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Damascus is a census-designated place and an unincorporated area in Montgomery County, Maryland, United States. In the early 20th century, there existed an incorporated municipality lasting a quarter century.
The name was first used in an official document in 1816, when the United States Congress approved a postal route through the area, operated by Edward Hughes.
The area currently known as Damascus was granted by the new U.S. state of Maryland to Nathaniel Pigman in 1783. On February 14, 1819, War of 1812 veteran Edward Hughes bought a 40-acre (160,000 m2) section of the grant and began subdividing lots for sale. James Madison, the fourth U.S. president, appointed Hughes postmaster of the developing community of Damascus in 1816.
Damascus is located at the intersection of two major roads in upper Montgomery County: Ridge Road (currently Rt. 27) and Damascus Road (currently Rt. 108). Hughes received permission from Congress for a postal route through the town. Hughes called his town "The Pleasant Plains of Damascus" after Damascus, Syria. A newspaper in Frederick wrote of Hughes's growing town: "There is at this place an extensive opening for mechanics of all the different kinds, and it bids fair to improve very fast; ... There is at present two blacksmith shops, a saddler's shop and a store in the place -- a tailor, a wheel wright, and a shoemaker are much wanted, and would meet with great encouragement." This was the Damascus of 1816. The new township drew settlers from Anne Arundel County as well as from Montgomery County. On September 12, 1862, U.S. Army troops marched through the "village" of Damascus via what is now Route 27 on their way to the town of Sharpsburg, where they engaged Confederate troops commanded by General Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Antietam.
The town was incorporated from 1890 to 1914, when the townspeople requested the incorporation be withdrawn so that Old Quaker Road, used since Revolutionary times and before, could be paved into a state highway. The town remains a commercial center for rural communities like Clagettsville, Browningsville, Cedar Grove, Woodfield, King's Valley, Purdum, and Lewisdale, although it is more developed today.
In spite of spiraling population growth and encroaching urban development, old-timers feel like Damascus retains its rural, small-town character. —a fully agricultural fair that has been in operation since 1940—attracts thousands of visitors annually in the first weekend of September. 4-H clubs are thriving, and in the past 10 years three new equestrian centers have opened within 5 miles (8.0 km) of downtown Damascus.
November 17, 2009, marked the grand opening of the Damascus Heritage Society Museum—a project years in the making that aims to preserve the history of Damascus. The original idea for the museum belonged to John Grigg, who was in attendance at the opening along with fellow supporters, sharing apple cider and cookies in celebration of their efforts. The museum is located in a small building behind the Damascus Public Library, and is open from noon to 5pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays (or by appointment with groups larger than 10). The grand-opening featured a ribbon cutting ceremony, and Damascus’s first fire truck, presented by the current fire chief Darron Long. Currently on display is an exhibit highlighting the Damascus Volunteer Fire department, but the exhibits are scheduled to change every few months.
As an unincorporated area, Damascus' boundaries are not officially defined. Damascus is recognized by the United States Census Bureau as a census-designated place, and by the United States Geological Survey as a populated place located at (39.271040, −77.206098). Damascus has the highest point in the county at 866 ft (264m) above sea level. It is also the highest elevation in the immediately adjacent Washington D.C. suburbs.
Damascus is west of the fall line between the Piedmont of Appalachia and the Atlantic coastal plain. Damascus is known for its rural landscape and family-owned farms. According to the United States Census Bureau, the place has a total area of 9.6 square miles (25 km2), all land.
The town is located on Parr's Ridge, a low shale ridge that rises about 300 feet above the surrounding Piedmont. Open hilltops in the area afford pisquerias vistas of the Appalachian Mountains to the southwest, west, and northwest. These ridges include Sugarloaf Mountain and South Mountain, MD, Catoctin Mountain, in MD and PA, and the Blue Ridge of VA. On very clear days, two 4,000 foot plus peaks in the Shenandoah National Park of VA can be seen 75 miles to the southwest.
The climate in this area is characterized by warm, humid summers and generally cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Damascus has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.
