Sandy Spring Museum Credit: Photo credit: David Hartge

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.

William Faulkner penned that phrase, and nowhere is that sentiment truer than here, where a rich trove of historic sites preserves the past. There are, of course, the well-known landmarks: Glen Echo Park, the early 1900s amusement park turned art center; Bethesda Theatre, the art deco icon on Wisconsin Avenue; and the

Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market, conceived to help families survive the Depression. But scores of other sites tell the story of the area’s social and political history.

Sandy Spring Museum

The Sandy Spring Museum showcases the history of this primarily Quaker community as it was in the late 1800s. Built in 1980, the museum features artifacts from past residents’ lives: a hands-on room where children can try simple wooden toys; old cash registers and ledgers illustrating the practice of early credit at the town store; Quaker wedding dresses; spinning and weaving implements; and a kitchen fireplace with a mechanical spit for rotisserie chicken. There also are displays on schools, hospitals, mills and farming from the era.

The museum complex includes a collection of antique farm equipment, a room full of restored horse carriages, and a blacksmith shop that opens during special programs.

Sandy Spring Museum, 17901 Bentley Road, Sandy Spring; 301-774-0022; Open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Suggested contribution; $5 for adults, $3 for seniors. Free for children and museum members.

Clara Barton National Historic Site

Clara Barton designed her home to be not only a residence but also headquarters for the American Red Cross, complete with a hotel-like layout to accommodate live-in volunteers. Since it acquired the property in 1975, the National Park Service has restored 11 rooms of the building, which is located in a shady park in Glen Echo.

The restoration reveals Barton’s personal history—she lived in the house from 1897 to 1912—as well as the closely intertwined history of the American Red Cross, which she founded in 1881 and operated from the house from 1897 to 1904. Practical and clever, she came up with inexpensive pine paneling to hide storage closets for bandages, blankets and other disaster supplies; and ceilings crafted from bandage material to save money. The result is neither spare nor lavish, but a comfortable mix of functionality and charm.

Much of the interior today is original, including the blue willow china on the dining room table and the painting of Barton’s cat, also in the dining room. The restored office includes a letter press, graphophone (for dictation), manual typewriters and old-fashioned, two-piece telephones. Barton’s bedroom has been restored as it was in 1912, when she died there of double pneumonia at age 90.

Clara Barton House, 5801 Oxford Road, Glen Echo; 301-320-1410; Guided tours only, held on the hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, year round. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1. Free.

Gaithersburg Community Museum

The rumble of passing freight trains provides a sharp reminder of the present as visitors take in the past at the Gaithersburg Community Museum. Part working train station, part museum, the 1884 station house features permanent and rotating exhibits ranging from quilts to Civil War artillery shells. A favorite of many is the little red caboose, circa 1942, parked among other display cars on the museum grounds. Visitors can enter the caboose and learn, among other things, how the toilet once worked (emptying right onto the tracks until the 1970s), and how bay windows allowed railroad workers to peer down the tracks and check for trouble.

Other displays tell the story of the area’s canneries, mills, farms, and schools (visitors can ring the school marm’s bell). A model train chugs through miniature towns and mountains in one display case, and outside, a well-tended park includes photographs and markers that further illustrate the city’s history.

Gaithersburg Community Museum, 9 South Summit Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-258-6160; Open Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Free.

Monocacy Aqueduct

A testament to civil engineering, the Monocacy Aqueduct, built from 1829 to 1833, was the largest of 11 aqueducts along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and carried barges and boats across the Monocacy River from 1833 to 1924. Today, a visit to the park where it still stands offers a chance to admire this architectural accomplishment while picnicking along the idyllic riverbank below.

Built with granite blocks quarried from nearby Sugarloaf Mountain, the aqueduct endured raging floods as well as two attempts to blow it up by the Confederates during the Civil War. But after Hurricane Agnes in 1972, it had to be reinforced with steel.

In 2004-2005, the bridge’s seven arches, 10-foot-thick piers and imposing granite stone blocks were completely restored. Visitors can stroll the walkway at the top of the aqueduct for views of the river, or walk where barges and boats once glided to find the marks where they marred the stone banks of the dry canal bed. Hiking or biking along the tree-lined canal towpath beside the Potomac River will take you to Nolands Ferry, about two miles north, or White’s Ferry, about six miles south.

Monocacy Aqueduct, about a mile east of MD-Route 28 in Dickerson, 301-739-4200 (National Park Service Headquarters). Open sunrise to sunset, year round. Free.

