Currently viewing the tag: "Catoctin Furnace"

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment

6: Hot On The Trail

Rubbing his eyes and yawning, Mechanicstown Sheriff Paul Cresap rode his horse into the collier’s camp on Catoctin Mountain. This was the fourth camp he had visited today. The colliers moved their camps from time to time to stay close to lumber being cut for the Catoctin Furnace. The furnace needed 800 bushels of charcoal each day to run, and each pound of charcoal came from an acre of hardwood trees.

A couple of people in the village of Catoctin Furnace had told Paul they had heard something about one collier burning to death. Paul thought it might be the fourth arson fire, particularly if the arsonist who had burned homes in Catoctin Furnace, along Frederick Road, and on West Main Street in Mechanicstown had been setting fires as he moved west. It would make sense that there was a fire on the mountain. Paul was probably lucky the man didn’t start a forest fire.

He had had little luck finding out who had burned to death, and he was beginning to think it was just a story. As the colliers at each camp would tell him no one in their group had died, they would direct him to another camp.

Paul knew something was off about this camp as soon as he rode in. The other camps had been a collection of smoking mounds of earth or circles of charcoal that needed to be raked from the dirt. The colliers tended to sing, swear, or just cough from the wood smoke.

This camp had mounds, but only a couple were smoking. A couple of others had collapsed but hadn’t been raked out. Paul also saw what looked like had been a cabin that had been burned to the ground.

And the place was quiet. If not for the wood smoke, he would have said it was abandoned.

“Hello,” Paul called.

A man walked out from behind one stack. He was covered in soot.

“Who are you?”

“Sheriff Cresap from Mechanicstown.”

“This isn’t Mechanicstown.”

“No, but I heard that someone had been burned to death up here. Do you know anything about it?”

The man nodded. “It was my brother.”

“And who are you?”

“Abednego Hunt.”

“Can you tell me what happened? It may tie into some other things that have happened,” Paul asked.

“Meshach — that’s my brother, — was on top of a stack and it opened up under him. He fell through and burned. I couldn’t get to him in time.” Abednego shook his head. “It was horrible. The screams…”

Paul stared at the stacks. They looked like mounds of earth to him. He had seen them as the colliers built them in other camps, though. He knew there was a stack of logs beneath the earth. The dirt was used to control the amount of air that got into the stacks.

“It was an accident then?” Paul asked.

“Of course it was. Shack didn’t jump into the center of a burning stack on purpose!”

Paul held up a hand. “Sorry. That’s not what I meant. I mean, no one could have done anything to the stack to make it give way under your brother.”

Abednego thought for a moment and shook his head. “No. It’s not the first time something like that has happened. It all depends on how the logs burn.” He paused. “Why would you think someone did it to Shack on purpose?”

“I don’t, but someone set fires last night at the furnace and in my town. They are all connected. I thought the fire that killed your brother might be, too.”

“What makes you think those fires were connected?”

“They happened on the same night, and they didn’t start naturally. Whoever tried to burn the houses down, set them all up the same way.”

“Nothing like that happened here. This was an accident I wished never happened.”

Paul nodded. “Sorry for your loss.”

He looked at the ground and picked up a piece of wood that had been turned into charcoal. Then he looked over at the charred beams of what had been a cabin. They both were burned wood, but the charcoal was darker and denser. It had to be burned in a special way to become charcoal. It didn’t come from a regular fire.

“This is charcoal, isn’t it?” Paul asked, holding up the chunk he had picked up.

“That’s what we… I make here.”

“What’s the difference between this and burned wood?”

“That is burned wood. We just burn it in a certain way, so it will continue to burn and burn hotter than wood. It can’t have too much oxygen when it burns, or it won’t be of any use as charcoal, but if it has too little air, it won’t burn fully.”

Paul nodded and walked back to his horse. Abednego followed him.

“What are you going to do now?” the collier asked.

“I’ve got some thinking to do and an arsonist to catch.”

Paul headed back to his office. When he got there, he took his bottle from his desk drawer and poured himself a drink. He could concentrate better when the whiskey took the edge off the day.

He pulled the piece of charcoal out and set it on the desk in front of him. He had found charcoal around each of the houses that had been burned. It couldn’t have been left over from the fire, according to Abednego. Also, while it wouldn’t have been unusual to find it at the ironmaster’s house, it would have been odd to find it at the other two houses. People around here used firewood in their stoves. It was abundant and cheaper than charcoal.

It would have required a lot of charcoal to build a fire around three houses if it was used for that. Whoever had started the fires had access to a lot of charcoal and knew how to use it.

Then there was how the logs that were used in the fire were laid upright against the houses rather than being piled in one spot or lengthwise along the houses. Colliers stacked wood that way and also had access to charcoal.

Things were pointing to a collier as the arsonist, but there were a couple dozen of them on the mountain.

Which one would have wanted to start the fires and why? Paul fell asleep trying to figure this out. He woke up coughing. He sat up and quickly doubled over as his coughing continued. He opened his eyes, but they watered. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw the room was filled with smoke.

He ran to the door. He reached out to open it, but when he put his hand on the doorknob, it felt hot. He jerked his hand away.

He hurried to the window and looked out. He saw flames.

He coughed and fell to his knees. The air near the floor was clearer. He took a few deep gulps of air and stood up. He ran to a side window and saw more flames.

The arsonist had set his office on fire.

How was he going to get out of here?

He ran to the side door and wasn’t surprised to feel the doorknob was also hot. He looked around, trying to find a way out. He wondered if he could get onto the roof and go over the flames, but there was no way onto the roof.

He ran back to the cell and grabbed the straw mattress off the metal frame. Back at the side door, he laid on the floor to catch his breath again. Then he stood up, pulled his shirt sleeve down over his hand, and opened the door.

He had to push hard because logs were leaning against it, which he expected. Flames rushed in, singeing him. He threw the mattress down, which momentarily created a clear path for him. He ran outside and a few yards from the building.

A crowd had already started forming a bucket brigade, but Paul could see it was too late. The fire had caught the roof on fire. The building would collapse soon.

