Currently viewing the tag: "Mechanicstown"

Part 2 of 3

Submitted by Joan Bittner Fry

The Sabillasville Charge was formed in May 1886 by detaching St. John’s congregation of Sabillasville and Jacob’s from the Mechanicstown Charge. Jacob’s congregation (originally Herbach’s) was with the Emmitsburg Charge after 1842 until 1853, when Jacob’s and Millerstown were made into a charge. Rev. A. B Stoner, pastor at Mechanicstown, was instructed to supply the charge until a pastor could be secured.  Classis granted charge sustentation to the amount of $200 for a year.  The charge received the sum of $600 for its interest in the parsonage in Mechanicstown.

Rev. E. Welty, M.D., was called during the year 1886, but left before he could be received into Classis or installed.

At the annual meeting of 1887, James W. Meyer was called and was ordained and installed June 12 of that year. He was authorized to organize a new congregation in the vicinity of Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania, if possible, as Classis realized that some new material must be found if the charge was to survive. The territory around Blue Ridge Summit and Highfield was rapidly being developed as a summer resort and appeared to be a promising place for a congregation.

In November 1888, Meyer resigned, and on that date, Classis cited him for trial. Meyer was tried on January 20, 1889, found guilty of immorality and suspended. He later made several unsuccessful requests for reinstatement.

In 1889, Rev. H. W. Hoffmeier, who had supplied the charge on several occasions, was elected but declined the call. The charge was vacant until September 1891, when Rev. James R. Lewis became pastor of the Sabillasville Charge. Lewis resigned in May 1896 and was succeeded in August 1896 by Rev. Cyrus Cort, whose service ended in 1900.

The charge was then vacant for several years.

During these years, the affairs of the Highfield Congregation occupied much of the time and attention of the pastors and of Classis. In 1891, a special committee on the interests of the Sabillasville Charge recommended the building of a church at Highfield, making it the center of the charge. It was reported that an option had been taken on a lot to cost $300, toward which the sum of $167 was already on hand. Classis instructed the committee to complete payment on the lot, to organize a congregation at Highfield, and to secure a pastor for the charge. Classis promised charge sustentation for the first year to the amount of $300 as soon as a pastor could be called.

As soon as Pastor Lewis came, he proceeded, under the instruction of Classis, to take possession of the lot, toward the purchase price of which Mr. Wantz, from whom the lot was purchased, contributed $100. The pastor and the trustees were also instructed to have plans prepared for a building to seat 250 or 300, the cost not to exceed $2,500.

At the session of 1892, it was reported that the building was being erected and that the cornerstone would be laid May 8. Classis voted to charge sustentation of $500 for the year, and instructed the trustees to borrow $1,600 toward the cost of the building.

After the resignation of Dr. Cyrus Cort in June 1900, the Sabillasville Charge was vacant until May 1903, when Rev. Charles A. Bushong was called to the pastorate. Bushong resigned January 1906. The next pastor, Rev. Milton H Sangree, began his service in the charge in May 1906.

In May 1909, part of St. Stephen’s lot at Highfield was sold for $100.  Sangree resigned in January 1910, and the charge was vacant for three years. During the vacancy, a committee was appointed by Classis to study conditions in the community with a view of strengthening the charge by the addition of other congregations if possible.

A proposal made to the Lutheran Church in Sabillasville to bring about a union of the two denominations in the community was refused by the Lutherans. Nor was there an opportunity for a union with any other congregations of the Reformed Church. While the charge was vacant, Rev. J.B. Shontz served the charge as supply pastor during the years 1911 and 1912. In July 1912, Rev. M.L. Firor became the pastor.

At the annual session of 1914, the Highfield Congregation asked for a deed to their church property.  The request was granted on condition that the congregation pay to the pastor at least $100 a year for five years, above the regular salary.  The condition was accepted, and it was reported in 1918 that the full amount had been paid.

During his pastorate at Sabillasville, Firor gave a great deal of pastoral service to the patients of the Maryland State Sanatorium near Sabillasville. The service was so acceptable and evidently so necessary that Classis proposed that he be appointed chaplain to the sanatorium at a salary of $840 a year, of which amount Classis agreed to pay $240 if the Baltimore Federation of Churches and the Protestant Churches in Maryland would furnish the balance. The Baltimore Federation was not willing, however, to assume any financial responsibility, and the whole matter was dropped when Firor resigned the pastorate of the Sabillasville Charge September 1919 to accept a call to Burkittsville.