White’s Ferry

Riding the ferry that crosses the Potomac from Dickerson, Md., to Leesburg, Va., is a great way to take in local history, especially if the weather is fine. First authorized in 1782, the ferry service operates on a cable system, carrying up to 24 cars at a time. Once crucial to farmers sending produce from Virginia down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to Washington, D.C., the ferry landing now is populated by picnickers and boaters, and hikers and bikers from the canal towpath, which passes nearby.

The area is steeped in Civil War past. The ferry itself, the Gen. Jubal A. Early, is named for the Confederate general who brought his troops right to the door of Washington, just after the Battle of Monocacy in 1864. Historic markers in the park describe Gen. Robert E. Lee’s 1862 invasion of Maryland on his way to the Battle of Antietam and its influence on the campaign at Gettysburg.

More recent history can be seen near the top windows of a riverside building, where a high-water mark commemorates 1972’s Hurricane Agnes. Inside the building, you can buy bait, snacks and sandwiches, or rent a canoe or picnic table.

White’s Ferry, 24801 Whites Ferry Road, Dickerson; 301-349-5200. Ferry runs 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. year-round, closes for ice or flooding. Store open seasonally, usually through October. Park open year-round. Ferry ride: $4, one way; $7, round trip for automobiles; $3, motorcycles; $1, bikes or pedestrians; $9-$12, trucks, charge per axle for trailers.

Beall-Dawson House and Stonestreet Museum

The Beall-Dawson House, circa 1815, and the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine, located across the lawn from one another in Rockville, both shed light on different aspects of 19th-century living.

The federal-style Beall-Dawson House is remarkable for its size and grandeur—2-1/2 stories, with Flemish bond brick exterior (an especially fancy way of laying brick), 11-foot ceilings and decorative plaster cornices. A tour teases out some social history, as well: Slaves and masters, of course, lived in separate worlds (an inventory of the property lists individual slaves along with axes, stacks of hay and cattle). But there also was a hierarchy for anyone entering the home: The front door was for guests, the side for court business (Upton Beall was clerk of the court for the county), and the back for servants.

Artifacts such as bedpans, a small metal bathtub for children, spinning wheels, and a card table set to play help visitors imagine the place in its heyday. Also on display is a dollhouse furnished in 19th-century style, revolving exhibits on such subjects as family pets, and local music history upstairs. Occasional living history tours involve demonstrations of kitchen arts, with a pie-rolling table and cooking fireplace.

The Stonestreet Museum offers a somewhat less prosaic view of 19th-century life. The small, one-room building, built in 1852 for Dr. Edward Elisha Stonestreet, was his office until he died in 1903. A curtain would have separated waiting and examination “rooms,” but now display cases line the entire perimeter. Among the exhibits are leech jars and portable leech boxes, used to bleed patients; a hand-operated stomach pump; and an amputation kit that looks like a set of carving knives. On the second Sunday of each month, “Dr. Stonestreet” (aka interpreter Clarence Hickey) explains his trade.

Also worth a visit: the well-maintained, period vegetable garden in front of the Beall-Dawson home. Plants typical of the period include potatoes, onions, beets, collards, okra, pumpkins, salsify, tobacco, cotton and peanuts.

Beall-Dawson Historic Park, 103 West Montgomery Ave., Rockville; 301-762-1492; Open noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, closed major holidays. Fee: $3, adults; $2, students and seniors; free for children under 6 and Montgomery County Historical Society members.

The Underground Railroad Experience Trail

Montgomery County was a link in the Underground Railroad, and this Sandy Spring trail helps visitors imagine how it worked. Walking the two-mile path through woods and farmland shows what it might have been like for freedom-seekers as they eluded trackers, found food and survived terrifying manhunts. Today, trained volunteers lead the way at 10 a.m. every Saturday from the first Saturday of April to Nov. 7, rain or shine, or you can pick up a self-guided tour map at the trailhead and follow the trail markers yourself.

The trip begins at Woodlawn Manor and Barn, a Georgian-style brick house, circa 1800, with an architecturally magnificent stone barn constructed in 1832. Guides note how difficult it would be to navigate here at night, and point out landmarks that could have been used had this pathway been an actual route on the railroad. The hike concludes at a 300-year-old Champion white ash tree near the Sandy Spring, which gave the nearby town its name.

Underground Railroad Experience Trail, Woodlawn Manor Cultural Park, 16501 Norwood Road, Sandy Spring; 301-650-4373.

Guided hikes every Saturday at 10 a.m., from the first Saturday of April through Nov. 7; weekday hikes available on request; self-guided tour, sunrise to sunset. Appropriate for children 8 and older. Free.

Virginia Myers is a freelance writer living in Takoma Park.