He looked around and saw a familiar face in the crowd, someone who shouldn’t be there. It was Abednego Hunt. Paul started toward him, but the collier disappeared into the crowd.

…to be continued next month

Robert McPherson Gardiner

by Terry Pryor

Lt. Robert McPherson Gardiner in uniform. Courtesy Photo

Although born in Denver, Colorado, Robert McPherson Gardiner spent his childhood and youth at the Auburn home in Catoctin Furnace. It was from here that he joined the Army in 1943.

This is, in part, his story. I did not know him, but I am married to his nephew, Christopher Orth Gardiner, who has regaled me with wonderful stories of this man and his lifetime accomplishments.


308th Field Artillery Battalion

APO 78, U. S. Army


8 August 1945

Subject: Recommendation for Award

To:  Commanding General, 78th Infantry Division, APO 78, U. S. Army.

1. Under the provisions of AR600-45, as amended, it is recommended that ROBERT. M. GARDINER, First Lieutenant, 0528776, Field Artillery, Battery “C”, 308th Field Artillery Battalion, present for duty, be awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action in connection with military operations against the enemy on 17 January 1945.

2. Detailed Description of Incident: Lt GARDINER, a Field Artillery Forward Observer, was with an Infantry company assigned the mission of holding a piece of high ground and a pill box in the vicinity of Rafflesbrand, Germany. On 17 January 1945, the Germans attacked in force to retake this ground and to reoccupy the pill box. The Infantry Lt GARDINER was supporting was driven from the dug in positions in front of the pill box, leaving it exposed to the enemy. Realizing the importance of the position, Lt GARDINER held his ground and continued firing on the enemy in spite of the fact that his position was overrun. The Germans subjected the pill box to heavy artillery and mortar fire, wounding Lt GARDINER and killing his radio operator. Lt GARDINER then himself operated the radio and continued to observe the enemy. The results of his accurate calls for artillery fire were devastating and were greatly responsible for the disorganization of the planned attack by the Germans. He continued to call for and adjust fires for a period of six hours until the ground was again secured by our own Infantry. This artillery played an important part in repulsing the enemy and driving them from the hill. Although wounded, this Officer remained at his observation post for 48 hours, continuing to bring artillery fore down on the enemy at every suspicious move. Lt GARDINER distinguished himself throughout combat as being one of the most dependable, aggressive, and courageous forward observers in the 308th Field Artillery Battalion. His aggressiveness, personal courage and heroic action are in accordance with the highest military traditions.

* Unfortunately, this letter is missing the last part of the page, but he was awarded that Silver Star that he so deserved.

The following is from the November 16, 2018, Wall Street Journal, by James R. Hagerty.

Robert Gardiner, Wall Street Giant, Helped Sears With ‘Socks and Stocks’ Strategy

Army veteran was part of building Dean Witter into a powerhouse and launching Discover credit card.

Stay put or flee? Atop a hill in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest in January 1945, Robert Gardiner, a 22-year-old Army officer, had to make a quick decision.

As his unit faced swarming German troops, he was in a concrete pillbox and responsible for directing artillery fire. He stayed, even after mortar fire briefly knocked him out and killed his radio operator. With blood trickling down his back, Mr. Gardiner took over the radio duties to provide cover for his troops.

The 6-foot-7 Army officer, nicknamed “Stretch,” might have made an easy target, but he survived and returned home to launch a career on Wall Street, where nothing ever seemed to fluster him. He was deeply involved in two mergers that helped transform the securities industry from a gaggle of small partnerships into a business dominated by global companies.

Mr. Gardiner, who died Nov. 3 at the age of 95, headed Reynolds Securities when it merged into Dean Witter in 1978, creating one of the largest Wall Street firms. In 1981, he was president of Dean Witter Reynolds when Sears, Roebuck & Co. paid about $610 million for the firm as part of its strategy of offering financial services—including insurance, real-estate brokerage and investment funds—alongside refrigerators and underpants.

Robert MacPherson Gardiner was born Nov. 17, 1922, in Denver. His family had a candy business in New York but had moved to Colorado with the hope that cleaner air would help his father, Clement Gardiner, recover from tuberculosis. The elder Mr. Gardiner died when Robert was 9, and the family relocated to a dairy farm near Frederick, Md. (Auburn) He attended the Trinity-Pawling boarding school in Pawling, N.Y., where he was on the basketball team.

At Princeton University, he majored in history and participated in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. He wore an Army uniform and marched to classes and meals.

“I remember practicing slouching and bending my knees to appear shorter when measured so that I would qualify for the Army’s height limit,” he wrote later. After graduating from Princeton in 1943, he was inducted into the Army. In October 1944, he was shipped to Europe. As an artillery forward observer, he wrote, “I served as the eyes of the gunners.” He was awarded Silver Star and Purple Heart medals for remaining in the exposed pillbox in the Hürtgen Forest. He also won a Bronze Star and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.

After the war, he became a research analyst at the Wall Street firm A.M. Kidder & Co. Five years later, he jumped to a bigger firm, Reynolds & Co. He soon found he was unhappy there and wrote a letter of resignation. The firm’s founder asked why he was leaving. “I told him it was a lousy firm, and I told him why it was a lousy firm,” Mr. Gardiner recalled in a 2005 oral history. “Instead of throwing me out on my ear, he said, ‘Why don’t you become my assistant?’ Maybe we can do something about it.’”

By 1958, Mr. Gardiner was managing partner of Reynolds as it opened offices across the U.S. and in Canada. Reynolds eventually merged with Dean Witter, which was strong on the West Coast, creating a national firm to rival Merrill Lynch.

The 1981 takeover offer from Sears was too generous to refuse, he said later. Sears soon promoted him to CEO of Dean Witter. Financial-services kiosks popped up in hundreds of stores. By the time Mr. Gardiner retired in 1986, however, the kiosks still weren’t producing much business for Dean Witter. The retailer abandoned its “socks and stocks” strategy in the early 1990s. Dean Witter ended up as part of Morgan Stanley.

Though investment kiosks in Sears stores didn’t work out, the idea of combining a securities firm, an insurer and a real-estate broker was sound, Mr. Gardiner said in the oral history. The best solution, he suggested, would have been to keep them together and spin off the Sears stores. One lasting business that emerged from the combination was the Discover credit card, which he helped launch.