Due to its higher elevation,rural landscape, and northernmost location in Montgomery County, its 32-inch average snowfall is the highest in the county and the immediately adjacent Washington D.C. suburbs. In the record-breaking winter of 2009-2010, 98.4 inches of snow fell and a maximum depth of 37 inches was recorded, the greatest snow depth in the area's history. Occasionally intense blizzards fed by coastal waters can paralyze the area. In average winters, snow-covered ground comes and goes. In severe winters, ponds may stay frozen and the ground will remain snow-covered for a month or two.
Rainfall is usually plentiful and well distributed throughout the year. In an average year, about 46 inches is recorded. Thunderstorms are quite common during June to August. Sometimes they produce hail and damaging winds, but tornadoes are rare.
Temperatures are moderate. January's average monthly temperature is 31 °F, and July's is 74 °F. Occasionally, frigid Arctic outbreaks from Canada can drive minimum temperatures below 0 °F (−18 °C) for a morning or two. During the summer months, heat waves can produce a week or two of 90 °F or higher afternoon days. Summer morning temperatures are usually pleasant, averaging in the mid-60s.
Education and athletics
Damascus High School (DHS) is well-known regionally and nationally for its championship athletic teams, known as the Swarmin' Hornets. Damascus High School is one of the few remaining schools in the state to still hold its graduation ceremonies on the school's football field. A rite of passage for many graduating seniors is to walk on the field and receive their diploma not only in front of family and friends in the stands but also the several hundred townspeople who gather outside the fences to watch the ceremony. For the past few years the school has considered moving the ceremony to an alternate indoor location such as McDaniel College, but it has been voted down every year by the Senior class and their families. In the case of inclement weather, the graduation ceremony is held in the high school's auditorium.
Former U.S. Secretary of State and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell was the speaker for Damascus High School's Class of 2000 commencement ceremony at the high school's football stadium. Billy Ripken, brother of Oriole baseball player Cal Ripken Jr., was the speaker for the 2013 commencement, which also took place at the Damascus High School football stadium.
The American Legion is active in the community. Since Damascus Post 171 was founded after World War II, it has engaged in charitable and civic endeavors, ranging from installing Christmas decorations downtown to sponsoring high school scholarships. Post 171 is host to annual ceremonies commemorating Memorial Day and Veterans Day on the grounds of the Post home. Post 171 also sponsors an American Junior Legion baseball team, which is a perennial champion.
Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Company 13, with headquarters in Damascus, is one of the oldest companies in the Montgomery County fire service. Originating in 1940 as an all-Volunteer force, the  transitioned to a mix of full-time professionals and volunteers since the late 1980s. Today the company is responsible for a fast growing residential and downtown area.
As of the census of 2000, there were 11,430 people, 3,710 households, and 3,079 families residing in the area. The population density was 1,187.5 people per square mile (458.7/km2). There were 3,773 housing units at an average density of 392.0/sq mi (151.4/km2). The ethnic makeup of the area was 89.66% white, 6.63% African American, 0.24% Native American, 2.21% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 1.28% from other races, and 1.95% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.31% of the population.
There were 3,710 households, of which 52.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 68.0% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 17.0% were non-families. 13.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 3.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.08 and the average family size was 3.38.
There are 34.0% of the population under the age of 18, 6.0% from 18 to 24, 33.6% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 5.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 94.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.6 males.
The median income for a household in the community was $71,447, and the median income for a family was $76,462. Males had a median income of $51,590 versus $38,731 for females. The per capita income for the area was $26,659. About 4.2% of families and 5.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 6.8% of those under age 18 and 0.9% of those age 65 or over.
- Offutt, William; Sween, Jane (1999). Montgomery County: Centuries of Change. American Historical Press. p. 165.
- "Home." Damascus Heritage Museum. Damascus Heritage Society, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2010. <http://www.dhsm.org/>.
- "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
- "Damascus, Maryland Köppen Climate Classification (Weatherbase)". Weatherbase.
- "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
- Media related to Damascus, Maryland at Wikimedia Commons