Rev. Walter D. Mehrling, the next pastor, began work in the charge June 7, 1920, but remained only until September 26, the same year. The charge was then vacant for several years.

In 1924, Jacob’s congregation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the erection of its church, although the congregation was organized some years before 1824.  Dr. F. B. Bahner served as Supply Pastor for the charge from 1922 until 1927.  In July 1927 at a special meeting it was reported that the affairs of the charge were at a low ebb; that there had been no pastor for seven years, and that no elders or deacons had been elected for more than six years.  But a brighter day was in prospect.

Classis secured the promise of the Board of Home Missions to enroll the charge as a mission, and an every-member canvass was held after which the congregation pledged the annual sum of $800 for pastoral support and Classis promised an additional amount of $350, provided the Home Missions Board would give a similar sum. 

On May 23, 1927, Rev. Wilmer H. Long began a successful pastorate.  The charge began to pay the apportionment in full and in 1929 the pastor reported that St. John‘s Church at Sabillasville had been improved at considerable cost. 

Long resigned on December 31, 1929, and was succeeded by Rev. Claude H. Corl, who began his pastorate May 1930 to continue until December 1936. 

From 1937 to 1940, Rev. Darwin X. Gass accepted a Call to the Sabillasville Charge. In 1937, a parish hall was erected in Sabillasville at a cost of $2,000.

Rev. Edwin L. Werner served the Sabillasville Charge from 1940-1947 (Rev. Claude Corl returned to the Sabillasville Charge in 1947 after serving in the Army Chaplain Corps in the African and European Theaters. The second time, he served from 1947 until his retirement in 1974.)

From History of Maryland Classis of the Reformed Church in Maryland by Rev. Guy P. Bready (1938)

The Sabillasville Charge (Jacob’s, St. John’s, St. Stephen’s)

St. John’s Elders; C.B. Harbaugh, D.A. Wagaman, Thomas Wagaman, Howard R. Wagaman, Lester Bittner. Deacons; Roy C. Pryor, Paul Wagaman, Harold Bittner, Edgar McClain, and Paul Fry.

St. Stephen’s Elders; C.C. McGlaughlin, Victor L. Pryor, William Happel and A.L. Happel.

Deacons; John A. Zimmerman, Lawrence Walter, Theodore Zimmerman, S.P. Bittner, Charles E. Keckler, and T.O. Eyler.

Jacob’s Elders; George E. Harbaugh, and Jerry Miller.

Deacons; Ernest Gladhill and Paul Gladhill.

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

Eileen Dwyer

Established in the mid-1700s, the village of Thurmont was originally named Mechanicstown. The settlement offered plentiful sources of timber, iron ores, and creeks to provide sources of power. The area flourished with mills, iron forges, tanneries, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, and other craftsmen. The name Mechanicstown seemed appropriate, given the means of trade of commerce.

The arrival of the railroad in 1871 established Mechanicstown as a commercial hub of the area. Rapidly, newer industries such as pottery-makers, coffin works, cigar-makers and lumber businesses were established.  Goods were shipped from the new freight depot.

With the dawn of these more progressive industries, the commercial and business leaders felt the village needed a more contemporary name.  And the railroad felt shipping and passenger confusion caused by similarly-named villages would be greatly alleviated. Subsequently, a vote was taken in the late1800s for the renaming of the village.  The two contenders were Blue Mountain City and Thurmont.

Although Blue Mountain City received the popular vote, it was vetoed by the Post Office and the village name was changed Thurmont.

Thurmont is a derivative of the German word, tür (door) and the Latin word, mons (mountains).  So, quite literally, Thurmont translates into “gateway to the mountains” far better than Blue Mountain City might.  What’s in a name?


by James Rada, Jr.

Celebrating Independence During the Country’s Centennial

When America celebrated its first one hundred years in 1876, Mechanicstown threw the country a grand party.

“The old saying that the people of Mechanicstown could never get up anything of a startling nature was beautifully knocked in the head last Tuesday—the 4th of July—by one of the largest demonstrations ever held in this place, and we doubt if its equal was ever seen in a town of twice the inhabitants,” the Catoctin Clarion proclaimed.

The event had been in the works for months and went off as planned, with the weather providing a beautiful day to celebrate.