In his later years, he served as an adviser to Morgan Stanley and had an office in the World Trade Center. He tended to show up early at the office and start his day by tipping his fedora to the receptionist. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was stuck in traffic near the Holland Tunnel, saving him from the terrorist attack.

Mr. Gardiner was a longtime trustee of the Boys’ Club of New York and endowed a school at a Boys’ Club summer camp. He also supported the Guggenheim Museum and the Trinity-Pawling School, among other causes.

Mr. Gardiner is survived by Elizabeth Walker Gardiner, whom he married in 1975. An earlier marriage ended in divorce. He is also survived by three of his four children and two grandchildren.

Friends recalled his relentless optimism. When the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 23% in one day in October 1987, he assured colleagues it would quickly rebound. In his early 80s, he was still hoping to improve his golf score. After he had a stroke on his 89th birthday, doctors didn’t expect him to walk again. “I disregarded their prognosis,” he said later in an interview with a Pawling school publication.

He regained mobility with help from a walker and enjoyed six more years of shuttling between homes in Gulf Stream, Fla., and Far Hills, N.J. “I like to be in New Jersey when the tulips are blooming,” he said. “I’m a big fan of tulips.”

Jayden Myers

For those traveling in the area, whether it be for sightseeing, visiting, or just passing through, there are some unique places that you could stop visit this summer and fall.

Locally, spots such as Cunningham Falls State Park, Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, and the Catoctin Furnace are places worth visiting.

Cunningham Falls State Park is a beautiful place to visit, not just for its scenery but for some of the activities it offers. There are many trails that are great for hiking, and the lake holds opportunities for swimming, boating, and fishing. If planning for a longer stay, there are campsites for overnight visits. You can also visit Catoctin Furnace while visiting Cunningham, as it is located within.

Catoctin Furnace is appealing to history buffs, as it holds history from the American Revolutionary War and much more. You can explore what remains and enjoy the views as you do.

Catoctin Wildlife Preserve is a lovely place to go and enjoy the wildlife. You can feed and touch some of the animals, as well as enjoy some of the other activities it offers. It can be a very fun experience for both kids and adults.

For areas a bit farther away, Deep Creek Lake and Ocean City are some great family vacation options.

Deep Creek Lake has something for everyone. You can rent estates in the area to serve as a homebase while exploring all the recreational options lake has to offer. The lake has tons of different activities for the whole family. In certain sectioned-off locations, it is safe to swim and play, as it is roped off and has lifeguards during the summer. The lake is also open to boating and fishing, as well as other water activities.

Ocean City has many family-friendly activities, like miniature golf, amusement parks, and water parks. On the boardwalk, there are arcades, shops, stands, and you can listen to the waves from the beach. On the beach, you can swim, play, boat, and fish. Fun for the whole family.

One other great place to stay in Maryland is Assateague Island. It has amazing scenery and wild horses roaming the island. You can swim, camp, and sightsee while there. You can go kayaking, see the wildlife, go hiking, horseback riding, and more!

Make sure to check out some of the amazing places in Maryland this summer and fall.

by Priscilla Rall

Oscar Sykes was born in 1916 in Catoctin Furnace to William and Carrie Ann Stackhouse Sykes. His father was a lumberman from Canada whose own father was killed by a falling tree while working as a lumberjack. Oscar was one of three sons and two daughters. William died in 1919 when Oscar was just three, and he is buried in Lewistown. From then on, Oscar was raised mostly by his sister, Ida. He was very fortunate to be raised by his sister, as one of his brothers was put in an orphanage when their father passed. His mother later married Harry Sweeney, and they lived in Catoctin Furnace. Ida married Howard M. Kemp, who was a blacksmith and had a great impact on Oscar’s life.

Oscar moved to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a town then known for making wooden pipes for water systems. He was surprised to learn that Pennsylvania schools were not segregated like those in Maryland.

Moving once again, he lived in State College, Pennsylvania, with an aunt. Then, it was back to Catoctin Furnace, to live in a house across from the church.

Route 15 had not been widened at that time, and the boys swam in Locust Pond, located where the overpass walkway is now. The furnace was already in a state of disrepair, but the Dinky railroad was still in operation, and you could ride it up to Thurmont.

The trolley also went through Thurmont, and Oscar loved to hitch a ride on it to Braddock Heights to enjoy all the entertainment there. The main business in Catoctin Furnace at the time was making barrel staves from the thousands of dead chestnut trees covering Catoctin Mountain. Businesses also made telephone poles, crossties for the poles, and the wood screws that held the glass insulators on electric poles.

Oscar and his mother loved to ice skate on the upper and lower ponds there. They would place a log by the side of the pond and sit on it to lace up their skates and build a fire nearby to keep warm. Carrie was a gifted healer. She cared for pregnant women and delivered their babies. She would tap a pine tree and make a healing salve from the sap, just one of her many old-time recipes for medicine.

Oscar left school after eighth grade, and by age 13, he was working for Mr. Harding at his blacksmith shop in Mt. Pleasant, Maryland. The building is still there, at the end of the store.

An old buggy maker, Coleman Laddie, would sit by the fire and tell of his buggy shop in Frederick on All Saints Street. When Oscar mentioned he wanted a pincer to trim horses’ hooves, Mr. Laddie offered to show him how to make one. Eventually, Oscar made all of the tools he needed for blacksmithing and, most importantly, learned how to use an anvil correctly. Later, Oscar worked at Howard Kemp’s blacksmith shop in Frederick at the corner of South and Carroll Street.

Farmers brought their produce to Frederick, and it was especially busy when sweet corn was hauled in wagons, pulled by horses down East Street to the canneries. Many farmers took advantage of being in town to get their horses reshod or wooden wagon wheels repaired, so Oscar was especially busy at harvest time.

For wheels, they would buy the hubs and make the spokes and wooden wheels. Then they would have to place the metal rims on the wooden wheels, a complex process. On the weekends, Frederick was a bustling place, with cars and wagons parked along the main streets and benches up and down the sidewalks, filled with citizens sharing the latest news and gossip.

