In the 1830s, there was a settlement of houses and stores along Parr’s Ridge. During its early days, however, the settlement had no name. In the 1840s, the Town’s few citizens felt the need for a church and education for their children, so in 1846, the Ridge Presbyterian Church was built and a private school was conducted in the basement for the next 20 years. This church building has been preserved and is now known as Pine Grove Chapel.
The years between 1833 and 1850 were growing years for the B&O Railroad, which ran between Baltimore and Frederick, and then on to Cumberland and further west. Parr’s Ridge was a challenge to the engineer’s ability to design engines capable of pulling cars over the summit. Tracks were laid into the village and a station was built. As the railroad grew, so did the Town. Much of its prosperity can be traced to the B&O Railroad.
History tells of an Irish B&O brakeman whose ears were freezing from the keen, cold air which crosses Parr’s Ridge. He suggested the name Mount Airy would be appropriate. The name met with the favor of the people and became the Town’s legal name.
The next decade, 1860 forward, brings the Civil War period when Maryland stayed with the Union, but Mount Airy was very definitely southern in its sympathies. The railroad system was used to carry northern troops and supplies to the southern battlefield, and was to be jealously guarded by a New Jersey regiment stationed in Mount Airy. The officers and men were quartered at Pine Grove Chapel and the mess tent was erected to the rear of the church in what is now the cemetery. A sick and delirious soldier who wandered into Ridgeville and died was the first person given a Christian burial in the land at the back of the church.
By the 1890s, the Town had grown considerably and the Episcopal Church was built, followed by the Methodist and southern Methodist churches. In 1895, the B&O Railroad, trying to cope with the crossing at Parr’s ridge, conceived the idea of a tunnel, which in its day was a great engineering feat, and is now one of the longest tunnels east of the Rockies even today. The laboring force used to construct the tunnel brought turbulent times to Mount Airy with drunken brawls and shooting parties.
The B&O Railroad for many years brought children and the ill to Mount Airy for medical care in the Garrett Sanitarium. No longer economically tied to the railroad, Mount Airy is home for many who work along the Baltimore / Washington corridor, as well as families who have lived there for generations.