Putting Quince Orchard Back on the Map

Photo | Mike Cuthbert Pleasant View Methodist Church on Darnestown Road, now Mount of Olives Church, formed the heart of the Quince Orchard community for more than a century.

Photo | Mike Cuthbert
Pleasant View Methodist Church on Darnestown Road, now Mount of Olives Church, formed the heart of the Quince Orchard community for more than a century.

Everybody wants to have, perhaps needs to have a place they call home. Sometimes it’s hard to know how to get there.

Such is the case for many Quince Orchard residents. We all know there is a place called Quince Orchard, but where, exactly, is it?

It turns out that the question of where Quince Orchard is was debated over a century ago and potentially answered at a meeting at Pleasant View Methodist Church on an historic dark night in 1968. It was April 4 of that year, and the members of Pleasant View had gathered to discuss a merger with two other local churches: Hunting Hill and McDonald Chapel. A vigorous discussion ensued, and Fairhaven United Methodist emerged from the decisions made at that meeting. It was not just three congregations, but two white churches and a black church that merged that day.

Much of the story of the community will be told in an upcoming documentary by the surviving members of those communities, most of them in their 80s and 90s today. The producers of the film are the brother-sister team of Quince Orchard High School graduate and frequent resident Jason Green and QO graduate and current resident Dr. Kisha Davis.

“This project has grown in and of itself,” Green said. “I started learning just about my grandmother (Ada Pearl Green, 95), but I’ve ended up learning more about the general history. She was born on the corner of Rte. 28 and Riffleford Road and, with the exception of two years in Washington, D.C., she’s lived either on Riffleford or Quince Orchard Road.”

The history starting with their grandmother has evolved into a process of discovery of the nature of the community. Even the fact that there was a community is surprising to many people. “It’s all rooted in an interdependence of interests and backgrounds between two related but segregated communities, the black and the white,” Green pointed out. “Quince Orchard was a sleepy farming town with an interesting racial combination. For example, the butcher was white, my grandfather was a pig farmer, and one needed the other. The people now talk about this area as an example of diversity. But there were investments in this community in education and commerce going back to the 1860s that affect the community today.”

In its heyday, Quince Orchard contained the several churches including the Pleasant View Methodist Church, the Quince Orchard Colored School, a white school located on the current site of Rachel Carson Elementary and a cemetery. At the turn of the century, the Negro School burned down and the white schoolhouse was moved to take its place. The new white school was erected near the current site of the Bank of America.

Green’s and Davis’ great-great grandfather, Gary, was born in 1832 and was active in the area civically early in its history. He was one of the men who secured the land that later became what could be called the “center” of Quince Orchard, the current site of the preserved Negro School and Pleasant View Church.

This site will host the upcoming JuneFest on Saturday, June 28, an annual community get-together that has a long tradition here. The Pleasant View Historical Site is almost directly across the street from the main entrance to Kentlands off Rte. 28, located at 11810 Darnestown Road. The school is the long, low building that also served as a resting place for demonstrators coming to Washington during the Civil Rights Era, and the church is recognized by what’s missing: a steeple. Both buildings are preserved today. They will both be open during the JuneFest.

The land on which the school and church sit was procured in 1868. Nearly 100 years later, during a fiery meeting at Pleasant View to discuss the potential merger of the three churches mentioned before—Pleasant View, Hunting Hill and McDonald Chapel, small Methodist churches in Quince Orchard—word came that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Atlanta. Despite the events of the day, Pleasant View voted to merge with the other two and Fairhaven United Methodist Church was born. In many ways, it has carried on the activity of Quince Orchard to this day.

Ada Howard, 97-year old resident of the area, a member of McDonald Chapel and one of the primary sources on the history of the area, remembers that discussion provided the first time she ever heard a man swear in church.

JuneFest commemorates the history of the area and that merger. The theme is “Too Precious to Lose,” referring to Quince Orchard history, and an older core of citizens will be there to welcome newcomers and those interested in the community history.

The farm tradition has died out, ending about two generations ago, but in a way, Quince Orchard High School has filled in as a community center in the years since. The church communities and facilities once formed the core of Quince Orchard with the school serving as meeting hall, dance hall and recreation center—everything that QOHS does today.

Green pointed out, “QOHS is a very diverse school, like the original populace was. It hosts various religions, like Pleasant View did. The interest in education begun in the Negro School is obvious.” In fact, the selection of the name of the high school became part of the history of the place. The original name for the school was Potomac Valley High School. Aware residents complained in an open meeting that the name did not represent anything significant about the area, and Quince Orchard was suggested and quickly accepted.

As part of their work on the project, Green and Davis began to talk with current QO upperclassmen about the history of the place. They were not surprised that these students found it interesting that there actually was a place called Quince Orchard.

“Growing up, I never knew where I was from,” Green said. “They’re finding out, and they find it fascinating and challenging. They come up with great questions like, ‘How do we get Quince Orchard on Google Maps?”’

Through this project, Green also delves into such questions as how an increasingly diverse community relates to the simpler black and white community of years past, one that incorporated diversity and cooperation as working concepts in the 19th century. Green still has not found the exact location of the quince orchard that gave the place its name.

The documentary is tentatively called “The Quince Orchard Project,” but Green sees the project as much more than a film. “We need more historic research, and I’m talking to developers about their history here, their naming systems for streets and locations, and material like that. I started from one woman’s story—my grandmother’s—but in order to reach out to the community, we need more stories. People can work through the project to share their pictures, their stories, to give us a fuller picture of where we’re from.” Information on how to do that is on the project’s website, www.thequinceorhardproject.com.

JuneFest will commence at 1 p.m. on Saturday, June 28. Why not pay a visit to meet your neighbors and your history?