Then the Great Depression hit. There were no jobs to be had, and many people didn’t even have enough to eat. Hobos were a common sight. There was a CCC camp in Catoctin Furnace where Oscar’s Uncle Carl found work. Oscar did a lot of hunting, particularly in Canada, and would give the meat from rabbits, pheasants, deer, and even bear to his family and friends for food. Oscar remembered farmers who would come to his sister’s husband, Howard, crying as they had no money to pay him. Howard would take a dollar or two, and Oscar would later stop by to get another dollar as they tried to pay off their bill. Unemployed African Americans congregated on the corner of Patrick and Market streets, hoping that a farmer might need a hand for making hay or cutting corn.

Oscar fondly recalled that on nights with a full moon, he would join neighbors and shock corn for 20 cents a shock. Later, they would return to husk the dried corn. Oscar also worked on Guy and Will Water’s farms. He even shod horses at the Buckingham School. Oscar wasn’t afraid of hard work, but his fondest memories were of working with Tom Fox at his blacksmith shop on South Street, where he finished his journeyman’s training and became a full-fledged smithy.

In 1936, Oscar married Dorothy Brand from Brunswick. They had one son in 1944. He decided to join the Navy and, in March 1942, began work as a blacksmith at the David Taylor Model Basin in Carderock in Montgomery County. It was a top-secret facility for testing military vessels and equipment, so important that Marines guarded it. The complex consisted of a model shop, machine shop, blacksmith and welding shop, and a machine shop. Alongside the shops were two huge water basins, each approximately one-half-mile long. Oscar’s job was to test all of the metals to be used in ships and submarines. He tested the metals for compression and tensile strength. Along with an engineer, Oscar helped design what he called a “noise maker.”

This was at a time when Germans were using torpedoes that were attracted to the sounds made by a vessel’s engines. To create a kind of decoy, they made a metal device that created such noise that the enemy torpedoes honed in on it and exploded harmlessly behind the ship. Oscar also designed the point for a spear that was placed on lifeboats so that a shipwrecked sailor could use it to kill fish to eat, as well as a hook on the front of a lifeboat to hopefully use to be hauled to safety by a rescue boat. There was much more that Oscar felt he still did not have the authority to disclose.

He worked for 30 years at the David Taylor Model Basin as their top metallurgist, while also consulting at the National Bureau of Standards and at the Navy Yard. Pretty good for a boy who just finished eighth grade and was coached by a buggy-maker from the 1800s!

Although he enjoyed recalling the good times, there were plenty of bad times, which he preferred not to dwell upon. His most difficult memory was when he lost his beloved wife in 1954.

When the author interviewed Mr. Sykes for the Veterans History Project in 2007, Oscar was still driving everywhere, going out dancing in Martinsburg, and enjoying a healthy, full life, living with his doting grandson. He was extremely proud of his interview and went to all his friends to brag that his was the longest interview done to date. He even drove to see Mark Lewis, the friend who recommended that I talk to him.

It was heartbreaking to learn that he died of the flu just two weeks after his interview. Oscar Sykes exemplifies the American dream that anyone with determination can be anything through hard work.

Oscar and his wife, Dorothy, and son.

Oscar and his son.

Catoctin Voices Evening of Poetry opens its 2018 series with guest poet, Jessica Flynn, on Friday, April 20, at 7:00 p.m. in the Collier’s Log House, located at 12607 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont. Flynn, of Gardners, Pennsylvania, has written poetry for sixteen years and performed as a Spoken Word Artist for over four years. She represented the USA as an award-winning Poet of 2015 in the International Poetry Festival in Macedonia. Her YouTube channel, “The Hippie Housewife,” currently features fifty-nine videos on topics such as art, crafts, food, nature, family, animals, tattooing, dreadlocks, hula hooping, children, and more. She produces two videos per week. Her husband, Dustin Nispel, is also an award-winning published poet and Spoken Word Artist.

Catoctin Voices is open to the public and features a guest poet from the region every third Friday of the month, from 7:00-9:00 p.m., April through November. The venue is held in the village of Catoctin Furnace at the historic Collier’s Cabin, courtesy of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. Anyone who writes poetry or has a favorite poem by another author may share up to three pieces during the 45-minute open mic time. Students are most welcome! Open readings precede the featured poet and refreshments are always served. For more information, call 301-418-3375.

Jessica Flynn, featured guest poet at Catoctin Voices Evening of Poetry on April 20, 2018.

Calling all artists for the 2018 Spring in the Village/Art at the Furnace event in historic Catoctin Furnace in Thurmont.

During the past six years, more than 3,500 visitors have enjoyed the crafts, food, and traditional atmosphere of the historic village during this family-friendly event.

For more information, please visit or call 301-271-7574.

by Theresa Dardanell

I recently visited the Catoctin Episcopal Parish, more commonly known as Harriet Chapel. I asked some of the members to tell me what is special about their church. Their responses were: “a welcoming community…a most loving church…members who are very close…one big family…wonderful incredible hearts.”

I’m sure that’s the reason that, along with people who live in the area, members travel from Gaithersburg, Mount Pleasant, Myersville, and Frederick in Maryland, as well as Waynesboro in Pennsylvania, to attend Sunday services.

“We have an emphasis on scripture and prayer in our worship. To enhance our prayer lives, we make and give away Anglican prayer beads that have been requested by people all over the world, and we have a prayer team that prays for anyone in need. We have Bible study and there is a Bible challenge, where I challenge parishioners to read all of one of the Gospels during Advent. This year, everyone read the Gospel of Luke and The Book of Acts. Everyone who finished reading is invited to my house for a reception and discussion,” said Pastor Sally Joyner Giffen.

