Olney, Maryland

Olney, a census-designated place and an unincorporated area of Montgomery County, Maryland, located in the north central part of the state, twenty miles north of Washington, D.C. It was largely agricultural until the 1960s, when growth of the Washington suburbs led to its conversion into a mostly residential area. As generally defined, Olney had a total population of 31,438 in the 2000 census. In July 2007, Money magazine ranked Olney as 17 (the highest ranked town in Maryland) out of 100 in its "America's Best Places To Live" edition.


Originally known as Mechanicsville, the village which became Olney was established in 1800. The area was mostly farmland, but it soon began attracting artisans. Early residents Sarah Brooke and Dr. Charles Farquhar were devotees of the English poet William Cowper, and named their home after the poet's hometown. The area was in turn named for their home, which still stands and is known as the Olney House.

The Brooke family held the largest tracts of land in Olney, whose central village was at the intersection of the Rockville to Baltimore road, and the one which connected Washington with Westminster, Maryland to the north. The Quaker community in Sandy Spring thrived just to Olney's east. St. John's Episcopal Church was established in 1842 and survives to this day.

After the siege of Washington by the British in 1814 during the War of 1812, President Madison and his family passed through Olney en route to taking refuge in the neighboring town of Brookeville. Although not as involved in the Civil War as areas of Maryland to the west, Olney residents still experienced the tug-of-war between loyalty to the plantation economy of the South and to the Federal government in Maryland's midst.

Olney's growth was slow through the next hundred years, with the census of 1960 showing only some 1000 residents. During the next four decades though, commuters working in Washington, D.C and in the high tech industry developing around nearby Rockville began to look toward Olney for homes. Very large tracts of former farmland were redeveloped into large-scale residential developments with mixed single family and townhouses. Large developments began in the 1960s and 1970s with Williamsburg Village, Tanterra, Olney Mill, and Highlands of Olney. It continued into 1980s with Norbeck Hills, Hallowell, Briars Acres, Olney Oaks and culminated in the 1990s and 2000s with Lake Hallowell, James Creek, Barnsley Manor Estates and Norbeck Grove. Coupled with the residential growth of Olney was the expansion of the school system which meant the renovation of most of the areas schools and the construction of several new ones to accommodate the growing town. In only 30 short years, Olney was transformed from a largely agricultural and arts town to a very affluent, highly educated and cultured residential area. A local Montgomery County celebrity with the initials JHM currently resides in Olney.

Frank Miller, an artist and film director best known for his film noir-style comic book stories, is an Olney native. He is one of the most widely-recognized and popular creators in comics, and is one of the most influential comics creators of his generation.

Roy Indiana, from the Junkies on 106.7 WJFK, resides in Olney. Their show airs weekdays from 5 am - 10 am.

John N. Grunwell, an emerging local artist living in Washington, D.C, was raised in Olney.


As an unincorporated area, Olney's boundaries are not officially defined. The United States Census Bureau defines a Census-Designated Place of Olney centered at 39°9' North and 77°5' West. It has a total area of 13.0 square miles (33.6 km²). None of the area is covered with water.

Olney's town center sits at the intersection of state routes 97 (Georgia Ave.) and 108. The larger town lies south of Brookeville, west of Sandy Spring, east of Rockville, and north of Aspen Hill.


As of the census of 2000, there were 31,438 people, 10,274 households, and 8,650 families residing in the area. The population density is 2,420.1 people per square mile (934.4/km²). There are 10,415 housing units at an average density of 801.7/sq mi (309.6/km²). The racial makeup of the area is 79.04% White, 8.78% African American, 8.03% Asian, and 5.01% Hispanic or Latino.

There are 10,274 households, out of which 49.1% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 71.4% are married couples living together, 10.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 15.8% are non-families. The average household size is 3.04 and the average family size is 3.34.

31.2% of residents are under the age of 18, 5.6% from 18 to 24, 29.9% from 25 to 44, 26.9% from 45 to 64, and 6.4% 65 years of age or older. The median age is 37 years. For every 100 females there are 93.5 males.

The median income for a household in the area is $94,818, and the median income for a family is $100,717. Males have a median income of $69,911 versus $45,818 for females. The per capita income for the area is $35,267. 2.6% of the population and 1.9% of families are below the poverty line.

Olney today

Playgrounds, playing fields and courts are available throughout Olney and the surrounding area. Many of the parks are public and some belong to homeowners or other private associations. Among the public parks are Olney Manor Park (which has the Olney Swim Center, a year-round indoor public pool), Southeast Olney Park, Longwood Park, Cherrywood Park, and Bowie Mill Park. Olney is close to Needwood Park, which features fishing, canoe and rowboat rentals, a playground, an archery range, picnic areas, and a bike and foot path that extends all the way to the Potomac waterfront in Washington, D.C. The Olney Boys and Girls Club (OBGC) has many team recreation opportunities, and maintain their own playing fields in Olney called Freeman Fields which is named after the late Carl M. Freeman, a distinguished Property Developer and Manager in the area. Olney is also home to a private country club and a golf driving range, with a second driving range and mini-golf course a short distance to the south. Many planned developments in Olney have their own private pools and tennis facilities as well as walking trails and lakes that residents enjoy.

Olney has various public and private schools, including three private elementary schools. Of note--Brooke Grove Elementary School, a public elementary school in Olney, was awarded the prestigious Blue Ribbon School for Excellence. There are three Montgomery County Public School clusters that bisect Olney, with some children attending elementary and middle schools that send students on to Magruder High School and others attending schools that send students to Sherwood High School or James Hubert Blake High School. The new Our Lady Of Good Counsel High School building opened in January 2007, enabling the Roman Catholic high school to relocate to Olney from Wheaton, Maryland. The new building of Washington Christian Academy recently opened in Olney, completing it's long term goal to relocate to the blossoming suburb.

Arts and Community Activities

Although largely a residential area, Olney maintains ties to its cultural past. The stately Olney Inn was destroyed by fire around 1980, but the historic Olney Ale House continues to operate on the east edge of town. Farther east lies the Sandy Spring Museum, where visitors may learn more about the area. Olney is also home to Montgomery General Hospital, a branch of the Montgomery County Library, the Olney Aquatic Center, and the Norbeck golf course.

The Olney Theatre presents professional level dramatic and musical live theatrical productions in its large and modern playhouse on the East edge of town, drawing audiences from across the Maryland and DC region. The Greater Olney Civic Association (GOCA) is an umbrella organization of neighborhood homeowners' associations whose mission is to study, plan, coordinate and promote the overall civic, economic, ecological and cultural welfare of the community within the Olney Master Plan area. In addition, GOCA stages large and well attended community festivals, including the three day Olney Days celebration and the annual Fourth of July Picnic. The Olney Community Band puts on free concerts across the Olney-Sandy Spring area, specializing in classical favorites, show tunes, patriotic works, and novelty numbers. The band is open to adult and high school musicians from Olney and the surrounding communities. The Olney Big Band plays for numerous swing dancing events and community concerts in Olney, Sandy Spring, and Rockville, presenting the music of the 1930s, 40s and beyond.

Olney Days

Every year on the weekend after Mother's Day, the town holds a celebration of its founding. The celebration commences with the Mr. and Mrs. Olney pageant on Friday night. On Saturday night there are fireworks and there is a Joes Ride and stride. These fireworks are in place of ones one would normally have on the 4th of July. It continues on Sunday afternoon with the parade, which shuts down half of Georgia Avenue for an hour. The parade includes local girl and boy scout troops as well as Mr. and Mrs. Olney. During election years, there are many political campaigners that give out stickers.


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