Mechanicstown wasted no time in beginning its celebration with Charles Harman firing off a cannon at midnight on July 3, “which had the desired effect of awakening our citizens from their sound slumbers.” This was followed by a parade of the Mulligan Guards, under the command of Capt. William L. Lynn. They marched through town in the early hours of July 4. The Mulligan Guards were a militia group, which had started in New York but gained popularity after the musical comedies of Ed Harrigan. Different branches of the organization had sprung up across the country.

The parade continued until 4:00 a.m., when the churches in Mechanicstown began ringing their bells. The chiming ended only after dawn.

“After the firing of the first gun, all chances for sleep were banished and most of the people got up and commenced trimming their houses with evergreens and flags prepared the day before,” the newspaper reported.

Nearly every house and building in town was decorated with patriotic colors for the occasion.

The first train of the morning brought the Rouzerville Band to town, along with throngs of people who had boarded the Western Maryland Railroad train at each stop along the route. The Woodsboro Band arrived in town in its band wagon around 8:30 a.m. “which occasioned a general stampede down Main street to receive them. After dismounting, they played several lively aires, which was highly appreciated by the crowd and largely appreciated,” according to the Clarion.

With the inflow of spectators, the population of Mechanicstown swelled to around 3,000, which was five times more than the town’s total population. The newspaper even noted that although Emmitsburg was holding its own Independence Day celebration, a large crowd of Emmitsburg residents had chosen to attend the festivities in Mechanicstown instead.

The town’s grand parade then began forming. Parade Marshal Dr. J. J. Henshaw and aides “mounted on fiery chargers, with sashes and rosettes, then made their appearance and commenced forming the procession, which was found to be no easy job, as the crowd was so large and at times ungovernable,” the newspaper reported.

The International Order of Odd Fellows dressed in their full regalia was the first group in the parade. This fraternal organization of roughly two hundred members was headed by the Rouzerville Band and led by John H. Rouzer.

The next group was students and teachers from the various Sunday Schools in town. Each class carried a banner identifying their school. The group of two hundred students and teachers was headed by Col. J. R. Rouzer.

They were followed by the “Goddess of Liberty,” played by Kate Stokes, “beautifully dressed and seated on a richly adorned throne and drawn by two white horses, with four gallant escorts at her side, in the person of Marshall Gaugh, Joe Freeze, Anderson Polly and W. T. Weller,” according to the newspaper.

Next in the parade came a wagon filled with men playing the Founding Fathers of 1776. It was followed by two Veterans of the War of 1812 riding in a buggy.

The band wagons of the Woodsboro and Lewistown bands followed, filled with women dressed in straw hats and red and white sashes. Each woman represented one of the thirty-eight states in the country at the time.

The final group in the parade was buggies and carriages filled with patriotic citizens “who have in many instances given proof of their loyalty and strong attachment to the country so dearly bought by the blood of our forefathers,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The parade ended at a large grove, where a stand with a podium had been erected. For the rest of the morning, the crowd listened to speakers and music.

At noon, there was an hour intermission for lunch. Many people ate a picnic lunch at the grove. One local merchant made $200 that afternoon. He sold four barrels of lemonade, fifty gallons of ice creams, and a number of cakes.

When events resumed in the afternoon, spectators heard more music and talks. They were also entertained by different sketches: The Signing of the Declaration, The Cradle of Liberty, Centennial Visitors, Centennial Trunk, and a comedy sketch.

After a dinner break, the crowd formed up on the town square to enjoy a fireworks show.

“We predicted some time ago that this would be the crowning event in the history of our town and verily were our predictions realized,” the Clarion reported.

The Western Maryland Comes to Mechanicstown

by James Rada, Jr.

Photo Courtesy of

looking-back-columnThurmont’s stop on the Western Maryland Railway makes up only a paragraph in the history of the railroad. For Thurmont, however, it was a major event that not only helped shape the town’s future but also gave it its unique name.

The Western Maryland Railway began in 1852 as the Baltimore, Carroll, and Frederick Railroad. The goal at that time was to build a railroad from Baltimore to Washington County.

The Maryland General Assembly changed the name to the Western Maryland Rail Road Company the following year. For many years, the terminus of the railroad was at Union Bridge, where it had reached in 1862.

However, this was not the goal of the railroad. Mechanicstown knew that it was positioned along the proposed route of the railroad and wanted to see it completed, as did many other people. The original charter in 1852 called for the railroad to be built to the headwaters of the Monocacy River, which meant that the terminus would be at Mechanicstown or Rocky Ridge.