Catoctin Episcopal Parish-Harriet Chapel is located in the village of Catoctin Furnace, which is three miles south of Thurmont. Catoctin Furnace Iron Works, originally known as Johnson furnace, began iron-making operations in 1776.  As the numbers of workers and their families in the area grew, the owner of Catoctin Furnace donated land for a meeting house, completed in 1828. Services were originally led by a Moravian Minister. After the furnace was torn down, the stones from the stacks were used in the construction of the beautiful arches in the church, as well as the walls of the office area. In 1833, the church became a mission church of the Frederick All Saints’ Episcopal Church until 1921, when it became a separate parish. Some of the interesting facts from the website are: Harriet Chapel is named after Harriet McPherson Brien, who was the wife of the owner of the furnace when the church was constructed; Harriet died in April 1827, prior to the construction being completed; Several presidents have worshiped at Harriet Chapel, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter; Catoctin Episcopal Parish – Harriet Chapel is the only Episcopal Church located in Northern Frederick County.

The church maintains a beautiful memorial garden that provides a place for reflection, inspiration, and reassurance. A plaque inside the church lists the names of the church members interred in the garden.

Parishioners are very involved in community outreach activities.  Pastor Sally, who is also the manager of the Thurmont Food Bank, a non-profit ministry of the Thurmont Ministerium, said that most of the members are involved in some way with this activity. They donate food, supplies, and funds; help with deliveries; and distribute food when the food bank is open.  In addition, the parishioners provide Christmas gifts for families and senior citizens who might otherwise go without; donate “back to school” supplies for students in the area; send Christmas cards to inmates at the Frederick detention center; and organize Bingo parties at Montevue Assisted Living.

One of the favorite outreach activities is participation in the Thurmont Ministerium summer lunch program for students in the Catoctin feeder area. Each participating church provides lunch, along with games, arts, and crafts, for one week during the summer.   All of this community service is given by the approximately one hundred families in the parish.

Special events are held throughout the year. “Peaceful Thursdays,” which began with the first Thursday in October, ends on February 1. Everyone in the community was invited to bring a lunch to eat while watching a video and relaxing with coloring books and markers.

A Mutual Support Group for anyone grieving the loss of a loved one will be held the second Thursday of the month in February, March, April, and May, from noon-1:00 p.m. Everyone is invited to bring a lunch or something to share.

Fundraisers held by the church not only provide needed funds, but also bring the community together.  In partnership with the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, they participate in the Spring in the Village and Christmas in the Village.  Sarah’s Garden Social is held during the Spring event. Flowers, plants, homemade baked goods, and food are sold. Christmas items along with baked goods and food are available during the Christmas event. Craft vendors are invited to participate in both events, as well as the extremely popular Yard Sale/Fall Fest event, which is held the weekend of Colorfest. Spring in the Village will be held May 5-6, 2018, and Christmas in the Village will be on December 1, 2018.

Two services with communion are held each Sunday. The 8:00 a.m. traditional service uses the Rite 1 liturgy, and traditional hymns are sung with organ accompaniment. The music at the 10:30 a.m. contemporary service (Rite 2) is accompanied by organ and guitar.

The choir sings on special occasions, but they practice every week and help lead the congregation in song during the weekly services.

Sunday school for all ages is held during the 10:30 a.m. service, and children are brought to the sanctuary for Holy Communion.

Newcomers are invited to participate in all the activities and services. The church is located at 12625 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont. For more information, please call 301-271-4554 or visit the website at

Photo by Theresa Dardanell

Pastor Sally Joyner Giffin and members of the Catoctin Episcopal Parish – Harriet Chapel.

Poet Tracy Seffers of Charles Town, West Virginia, will read from her latest work, Some Other Life, at the monthly poetry gathering, known as “Catoctin Voices,” on Friday, September 15, 2017, at 7:00 p.m. The event has moved to the historic Collier’s Cabin, located at 12607 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont, home of The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society.

Publisher Finishing Line Press of Kentucky, describes Seffer’s work as bringing “…into view the deep ‘other life’ hidden underneath the commonplace. It is a celebration of the small and unseen lives that reveal deeper truth both divine and deeply human: the poetry sings an incarnational universe.”

  1. Claire Cantwell poet, columnist, and host of “Catoctin Voices” wrote this jacket review: “Tracy Seffers gives us her well-lived poems with an intensity and intimacy that both scores and soothes us, excites and rests, charges and stills. She invites us to float in her world of familiar themes and objects, but what is unfamiliar is her vision, awash in something. Shall I say wisdom? Perhaps it’s more akin to grace.”

The poems demonstrate “a musical ear and fine sensibilities that tap deeply into and from the Appalachian landscape and her own heritage,” writes Dr. Sylvia Baily Shurbutt, professor of English, Shepherd University, senior editor of Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and Director of NEH Voices from the Misty Mountains. “Her poems have an exquisite sense of structure and touch the reader with the quality of language and art. This is a book you will love.”

Tracy Seffers lives with her family on the banks of the Shenandoah River, under the shadow of the Blue Ridge. Her poetry has been featured in reading events throughout the Jefferson County WV Arts Council and in WV Writer’s podcasts; and published in regional literary journals such as the Bluestone Review, Backbone Mountain Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel Literary Journal, the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, and in online journals, including Still: The Journal and Assisi: an Online Journal of Arts and Letters.

“Catoctin Voices” is open to the public and features a guest poet from the region, in addition to open readings from anyone who writes poetry or has a favorite poem by another author to share. Approximately forty-five minutes of open reading time precedes the featured poet. Refreshments are always served. For more information, call 301-418-3375.

James Rada, Jr.

While the design of the Thurmont Regional Library was inspired by the Catoctin Furnace, when you walk into the Thurmont Center for Agricultural History, you’ll see a different inspiration. Two windows from old Moravian Church that had been on Water Street in the late nineteenth Century, hang from one wall. On another wall hangs a grange mural painted in the 1960s by Elizabeth Holter Howard.

Tucked away in one corner of the library, the Thurmont Center for Agricultural History’s collections continue to grow.

“We are saving stuff for the future, when people start wondering more about the farms that used to be in the county and how they operated,” said Thurmont Library Manager Erin Dingle.

Mary Mannix, manager of the Maryland Room at the C. Burr Artz Library in Frederick, said that the idea for an agricultural history room first took root about seventeen years ago, when the Maryland Room obtained its first major agriculture-related collection: a set of annual reports from the county extension agent. There wasn’t room at the old library for the collections, so it remained at the Maryland room until the new library was built.

