Like a stranded ship on an island, the 100-year-old Montrose School on a one-acre plot on Randolph Road in Rockville, Md., sits surrounded by waves of traffic passing daily. It survives because a preservation group, Peerless Rockville Preservation, Ltd., stepped in to save it from demolition when the Maryland State Roads Commission planned to tear it down. On June 13, 2009, the school celebrated its 100th birthday.
When it was built in 1909, Montrose School reflected the early 20th-century concerns with lighting and ventilation made popular by architect T.C. Groomes. Hosting seven grades, it featured two rooms and an outhouse, and was illuminated with kerosene wall lamps; heat came from coal-burning potbellied stoves, and electricity did not come until 1931. Approximately 80 pupils attended with two teachers. A third classroom was added in 1948 for $20,679. Improvements also provided indoor bathrooms, better lighting, a drinking fountain, and a rear entrance.
Over the years changes in the neighborhood came. Subdivisions and shopping malls appeared nearby, and industrial parks forced families to move to make way for small businesses. The growing county population required the building of more schools, and the number of Montrose students fell to four or five in each class. The school closed in 1960, and in 1971 was purchased by the Maryland Highway Administration to be used for storage. Neglected and in sad disrepair, the school was scheduled to be torn down.
Although the school was in deplorable condition, in 1979 heritage commission Executive Director Eileen McGuckian appealed to the state highway office in Baltimore; the state sold the school to Peerless for $1. Volunteers rallied, and funds were contributed. The first phase of restoration and renovation was completed in 1981 when, on Sept. 12, public officials, volunteers, former students, friends, and neighbors joined in a “homecoming” to celebrate the reclamation of a special building that had been so near to destruction. Recognizing its historic value, Peerless later acted to ensure the school’s placement on the National Register of Historic Places.
Over the next few years, Peerless Rockville further upgraded the school. Several tenants rented the building for short periods until August 1996, when the Montrose Optimal Learning Center, which serves children of nursery through kindergarten age, signed a lease with Peerless. Once again Montrose would serve the purpose for which it was designed and built 100 years earlier.
On June 13, 2009, dignitaries, former students, friends, and neighbors gathered to reminisce and revive memories. Visitors enjoyed tours, mementos, music, and memories as well as the cutting of a huge birthday cake trimmed in school colors green and white. Above all, there was a deep gratification that the old Montrose School still stands on its one acre of land, watching as the waves of traffic flow by.
Member Eleanor Cunningham is from Gaithersburg, Md.