An 1871 article in the Catoctin Clarion noted, “May it not be said of the people of Mechanicstown that they have pinned their faith to the Western Maryland Railroad? This great artery of travel and commerce, hampered as it has been and still is, has done much for the section of the country through which it passes…”

Lobbying was begun to try and get construction to resume once more on the railroad, and on February 24, 1872, the Catoctin Clarion announced, “Rejoice, people of Mechanicstown!” A vote had been taken a few days earlier in Baltimore that was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the construction of the Western Maryland Railway to Hagerstown and beyond.

“This vote is the harbinger of a new era for this great enterprise,” the newspaper reported.

The announcement brought with it some immediate economic activity in town. “Already on the strength of this news, several parties in our town and vicinity have commenced, sinking shafts in close proximity to the road for the discovery of ore and ore banks, which, we are persuaded, exist in quantities in our very midst,” according to the newspaper. These speculators were searching for iron that could be smelted into pig iron at Catoctin Furnace and used for making rails.

When the railroad opened to Mechanicstown later in 1872, George Wireman wrote in Gateway to the Mountains, “A group of civic-minded citizens arranged a reception and a banquet for the railroad officials and their guests. This event took place in the local warehouse and a gala celebration was enjoyed by all who attended.”

The depot was built on the site of an old cannery, and a water tower was built just to the north of it. The Mechanicstown Station also had a freight yard and engine house.

The railroad brought so much business and travelers into the area that a new depot and associated facilities eventually had to be built near Carroll Street.

“The new depot was built along the main line near Carroll Street and featured two waiting rooms, stationmaster and telegrapher’s office, and sanitary facilities. The grounds were graced with four large grass plots, one on the east, one on the west side of the station, and two in the front. These plots were beautified with ornamental grasses and flowers, protected by low guard rails. The front plots had large lawn vases in the center with blooming flowers,” Wireman described the new depot.

Besides the increased business, the Western Maryland Railway had another major change on Mechanicstown in 1894. Because of the number of towns along the line with names similar to Mechanicstown, the Post Office Department requested that the name be changed. Thurmont was chosen after much debate and a town vote.

The Western Maryland Railway served Thurmont until 1967 when the station closed.

Recollections of the Civil War, Part 2

by James Rada, Jr.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two articles recounting Sarah (Six) Schnure’s recollections of life in Thurmont during the Civil War. Schnure wrote her recollections while living in Hollywood, California, in the 1930s.

Sarah Six had been ten years old when the war started. She had watched most of the fighting-age men march off to join the Union Army in 1861. She had watched wounded soldiers being transported through Mechanicstown.

Her family lived in a state of uncertainty. They knew very little of their friends and family who had marched off to war. They didn’t fear an invasion so much as worried over losing what they had to Confederate scavengers.

Word had spread through the region that Confederate soldiers were taking horses and cattle when they found them. If they paid, they paid in Confederate scrip. Sarah’s father, William Six, was so worried about losing his stock that he took his two horses north to Wrightsville, Pennsylvania.

One night while William was away, Sarah was spending the night with her friend Mollie Foreman. The young girls were sleeping in the back of the house when they heard something that awakened them. They realized that it was the steady tramp of horses’ hooves.

They crept downstairs, unlocked the front door, and stepped out onto the front porch. From an upstairs window, someone whispered hoarsely, “Go in and shut that door!”

“I can tell you, we went up those stairs quietly but faster than we had gone down, for when we realized we were down there alone and in inky darkness, we felt as if a rebel was after us for sure and we were scolded good and proper,” Sarah wrote.

All they had been able to see were the shifting shapes of horsemen moving in the night. In the morning, she found out that the men had been suspected Confederate soldiers.

While the town had hidden from the Confederates, they were overjoyed when Union soldiers came to town.
“Everyone (except southern sympathizers) came on the streets and with waving flags, gave them a welcome for they were usually close on the heels of a reported invasion, which made them doubly welcome,” Sarah wrote.

Another night, the town was once again awakened by troops riding through town. This group stopped in front of the Six house when they saw a light shining in a second floor window. They called up to the person in the lighted room.
William wouldn’t answer them, but Sarah’s mother walked to the window and called out, “What do you want?”
“Where does George Johnson live?” one of the men replied.
“Who are you?”
“We are Union men. We are going to Chimney Rock to display signals. We were told Mr. Johnson would feed our horses and point the way to the mountain.”
“How do I know that you are Union men?”

