of Sugarloaf, in the past decade.
Traces of history
Others residents are more concerned with preserving disappearing traces of Maryland history in an area that remains largely rural.
Mr. Lubar said the area was once home to one of the nation's largest glass works. At its height in the late 1700s, the New Bremen Glass Factory had about 340 employees. The area also had forges and foundries in the 18th and 19th centuries.
"It also has some important and preserved architectural elements that show the two cultures that came together in this general area," he said. "You had the English moving west from the Eastern Shore and the Germans moving south from Pennsylvania."