A wide spot in the road

Community: How small is it? The Prince George's town of T.B. is so small that even its residents know nothing about it.

March 30, 2001|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

On most any map of Maryland you will find a lonely dot of a town called "T.B." It's in Southern Maryland, almost lost amid the creeping D.C. suburbia of Clinton, Brandywine and Waldorf.

The abbreviated name has nothing to do with tuberculosis, tablespoons, total bases or terabytes. It has everything to do with arcane local history, so arcane that even people living in T.B. have never heard of the place.

"I don't know anything about it," says Marsha Trahan, a nine-year resident who'd always thought she was living in Brandywine, because that's what it says on her mail. The ADC road map for Prince George's County doesn't show T.B. at all.

But Maryland's official highway map, produced by the Department of Transportation, is quite clear on the subject, as it has been for years: T.B. is at the intersection of Route 5, Route 373 and Brandywine Road, a stoplight junction only a few tenths of a mile northwest of U.S. 301.

And that's right where Trahan's house and about a dozen others stand, along with a mini-market, a liquor store, a construction contractor, a medical clinic, a middle school, a high school and a roadside vendor of "Amish sheds and gazebos." There's even a vacant wooden building, now for sale, that is a Prince George's County Historic Site.

Yet, with no road sign to identify the place other than a faded historical marker leaning in the grass median of busy Md. 5, T.B. has been all but forgotten, as have the origins of its name. The marker and other sources say the name comes from initials engraved in a nearby stone property marker, but there are at least three theories on who the "T.B." stands for. Take your pick:

a) Colonial landowner Thomas Blandford, an ancestor of Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, who was convicted of aiding the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

b) Colonial landowner and Indian fighter Thomas Brooke, whose father brought the first pack of foxhounds to America from England, and who was an ancestor of not only Mudd but also Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, author of the infamous "Dred Scott" decision on slavery in 1857.

c) Two people: Late 18th-century landowner William Townshend and some guy named Brooke, presumably a descendant of the aforementioned Thomas Brooke. In this version, Townshend's and Brooke's last initials were engraved on opposite sides of the stone to mark their respective sides of the property boundary.

Answer "A" would seem to have the weakest claim. Relatively little is known of Blandford, who emigrated to Maryland as a young man sometime before 1673. He married Tabitha Mills in 1678 and died in 1698.

Just about the only source citing Blandford as the source of "T.B." is a book called "American Place-Names," by George R. Stewart, published in 1970 by Oxford University Press.

Those are pretty fair credentials, but the book makes a weak case, offering only, "By local tradition ... those initials were found cut into a tree or stone, presumably by Thomas Blandford, early landowner."

Compare the vagueness of "local tradition," "tree or stone," and "presumably" to the more authoritative tone of Francis T. Monroe, chief backer of choice C, the Townshend-Brooke version. The 1984 book "The Placenames of Maryland, Their Origin and Meaning," by Hamill Kenny, quotes Monroe saying, "The name was derived from a boundary stone, with T on its west side and B on its east ... marking the boundary between the ... acreage of my great-grandfather William Townshend (1768- 1849) and that of Thomas Brooke."

Despite Monroe's assured tone, the validity of his claim would seem to depend partly on the stone marker being no older than about 200 years, perhaps younger, because Townshend didn't build on the site until around 1830.

So, bring on the scientists, test the engraving on the stone, and settle the matter once and for all. Alas, the stone seems to be long gone, lost to either underbrush or development.

Another piece of evidence in Monroe's favor is a Maryland Historical Trust Inventory of T.B.'s oldest buildings (the wooden one listed as a county historic site was built around 1867 and used to be a general store and town post office).

The inventory says the village wasn't even called T.B. until the early-to-mid 1800s, and that before then it was little more than a road junction with a blacksmith shop run by Zephaniah Taylor, so people simply called the junction "Taylor's Shop."

But perhaps the boundary stone was already there, somewhere in the woods, and simply went unnoticed until Townshend came along. If so, the evidence would seem to point to Thomas Brooke as the "T.B" for the ages.

That's what the state historical marker argues for, anyway, out on its sagging perch in the median of Route 5: "T.B. Initials on a boundary stone which stood near this point and marked the corner of `Brookefield,' a tract of 2530 acres patented in 1664 to Thomas Brooke, 1632-1676, member of the Maryland Assembly 1663-1676, presiding Justice county court 1667, Major in forces fighting Indians 1667."

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