The soldier rode up closer to the house and into the light. “See the uniform?” the soldier asked.
She did, but she still doubted. The soldier finally talked her into telling him where Johnson lived. He was home. He fed the horses and then led the soldiers up the mountain in the dark. Eventually, those people who were still awake did see signals on the mountain.

Since there were no street lights, children stayed close to home as night began to fall. They would sit on their porches and sing Union songs.
Mechanicstown was eighteen miles from Gettysburg, but it might as well have been hundreds of miles, according to Sarah. She knew the name of the town and that it had a college in it, but that was all. Sarah wrote that the road to Gettysburg was so bad and full of stones that it was sarcastically nicknamed “featherbed.”

She remembers seeing the soldiers marching to Gettysburg. “The weather was cloudy with rain and very sultry,” Sarah wrote. “It hurts me even now as I can see those poor men on that forced march in heavy wool uniforms, not allowed to stop for a drink but some would scoop up a hand full from the gutter alongside the street.”

They heard nothing of the battle until they started seeing weary soldiers marching south.
She also remembered the solemn tolling of the church bells after news of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was announced.
Such sad memories for a child to have.

Recollections of the Civil War

by James Rada, Jr.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two articles recounting Sarah (Six) Schnure’s recollections of life in Thurmont during the Civil War. Schnure wrote her recollections while living in Hollywood, California, in the 1930s.

Sarah Six was ten years old in 1861. Her family lived in Thurmont, and Sarah grew up seeing how the Civil War affected life in town. Decades later, in the early 1930s, she wrote up her recollections of the war for her son. When the writings were discovered after her death, the Catoctin Enterprise published the writings.

Her first memory associated with the Civil War was when the entire town turned out at the downtown square to see the Thurmont men march off to Frederick to be sworn in as soldiers. She wrote, “Never shall I forget that morning that crowd of women trying to be brave and send off their men with smiles when their hearts were breaking.”

The men seemed excited, as if they were venturing off for a grand adventure. For many of them, it would be an adventure, since in the days before the Western Maryland Railroad reached Mechanicstown, they hadn’t ever ventured far from town in their lives.

In the years to come, the wives and mothers of Mechanicstown would live in a state of anxiety, wondering what had become of the husbands and children. News about the war did not arrive often. There was no daily newspaper and mail came only three times a week. The telegraph had not been installed in town, and the telephone did not exist.

“News traveled slowly and when there was a battle on, many days would elapse before any report of it reached our town,” Sarah wrote.

In support of their Union soldiers, the women of Mechanicstown would often gather at St. John’s Lutheran Church to bag up old linen that would be sent off to Union hospitals to be turned into bandages. Sarah and other children would do their part by gathering wild cotton that was also sent to the hospitals.

One night around midnight in 1862, the Six family was awakened by a barking dog. Then they heard Henry Foreman, the neighbor’s son, calling, “Get up, Mr. Six! The rebels are coming.”

The family got dressed and turned out into the street, along with the rest of the town. In the dark of night, they watched army ambulances come through the town with wounded that they were transporting to safety in Pennsylvania. They also came with news that the rebels had crossed the Potomac River.

Most likely, this would have been early in the morning of September 5. After General Robert E. Lee’s victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run at the end of August, Lee moved his army into Maryland, with the intention of securing a victory in the North. He wanted to keep his army on the offensive and influence the fall elections in the North so that congressmen and senators willing to recognize the Confederate States of America might be elected. In addition, Lee needed supplies for his army that the South was running out of.

As the army had approached Frederick, citizens, military, and patients from the United States Military Hospital fled the city.

As the ambulances moved through town, drivers and patients requested food and coffee. It was provided as much as the citizens could manage, but Sarah noted that because Mechanicstown had no bakeries, many homes went without bread for breakfast that day.

Some of the residents in town packed up and headed north with the army. Others hunkered down and hid valuables, livestock, and food.

“Mother had valuables packed and ready to flee into the mountain. I had few treasures but two of them were in my pocket—a small silk union flag and my treasured china doll,” Sarah wrote.

The Confederate army did not continue north from Frederick. They turned west and would go on to fight the Battle of South Mountain and the Battle of Antietam before retreating south back across the Potomac.

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

by James Rada, Jr.

