Burkittsville lies at the base of South Mountain. Just over an hour from Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, this small village surrounded by farmland is nearly unchanged since its founding in the mid 19th century. It is included in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places.
The first land tracts to be surveyed in the Burkittsville area were being patented in the early 18th century. Thomas Dawson surveyed a tract that covered the area just south of the village on May 14, 1741. From this date, the Middletown Valley, including the community that would become Burkittsville, began to grow.
Burkittsville lies along two ancient Native American trails, following the approximate paths of today’s MD Route 17 (north and south) and Main Street (east and west). The meeting of these two trails forms the center of the village, which by the early 19th century was beginning to take shape. In the 1820s, Captain Joshua Harley, a Revolutionary War veteran began dividing and selling lots off of his land, lying west of the center square. Captain Harley operated a store at 1 West Main Street, and in 1824, became the town’s first postmaster. At this time, the village was known officially as Harley’s Post Office.
By the 1830s Burkittsville had become a bustling village, and industries sprang up to serve a thriving farm area. Shortly after Captain Harley had began selling lots, Henry Burkett, who lived to the east of the square on the estate “Friends, Goodwill” began selling lots. The town gradually lost the name of its first founder in favor of Burkett, who was a larger land-owner and gave lots to the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in 1831. Cabinet shops, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, dry good stores, tinsmiths, a tailor shop, a harness shop, and a tannery sprang up along Main Street.
Burkittsville was officially incorporated in 1894. By the turn of the century, Burkittsville was still a center of commerce for the local agricultural area. Up until the 1970s, at least three general stores were operating at the same time within the center of the village, and a variety of other business ventures, including service stations, a car dealership, a clothing manufacturer, and antique stores were active. Until the early twentieth century when Prohibition forced their closure, Burkittsville was home to two Rye Whiskey distilleries, operated by the Horsey and Ahalt Families.
Today Burkittsville is quiet and residential, though you will find local craftspeople and artists here who work from their homes. While the industries of its history have passed, Burkittsville continues to maintain a unique character, which is preserved in its historic structures, and also within its residents.
- For a more detailed version of Burkittsville’s history, please visit the official Burkittsville town website here.
- To learn more about the history of Burkittsville and the area around South Mountain, the Heritage Society has a museum and a library/archive room at 3 East Main Street, open on the first Saturday of the month, April – September, from 10:00-3:00.