“We’ve been trying to collect primary and secondary information of the agricultural history and culture in Frederick County,” Mannix said. “A lot of it relates the county granges, which as a social organization have been a large part of agriculture in Maryland and the nation from post-Civil War to the mid-twentieth century.

Besides the extension agent reports, the room also has the Pomona Grange archives, extension service publications, Jefferson Grange archives, Maryland State Grange records, and many more. There are also private collections that have been donated to the room.

“You’ll see people using the room to find information regarding the history of family farms,” said Mannix.

The center also has local history, genealogy information, and microfilm copies of newspapers.

“People searching for the genealogy are probably the ones who use the room the most,” stated Dingle.

The center’s basic core genealogy resources can help a person trying to track down family members from Northern Frederick County.

Researchers can also find information about the area by searching through the Emmitsburg Chronicle, Catoctin Enterprise, and Catoctin Clarion on microfilm. There is also a small collection of local history books about the area.

“As agriculture continues to vanish from the area, I think more people will use the center as they want to find out more about agriculture history,” Mannix said.

The Thurmont Center for Agricultural History has the same hours as the library: 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 1:00-5:00 p.m. on Sunday. To access the center, check in with the librarian at the reference desk. If you will need research help, you may want to call ahead to make sure a librarian will be available to help you.

If you can’t make it to the center, research requests are accepted at no charge, except for photocopies at $.20 per copy. Submit the request, in writing, with as much information as possible to Erin Dingle.

by “My Father’s Son”

Keeping Track

When traversing the history of small areas such as Thurmont and its surrounding municipalities, several names begin to be repeated. Dissimilar to culture today, when a family settled in an area, they usually stayed in that area. Our northern Maryland vicinity has collected several names that have a way of emerging from beneath every stone overturned. These surnames provided opportunity for progress and growth within their lineage and society alike. This should be kept in mind for both this series of articles and this attempt to track the Monocacy Valley Railroad (MVRR), and ultimately the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway, from a civic perspective.

Leonard R. Waesche and “Fredericktowne’s” Dr. Steiner Schley built the Monocacy Valley Railroad, a four-mile stretch from the Western Maryland Mainline in Mechanicstown to the Catoctin Furnace. Schley, having followed in his father’s footsteps, was a highly regarded pharmacist, business owner, and advocate for the Maryland School for the Deaf. Schley’s seemingly peculiar association with a railroad venture was extenuated by his résumé, but when explained, the connection between the two was not so odd after all.

The year was 1886; the Catoctin Furnace had been nurtured by John B. Kunkel to the greatest scope of production it would ever experience. During this time, the third stack was built and named for Kunkel’s wife, Deborah. Kunkel passed away in 1885—his wife in 1882—and his estate was left to the control of his children. The heirs placed their father’s trusted bookkeeper, Mr. Waesche, in control of the enterprise, a businessman who knew a railroad would further develop commerce for the furnace. On March 19, 1886, the MVRR received its incorporation certificate, listing Dr. Schley as President, and Mrs. Steiner Schley, born Lillian Kunkel to John Baker and Deborah Bertrand Porter Kunkel, the link to her husband’s investment in the endeavor.

Between 1889 and 1900, the Furnace’s livelihood declined. After the turn of the century, L.R. Waesche moved his family from the Furnace to a Mechanicstown property he had formerly purchased and constructed a section of his railroad through. The Schley’s continued to live on W. Church Street in Frederick with two of their four children, the two others taken by illness during childhood. Their daughter, Lilian Kunkel Schley, would never marry, and their last born, John Reading Schley, would be killed at age twenty-four in a military test flight accident in 1918 in France, concluding this branch of the Schley family. All six are buried at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.

In 1908, the MVRR was sold to the Washington Frederick & Gettysburg Railway Company (WF&G). Monocacy Valley President Schley and L.R. Waesche, and Waesche’s sons, Donald (thirty-six years old) and Russell (twenty-two years old)—all directors—resigned. That same year, bids were submitted to continue WF&G rails from Frederick to meet the Monocacy Valley line near Lewistown. Upon completion, this connection was utilized as a Trolley line under the recognition of the H&F (Hagerstown & Frederick) Railway. The years between 1913 and 1926 marked the Trolley’s heyday. The year 1915 almost saw the extension of the Thurmont line to Emmitsburg by route of Franklinville and St. Anthony’s, but, to the dismay of northern residents, this idea was never realized. In 1920, H&F Trolleys carried a healthy 3.8 million passengers.

The majority of H&F streetcars acquired were used, the last new model purchased in 1921 and manufactured by the J.G. Brill Company of Philadelphia. Brill was the largest manufacturer of “Interurban Coaches” for nearly seventy years, owning plants in six U.S. States, as well as Canada and France. Trolleys were electric, pulling current from power lines, paralleling their tracks through a conducting rod mounted to the car’s roof. The electric lines positioned to power the trolleys also allowed the movement of electricity for commercial use by the railway company. By 1922, sixty-seven percent of the H&F’s revenue came from selling power to farms, homes, and businesses. At this point, the H&F became Potomac Public Service, and in 1923, Potomac Edison, but was seldom referred the rise of personal transportation slowed heavily by 1930, the number of trolley passengers narrowing to 1.5 million that year. Trolley cars were modified to carry more freight than riders, seen as coach windows were covered with the solid paneling used for cargo areas. World War I gas rationing resurrected the trolley, especially the freight division, but this boom was only temporary.

Nevertheless, the Thurmont trolley continued to run until 1954. The Thurmont line was laid from 5th Street in Frederick, through Hood Women’s College, along Rosemont Avenue past Ft. Detrick and on through Yellow Springs, Lewistown, and Catoctin Furnace to Thurmont. Now many households owned two vehicles, replacing people from trolleys to state highways that required increasingly dangerous crossing by the trolley. Occasionally, trolley accidents made headlines, such as one reported by the 1953 Frederick News, regarding a York, PA auto-passenger’s death by broken neck, which on-duty H&F Coach Motorman H.J. Brown described, after a ’47 Chevrolet Coupe struck the trolley as it diagonally crossed Rt. 15 in front of Catoctin Manor one Saturday night. Brown reported both vehicle occupants were thrown through the windshield and the Coupe demolished, none aboard the trolley were hurt.