1871 — Catoctin County, Maryland

Can you imagine a Catoctin County, Maryland? It would have included Frederick County, north of Walkersville, and Mechanicstown would have been the county seat.

It was a dream that some people in the northern Frederick County area pursued throughout 1871 and 1872. The Catoctin Clarion was only on its tenth issue when it carried a long front-page article signed with the pen name Phocion. Phocion was an Athenian politician, statesman, and strategos in Ancient Greece.

The issue had been talked about within groups of people for a while, and it was time to garner support by taking the issue to a larger, general audience.

“Some sober sided citizens in our valley are quietly discussing the question among themselves, shall Frederick county be divided and the new county of Catoctin be erected into a separate organization?” the newspaper reported. Wicomico County had been formed in 1867 from portions of Somerset and Worcester counties, so the idea of another new Maryland county was not far-fetched. In fact, Garrett County would be formed from the western portion of Allegany County in 1872.

The main reason put forth for creating a new county was the distance and expense of traveling to Frederick to register deeds and attend court. Opponents argued that creating a new county would be costly for the citizens in the new county. New county buildings would have to be constructed and county positions filled. All of this financial burden would have to be absorbed by the smaller population in the new county.

“Our neighbors across the Monocacy in the Taneytown District have but a short distance to go to attend Carroll County Court. Why shall we on this side be deprived privileges which were granted to them? Shall the people on one side of the Monocacy be granted immunities which are to be withheld from citizens residing on the other side?” the Clarion reported.

Besides northern Frederick County, Phocion said that in Carroll County, residents of Middleburg, Pipe Creek, and Sam’s Creek were also interested in becoming part of Catoctin County.

“If a majority of the citizens residing in Frederick, Carroll, and Washington counties (within the limits of the proposed new county) favor a division, I see no reason why it should not be accomplished,” the newspaper reported.

In deciding on what the boundaries of the new county would be, there were three conditions that needed to be met in Maryland: (1) The majority of citizens in the areas that would make up the new county would have to vote to create the county; (2) The population of white inhabitants in the proposed county could not be less than 10,000; (3) The population in the counties losing land could not be less than 10,000 white residents.

Interest reached the point where a public meeting was held on January 6, 1872, at the Mechanicstown Academy “for the purpose of taking the preliminary steps for the formation of a New County out of portions of Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties,” the Clarion reported.

Dr. William White was appointed the chairman of the committee, with Joseph A. Gernand and Isaiah E. Hahn, vice presidents, and Capt. Martin Rouzer and Joseph W. Davidson, secretaries.

By January 1872, the Clarion was declaring, “We are as near united up this way on the New County Question as people generally are on any mooted project—New County, Railroad, iron and coal mines, or any other issue of public importance.”

Despite this interest in a new county, by February the idea had vanished inexplicably from the newspapers. It wasn’t until ten years later that a few articles made allusions as to what had happened. An 1882 article noted, “It was to this town principally that all looked for the men who would do the hard fighting and stand the brunt of the battle, for to her would come the reward, the court house of the new county. The cause of the sudden cessation of all interest is too well known to require notices and only comment necessary is, that an interest in the general good was not, by far, to account for the death of the ‘New County’ movement. Frederick city, in her finesse in that matter, gave herself a record for shrewdness that few players ever achieve.”

A letter to the editor the following year said that the men leading the New County Movement had been “bought off, so to speak, by the promises of office, elective at the hand of one party, appointive at the hands of the other, and thus the very backbone taken out of the movement.” The letter also noted that the taxes in Frederick County were now higher than they had been when a new county had been talked about, and that they wouldn’t have been any higher than that in the new county. “And advantages would have been nearer and communication more direct,” the letter writer noted.

James Rada, Jr.

Freemasonry conjures up images of a secret society with hidden rituals and, thanks to the movie National Treasure, hidden treasure. Yet, the Masons are far from secret. They are men who work hard to find brotherhood, enlightenment, and truth.

When John Hagemann first came to Thurmont in 2006 and joined the Acacia Lodge No. 155 of the Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, another Mason pointed to a long row of 8×10 photographs hung on the wall of the Masons’ lodge social hall in Thurmont. They were the Worshipful Masters (lodge presidents) of the Acacia Lodge, and Hagemann recognized many of the last names as members of long-time Thurmont families.

“I was told that if I worked hard, one day my picture could be up there, and it is,” Hagemann said. He is the current Worshipful Master of the Acacia Lodge #155 in Thurmont.

