Shutterbug documents Gaithersburg's past and present
By Patricia M. Murret
Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008
Looking out an office window in May, Shaun Curtis of Gaithersburg saw the fields of the historic Crown Farm property, which until several years ago housed a farm dating to the late 1800s.
"Oh man, they're going to destroy this!" he thought. Camera in hand, the 27-year-old sneaked onto the property, marveling at two 19th century houses, a log cabin, barns, sheds and silos.
After three months of collecting and snapping dozens of photographs documenting the city's changing landscape, Curtis launched the Web site "Gaithersburg Then & Now," that takes viewers on a trip through history. The site, www.shauncurtis.com, features Clopper Mill, the Kentlands Mansion and Granary Row, as well as buildings that have been demolished.
Three days after launching, Curtis had received 45 thank-you e-mails. Word spread after he posted a link on Facebook, a social networking site, to alert fellow Quince Orchard High School graduates. A city planner sent the link to city employees.
"Seeing the side-by-sides has made some of the history come alive for me!" wrote Liz Johnson, who lives in the Meems House at 104 Chestnut St. Curtis describes the home as built in 1879 by Martha Meems in a style inspired by the French Second Empire.
"I'm definitely shocked by this reaction," said Curtis. "I was just going to show this to my friends." Now he is thinking long term, planning additions and considering donating his current photos and management of the Web site to the city.
To learn more about the historic Crown Farm property, which the city annexed several years ago as part of a $1 billion development project stalled by the economic downturn, Curtis delved into archives at the Montgomery County Historical Society and a book about the city. That's when he saw the historic Fulks House on Frederick Avenue.
"I looked at that house and I researched it," he said. "And I couldn't believe it was still there and I had never noticed it because it is a cool looking house."
He began bicycling around town with his camera and taking photographs. Eliza Voight, a city planner and historic preservationist, provided him copies of photos from city archives.
"I put them side-by-side and thought ‘That looks kind of cool,'" said Curtis, who started working on the Web site in September.
These days, Curtis is asking friends and family to dig through photographs.
"It's easier to find photos from the 20s and 40s than for the 70s and 80s," Curtis said. "This area has changed so much in the past 20 years. ... I want to see recent stuff like shopping centers being built, Lakeforest mall being built -- stuff like that.
That's one good-looking guy!