Dowden's Ordinary Park – Clarksburg, Maryland - Atlas Obscura

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Dowden's Ordinary Park

Clarksburg, Maryland

This suburban park recalls the history of a famous tavern. Despite the name, it's no ordinary place! 


The term “ordinary” once applied to a tavern meal offered at a fixed price, but eventually referred to taverns in general. One such place was opened by Michael Dowden in 1750 in Clarksburg, between Rockville and Frederick Towne. 

The land on which the tavern once stood is rich with history that is shared through a number of interpretive signs, historical markers, and a “ghost tavern” that stands on the spot where Dowden’s Ordinary once stood. Flanked on either side by brick chimneys, the metal frame, stone foundation, and floors, and decorative lights create a striking image of the original tavern that once stood on the grounds.

There is a stone historical marker in the southeastern corner of the park that provides details of the tavern’s history, including it serving as an encampment for General Edward Braddock’s troops in 1755. Interestingly, Braddock’s name is misstated as “George Edward” on the plaque, perhaps due to the frequency of George Washington’s inclusion on such markers in the D.C. metro area.

Another nearby historical marker goes into greater detail regarding Braddock and his troops’ stay at Dowden’s Ordinary on their way to Fort Duquesne to engage the French in a battle that would ultimately cost General Braddock his life. Accompanying this marker is a replica of a three-pound British brass field cannon, so named for the weight of the cannonballs it was designed to fire. 

The park features a playground with period-themed structures—a horse, a general store, a stagecoach, and an elephant. While the latter would seem a bit out of place, but a historical marker next to the playground puts perspective to the plastic pachyderm’s presence.

On an 1811 visit to the site, which had been renamed Scholl’s Tavern, Benjamin Latrobe (architect of the U.S. Capitol), made a drawing in his journal with notes detailing his experience seeing the first elephant ever seen in North America: “This elephant, a female, is ten years old, 8 feet 6 inch (sic) high. Her tusks have been broken off, but are growing again, having lengthened about an inch in the last three months… She takes a whip and cracks it, eats 2 bushels of corn in the cob a day…She draws a cork from a bottle with her finger, empties it into her trunk, then pours, or blows into her mouth.”

The elephant had been purchased by Captain Jabob Crowninshield in India for $450. He later sold it to Mr. Owen for $10,000. The elephant toured the east coast between 1796 and 1818. People would pay 25-50 cents to see the elephant at various marketplaces and taverns, with the final exhibition on record at York, Pennsylvania on July 25, 1818. True to Latrobe’s description, the playground elephant has clipped tusks.

This truly remarkable park is beautifully landscaped, well maintained, and very much worth the time to explore and enjoy! 

Know Before You Go

There is no onsite parking, but a nearby parking lot at a strip mall across Rte. 355 is a short walk from the park.

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September 15, 2021

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