The Masons came to Maryland in 1750, not in Baltimore, which was the largest population center at the time, but in Leonardtown. They weren’t established in what is now Frederick County until just before the Revolutionary War. Not much is known of the early lodges in the county. The largest lodge was called Hiram Lodge, and there was a lodge that served the army during the War of Independence. Those two lodges, along with other small lodges, combined to form the Columbia Lodge in 1815.

“The Masons met in a home at the corner of Market and Second Street,” said Kenneth Wyvill, Grand Master of the Maryland Masons. This combined lodge was enough to meet the needs of the county Masons for sixty-six years. “As population centers grew and shifted, Masons would decide to form new lodges,” said Wyvill.

The first lodge to break off from the Columbia Lodge in Frederick was Acacia Lodge No. 155 of Mechanicstown (now Thurmont). In all, six new lodges formed in Frederick County between 1871 and 1906.

Thirteen Masons in the area formed the lodge in Mechanicstown, with Robert Lyon as the first Worshipful Master (lodge president). The new lodge’s first meeting was held on May 22, 1871, in a room on the third floor of the John Rouzer apartment house, opposite the Lutheran Church on Church Street. Besides choosing officers, it was decided to name the lodge the Acacia Lodge.

Not all of the charter members of the Acacia Lodge came from the Columbia Lodge. Others came from lodges in Baltimore, Westminster, and Union Bridge.

Even before the Acacia Lodge received its charter and was officially recognized, it had begun to grow as two new members were added.

The Acacia Lodge was examined by other Maryland Masons in October 1871 to see if its membership was proficient enough to support their own lodge and on November 21, 1871, the Acacia Lodge was granted its charter. “They first rented the International Order of Odd Fellows hall to meet in,” Hagemann said.

The Acacia Lodge continued to grow between 1872 and 1876; however, for the next two years, many of the members found themselves working away from Mechanicstown. “Membership dwindled and the Maryland Grand Lodge actually took back our charter, but the members still continued to pay dues,” Hagemann said.

The charter was revoked in 1879, but the local Masons still paid dues and worked to establish stability to their lodge. They applied for restoration of their charter in 1887 and it was granted on December 19.

One of the things that the members decided would help their stability was to own their building rather than continue to rent space. Beginning in 1894, the Masons under Worshipful Master Leonard Waesche began looking into buying the Bussard Building (where the lodge is currently located at 12 E. Main Street) and adding a third floor to it. “The lodge bought the building in 1898 and added the third floor to it for our lodge hall,” Hagemann said.

The Masons also made repairs to the first and second floors of the building and began renting out the space. Over the years, the first two floors have been a livery, doctor’s office, post office, grocery store, drug store, beauty parlor, and more.

When the lodge celebrated its first fifty years at the Thurmont Town Hall on November 29, 1921, only three of the original members were still living: George Stocksdale, Leonard Waesche, and David Martin.

World War II saw a surge in attendance at lodge meetings, mainly because of servicemen stationed at nearby Camp Ritchie who came to the Acacia Lodge. The Acacia Lodge conferred Masonic degrees on servicemen on behalf of other lodges through the Masonic Service Association.

“At the end of World War II, we had 156 members, which is the largest we’ve ever been,” Hagemann said. Of that number, 84 were veterans.

In 1959, the U.S. Post Office moved out of the first floor of the lodge building and into a stand-alone building that the Masons had built. However, a new tenant was found to fill the vacant first floor of the lodge building.

The last tenant for the second floor of the lodge left in 1960. The space remained vacant until 1962, when it was decided to use the floor as the lodge’s social hall, and it continues to be used for that purpose today.

Though generally believed to be a Christian group, Masons include many faiths. Each lodge has a book of faith on its central altar. The Acacia Lodge uses a Bible, but other lodges can include a book of faith for the predominant religion of the lodge. “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, you just have to believe in a higher power,” Hagemann said

The Acacia Lodge in Thurmont currently has 77 members, although Hagemann notes that like many civic and volunteer organizations, the average age among members seems to be rising as fewer young people become involved with organizations. The Acacia Lodge is one of 102 Maryland lodges and 15,000 Masons.