On the last day of service, seventeen-year-old Carroll James conducted a live radio-broadcast from car 172, the last newly purchased trolley from 1921. James interviewed Potomac Edison President Paul Smith, who even took the car’s controls for a time and conversed how he had ridden the first streetcar to Thurmont, and now the last. In Frederick, the young women of Hood College presented the trolley with songs and flowers as it moved through the campus for the last time. February 20, 1954, marked the final trolley operation in all of Maryland. Scenes from these lost days were recognized by famous Baltimore Sun photojournalist, Aubrey Bodine, in a 1951 photo-story, featuring the H&F. Bodine’s romantic fascination with “old times and old things” included images of the potbelly stove in the Thurmont station and scenery along the route, from in and outside of the trolley car. Bodine’s photograph “Misty Harbor” of a Baltimore tugboat is currently selling for $80,000.

The rails from the top of Carroll Street in Thurmont to Ft. Detrick were removed in 1958; the remaining fragment to the H&F station on East Patrick St. in Frederick has disappeared since, as well. In 1994, fifty-seven-year-old Carroll James would say in his “The H&F: Trolleys Through the Heart of Maryland” documentary that any H&F motorman would agree that each trolley was its own being, a living object with its own personality and temperament and in no way a simple, inanimate object. Today, buildings, bridge abutments, road beds, and grade mounds mark the landscape along the route the trolley once traveled. The path to Frederick is easily followed from Thurmont by tracing these abandoned features, in addition to the pole-lines left along the route like breadcrumbs dropped by No. 172 on that final passage.

Photo taken of the site as it looks today.

Present Trolley - Present Past COLUMN Photo

Old photo of the trolley crossing one of the old bridges, after crossing Hessong Bridge Road to pass alongside the Firor Farm.

Old Trolley - Present Past COLUMN photo

Deb Spalding

Mel-PooleCatoctin Mountain Park Superintendent, Mel Poole, will retire on August 25, 2015, having completed an adventurous thirty-seven year career with the National Park Service (NPS). When summarizing his contributions, Poole let out a chuckle. Correction, it was more of a flat-out laugh. I soon understood why as he reviewed the many roles he’s filled during his career.

About Catoctin Mountain Park, where he’s spent the majority of the last seventeen years within the National Park Service system, he said, “For sure, the park is bigger, if not better,” as he explained that the park has grown from 5,772 acres to its current size of 5,890 acres.

He recalled that Catoctin Mountain Park was the first in the National Capital Region to look at deer management in order to aid in forest regeneration. Don’t forget that until the 1920s, the Catoctin forest was substantially cut over by various timber businesses to make charcoal for Catoctin Furnace. The mountain has been growing back, or regenerating, since then. Poole was part of a regional Environmental Assessment team that was formed in 1978 to determine what to do about the increasing deer population at Catoctin Park.

Poole noted that the park knows more about its natural resources than ever, but are still finding new species and monitoring populations of species. Park resources are faced with a huge range of issues: invasive species, threats to vegetation like the Gypsy Moth and hemlock, future potential threats like Emerald Ash Bore (EAB), all overlaid with fluctuating climate conditions like rainfall, severe storms, and changing air and water quality.

Brook trout have been an icon in Catoctin Mountain Park, drawing fly fisherman from near and far. In recent years, there has been a decline in the numbers of brook trout, not only across the State of Maryland, but across the country as well. Less than nine percent of historic brook trout habitat remains nationwide and sixty-two percent of the historic habitat has been lost in Maryland.

The depth of Poole’s knowledge of all of the varying parts he’s managed within the park, from studies of current plant and animal species, management and preventive maintenance of those species, and day to day challenges created by the use of the park by humans, is difficult to convey in this short space, but be assured that Poole’s knowledge is comprehensive.

He said, Catoctin Mountain Park “has one of the strongest resource protection ethics of all the parks in the region.” He shifted credit for this ethic to current coworkers and former employees of the park. He also shared credit with other state and local park systems and federal, state, and county agencies, indicating that the high standards would not be achieved without their support, cooperation, and contributions towards a shared vision.

Poole’s ethics, like that of his peers, mirror those of the National Park Service’s 1916 Organic Act that mandated the conservation and preservation of natural resources for future generations. He said, “Invasive species have the ability to come to us within twelve hours, thanks to air travel. Globally, it’s hard to keep outside influences from impacting the ecosystems that we’re trying to manage.”

Raised in the Tidewater area of Virginia, and with deep family roots in coastal North Carolina, Poole is one in a proud family of public servants. He said he knew he wanted to be a ranger from about age eight when he wrote his congressman and asked for a job. He claims he was a typical suburban kid who, in junior high, wandered into the woods in his neighborhood where he discovered life and wonder, which further fueled his interest in nature. He then climbed the ranks of Scouts as a Cub Scout, Boy Scout, and Explorer, spending his time completing tasks to earn outdoor conservation merit badges.

He was fortunate, at age fourteen, to attend the National Boy Scout Conservation Camp, where he spent time building trails with professors from Rutgers University who taught conservation. Poole said, “I ate it up! I absolutely loved it.”

From a tent mate who was from Pennsylvania, Poole learned about the varying wild life and terrain in Pennsylvania. He said he felt the camp mate, “might as well have been from Mars,” because he described a landscape so different from Poole’s coastal habitat. He also met people from Texas, New York, New Hampshire, and Georgia, and learned that there were even more parts of America. He said, “I was going to see them all.” He then worked in a Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) program in Norfolk, Virginia, for three years and went on to college at Virginia Tech, where he earned a degree in horticulture by way of forestry and landscape architecture.

He accepted his first job within the NPS in 1978 as a gardener in the White House greenhouse. President Carter was in the White House at that time. Later, working with National Capital Parks-East, a management unit based in D.C., he gained experience with hard-core urban parks, but also worked on a portion of the Potomac River and historic sites, where he worked with vegetation management and cultural landscapes. It was here and along the Anacostia River that he worked oil spills, first as a Hazardous Materials Specialist for the park and then at the regional level. This work, along with firefighting and water fowl hunting management, made for exciting daily adventures.