Emmitsburg also has a lodge, Tyrian Lodge #205. Ernie Gelwicks is the Grand Master of this lodge at the present time, a Past Master, a Grand Inspector for the Grand Lodge of Maryland, Sir Knight in the Knights Templar, and Noble in the Scottish Rite Shriners. The Emmitsburg Lodge was formed and met above Annans Store, later moved and merged with Acacia in Thurmont before being re-charted in 1906, they met after that above the Vigilant Hose Fire Co., then met in Taneytown until buying their present location. Many prominent Emmitsburg Leaders and businessmen founded Tyrian Lodge in Emmitsburg.

The Masons are involved in many civic activities and participate in parades and building dedications. They can be identified in full regalia that includes tuxedos, top hats, and aprons. The local Masons dedicated the cornerstone of the Thurmont Library and have contributed money to many local efforts, such as purchasing a new flag pole for the town and paying for the memorial stone for servicemen in Memorial Park.

“We also have an annual $1,000 scholarship that we award to a senior in the Catoctin High district,” Hagemann said.

Hundreds of Maryland Masons will be participating in a parade in Baltimore in full regalia for the re-dedication of the Washington Monument on July 4. The Masons laid the cornerstone for the original monument in 1815, and re-laid the stone in 1915.

“We’ll be using the implements from the time period of 1915 to rededicate the cornerstone,” Wyvill said.

Young people who are interested in becoming a Mason may join as members DeMolay for young men or JOBS Daughters for young ladies. Women join the Order of the Eastern Star. Ernie Gelwicks added, “The Knights Templar is another branch which many Master Masons also join, as is the Scottish Rite Shriners, which are responsible for Shriners Hospital fame and support this worthy cause.” For more information in our area’s Masonic membership, please call John Hagemann at 301-271-2711 or Ernie Gelwicks at 301-447-2923.

mason 3

Members of Acacia Lodge #155 in Thurmont are shown dedicating the cornerstone of the Thurmont Regional Library.


Thurmont Acacia Lodge No. 155 members and Maryland’s Grand Master, Kenneth Wyvill (third from right), are pictured with a scholarship recipient, Lydia Spalding, in June.

by James Rada, Jr.

Thurmont Gets A New School

It used to be that if students in Thurmont were going to be late to school, they simply didn’t go because they would have been sent home anyway.

At the beginning of the 1877-1878 school year, Thurmont, which was still known as Mechanicstown at the time, had two schools. Both of them were one-room schools that could hold a maximum of 60 students each, “which is as many, if not more than can be comfortably seated in either room,” The Catoctin Clarion reported.

The Mechanicstown School District had around 200 students. Most of those students were sharp enough to tell you that seating limitations left 80 or more students without a place to attend school.

The catch was that it wasn’t always the same 80 students who were without a seat in the classroom. It was first come, first taught, with students who showed up late to a full school being told “that there is no room for them; the school room is over crowded and they must go home,” the newspaper reported.

With both the newspaper and the public demanding a solution, the Board of Education took action. Less than a month after The Catoctin Clarion took up the cause for a new school, the newspaper announced that Mechanicstown had its third school, another one-room school.

“Now all can be accommodated and the cause of education progresses in a more satisfactory manner,” the newspaper reported.

The new school also meant that 34-year-old Ephraim L. Boblitz had a new job. The young teacher had married his wife, Emma, in 1866, and they had recently had their first child, Caroline.

“We congratulate friend Ephraim in thus securing a school nearer home as it will save him the long walk, in all kinds of weather, which has been his for many years past, and also the scholars in getting such a good teaching,” the newspaper reported.

A few years later in 1880, the town got its first four-room school, which was built on East Main Street, according to The Frederick News. The students from the three one-room schools were all consolidated into this new school. Boblitz joined John Landers and Frederick White as teachers there.

Boblitz remained as a teacher in the school until he resigned in 1892 to become the superintendent of Frederick County Schools.

Meanwhile, Mechanicstown got its first high school that same year. William M. Martin was the high school’s first principal. At the time, it was a three-year high school, and the first commencement was held in 1895. There was only one graduate. The building later became the Maple Inn and was torn down to be replaced by Riffle’s Garage, which was also later torn down.

Boblitz served as the superintendent of schools until he died near the end of November 1906.

His funeral was held at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thurmont, where he had been an elder on the church council. Rev. Isaac Motter, president of the Board of School Commissioners, called him a good and just man, “…there were many who rise up and call him blessed for the training that had been received under him,” The Frederick News reported.

He was survived by his wife and five children, Carrie, Frank, Hattie, Nellie, and Lucy. He is buried in Wellers Church Cemetery.