In 1984, he qualified as an interagency firefighter. For six years, he fought fires each summer and fall in Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Montana, and California. Meanwhile, he progressed in grade and served as the Regional Fire Management Officer for six months, during which time he mobilized firefighter crews from the mid-Atlantic area to wherever forest fires were occurring across the continental United States. In 1989, he was detailed to Kodiak, Alaska, to help clean up the Exxon Valdez Oil spill. He said, “That was interesting, because I thought Denver’s mountains were big. It’s double that in Alaska.” His oil spill expertise would again be put to the test when he was assigned to the BP oil spill along the Gulf Coast in 2010.

Before accepting the Superintendent job at Catoctin Mountain Park, Poole was the Park Manager at President’s Park in Washington, D.C.—ground zero for First Amendment activity in Lafayette Park and lineups for White House public tours. He helped at seven Easter Egg Rolls, seven White House Christmas Tree Lightings, and two Presidential Inaugurations. Poole literally watched history being made every day during his time in Presidents Park.

A career highlight for Poole occurred in 1992 when then First Lady Barbara Bush requested that the National Park Service provide a White House tour for every fourth grader in Washington, D.C. Poole handed a script to rangers who greeted school children at the Northwest Gate where, every Wednesday from 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., fourth graders entered the White House through the front door on the North Portico. These kids witnessed daily business and history of the nation as they moved through the White House on their tours. He said, “It was a great school year for them, and a great experience for all the NPS rangers!”

In 1994, a new visitor pavilion was built on the Ellipse at President’s Park to replace a kiosk where Poole and his park rangers worked. It was complete with new bathrooms for visitors and a first-aid room where rangers could treat minor visitor injuries. He said, “We saw that as a quantum leap forward.”

In April 1995, Poole helped to open the White House Visitor Center across the street at 1450 Pennsylvania Avenue. In addition to high quality exhibits on White House history and a retail store staffed by the White House Historical Association, the National Park Service provided public tour ticketing for visitors each morning until 9/11 ended that tour operation. It was a big milestone to open that facility because, even if you couldn’t take a tour of the White House, you could still have a White House experience. In June of that year, Poole went to Shenandoah National Park to temporarily serve as Public Information Officer on the incident team managing a double homicide investigation. This case was later featured on America’s Most Wanted.

Poole finished at President’s Park in 1997 and moved to Catoctin Mountain Park. He’s been at Catoctin since March 1997, leaving briefly in 2006 to serve as Superintendent at George Washington Memorial Parkway, and again in 2009 to serve as acting Superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park.

His milestones at Catoctin include work on President Clinton’s Middle East Summit, President Obama’s G8 Summit, and Gulf Coast Summit. In 2008, the park conducted a two-day search operation that successfully recovered a lost eighty-one-year-old woman.

Upon retirement, he is planning some genealogy research, some doing nothing, and a visit to a lifesaving station on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, where three of his cousins were keepers, to volunteer.

Poole and his wife, Candy, will continue to reside in Thurmont. Their son, Joshua, is currently serving in the Marine Corps, stationed at New River Air Station in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Their daughter, Lauren, recently graduated from Penn State, and landed a job as page designer for a newspaper in North Carolina.

A Hero Dies Saving His Parents

by James Rada, Jr.

The Stackhouses lived the simple life of a hard-working family. They didn’t have much, but their family was happy. Christmas 1937 had been one of those happy times, with the family getting together to share gifts and hearty meals.

Early in the morning on December 27, 1937, the happiness of the season was destroyed.

Twenty-six-year-old Bernard Stackhouse lived with his parents in a four-room home in Catoctin Furnace. Something woke him up that morning, and Bernard realized that the house was on fire. His first thoughts were to get to safety, but then he didn’t know if his parents were awake or not. It was around 1:00 a.m.

The Catoctin Clarion reported, “After heroically warning his parents, who were sleeping in a room above, young Stackhouse found his exit blocked in the rear by a stone wall and in the front by a searing sheet of flames. The cries of the victim were audible to his parents standing helplessly without.”

Louise McPherson was up late on December 26, 1937. She remained awaked as the late night turned into the early morning of December 27. That was when she wondered at what seemed to be light flickering in the night. She looked out her window and saw that a quarter mile away a building was burning. She thought that it was the barn on the Stackhouse property and called the fire into the Guardian Hose Company in Thurmont.

The fire company, which was incorporated two years earlier when it joined the Frederick County Volunteer Fireman’s Association, was using a 1933 Hudson sedan for one of its fire trucks. Mayor William Stoner (who was also a member of the fire company) had been the previous owner, and the firemen had it converted to a fire truck and added a 40-gallon chemical tank to it. The other truck was a 1927 chain-driven Mack pumper.

When McPherson hung up the phone, she “rushed to the scene but the conflagration had already demolished the greater part of the structure, together with the personal belongings of the family,” reported the Catoctin Clarion.

Carl Stackhouse and his wife were outside, but they were in a panic, because their son hadn’t gotten out and they had stopped hearing him yell from inside the house.

When the firefighters arrived on the scene, they poured water onto the flames, but the site remained too hot to enter to try and find Bernard’s body. It was not until 9:30 a.m. that firefighters were able to rake out the debris and find Bernard’s body.

Everyone’s worst fears were confirmed. Bernard had burned to death after saving his parents. The Stackhouses were taken to a neighbor’s house, where they received first aid.

The body was viewed by Stoner in his role of Justice of the Peace and Dr. M.A. Birely. Stoner said that a coroner’s inquest would not be necessary and listed the cause of death as accidental burning, which Birely supported.

According to the Catoctin Clarion, two theories were put forward as the cause of the fire. The first was that Bernard had been smoking, and his cigarette caught something on fire. The second was that a new stove that the Stackhouses had received as a Christmas present had overheated and caught something on fire.

Besides his parents, Bernard was survived by three sisters and two brothers. His younger brother, Warren, also lived in the house, but he had luckily been away from home, spending the night with relatives.