Historic Newspaper Indexing
County lies in the heart of the
Great Valley, which extends down from Central Pennsylvania
through Tennessee. The county is located in the portion of
the Great Valley known as The Cumberland Valley located north of
the Potomac River. The lower portion of the Cumberland Valley is drained by Antietam Creek and
The county was formed out of Frederick County on September 6, 1776 two months
after the Declaration of Independence was signed. The area was settled by Israel Friend,
Jonathan Hager, Charles Friend, Thomas Cresap and many others. By 1749 the geographical area of what
would become Washington County was divided into hundreds, or government districts reminiscent of
the English system of hundreds. From 1749 to 1763 the hundreds consisted of Linton,
Conococheague, Salisbury, Marsh, and Antietam
founded in 1749 and Upper and Lower Antietam formed out of Antietam in 1759.
Between 1763 and 1800 four more hundreds were added: Fort Frederick in 1763, Sharpsburg in 1765, Elizabeth in 1771, and Jerusalem (Funkstown) in 1776.
In March of 1732, Charles, 5th Lord Baltimore,
proprietor of Maryland, advertised for families
and single persons to settle the western areas of Maryland between the Potomac and Susquehanna Rivers. He granted 100 acre parcels to single
men and 200 acre parcels to family groups.
The main groups of immigrants responding to the ads were Germans and
Scot-Irish from Pennsylvania. Larger land grants were acquired by men
of English ancestry from the eastern Maryland.
The earliest settlement in Washington County was Conococheague across the creek from
present-day Williamsport. Charles Friend obtained a grant called
“Sweed’s Delight” in 1739 on the west side of the Conococheague Creek. This was part of the larger
Conococheague Manor created by Frederick, 6th Lord Baltimore in 1734
consisting of 10,581 acres.
The settlement developed into a trading post with a block house for protection
from Indians. Also in 1739, Thomas
Cresap obtained the 500 acre land tract of “Long Meadows” and built a fort. Neither of these settlements
survived to the present day.
Other early settlements include Sharpsburg and Boonsboro, both surviving to the present day. In 1764, Joseph Chapline began
selling lots in Sharpsburg. The town of Boonsboro was not laid out
into lots until 1829 by Henry Nyman and [first name not given] Betebanner. The original settlement was on a land
grant obtained by George and William Boone in 1774.
Hagerstown, the county seat
County, was laid out by
Jonathan Hager, a German immigrant. The first lots were sold in 1768.
The town was made up of parts of three land tracts obtained by Hager. “New
Work,” obtained in 1765, contained the bulk of the lots of the new town, but the
town also contained parts of “Hager’s Choice” and the “The Land of Prospect”
obtained in 1739 and 1765 respectively. The town was laid out in 520 lots
of 82 feet across the front and 240 feet deep; each lot was about one half
acre. The lots were leased for five
pounds consideration money and seven shillings and six pence annual ground
rent. The unnumbered lots outside
of town were reserved for Hager but were later sold by his heirs.
Hagerstown was originally
named “Elizabethtown” in honor of Jonathan Hager’s
wife, Elizabeth; the citizens, however, referred to it as “Hager’s Town.” The City Council voted to officially
change the name on 5 December 1813, with the Maryland State Legislature
following suit in1814. By 1835,
through common usage within both the populace and the Maryland State
Legislature, Hager’s Town had evolved into the present-day “Hagerstown.”
Remains of two major transportation routes are situated in
County. The National Turnpike provided access to
the east and west, from Baltimore to the
Ohio. The Great Wagon Road passed through from north
to south connecting Pennsylvania with the Shenandoah Valley of
Virginia and the southern states.
In addition, the Chesapeake and
Ohio Canal and the convergence of four railroads further
served to link Hagerstown and Washington County to the rest of the United
The Chesapeake and
Ohio Canal was chartered by Maryland, Virginia and
Pennsylvania in 1824 to provide freight service
between Washington, D.C. and the Ohio Valley. Seventy-seven of the canal’s 184 ˝ miles
ran through Washington County. Competition between the canal and the
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad resulted in the
railroad passing through western Virginia
between Harpers Ferry and Cherry Run and the canal remaining on the Maryland side of the Potomac
It took twenty-two years to construct and operated until 1924 when a flood ended
The convergence of the railroads in Hagerstown by the fourth
quarter of the nineteenth century created industrial and population growth in
Hagerstown, conferring on it the named the “Hub City.” The Franklin Railroad entered Hagerstown in 1841 and
merged with the Cumberland Valley Railroad in 1865. This line provided access to Pennsylvania cities and
other northern cities via transfer to stage lines and other railroad lines. The
Hagerstown Herald and Torch Light newspaper
reported in the July 5, 1865 issue that two new trains were added on the
Franklin Railway line between Hagerstown and
Harrisburg. In the December 6 and 20, 1865 issues
editorials discussed the need for another daily train to be added so that
Hagerstown and Washington County businesses would be able to compete with the
larger cities. This was an enduring
theme of 1864 and 1865 in the county judging from the numerous articles,
editorials and letters to the editor published in the Herald and Torch Light during those
years regarding the need for the Western Maryland Railroad spur line to connect
the area to Baltimore and western markets.
By 1880 the railroad connections in Hagerstown included the Cumberland Valley Railroad which
became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1919, the Washington County
Railroad, a spur of the Baltimore and Ohio
Railroad, the Western Maryland Railroad and the Norfolk and Western, the former Shenandoah
Valley Railroad. The central
location of Hagerstown and Washington County brought the Western Maryland Railroad shops to
1906. The increased industry and
transportation brought more people to the area and resulted in the expansion of
the city between 1890 and 1930.
Although passenger service is no longer available and the
railroad shops are long gone, Hagerstown
continues to be an important transportation center for the CSX, Norfolk &
Southern and the Winchester and Western Railroads. Many companies, drawn to Washington County by the interstate 81 and 70 highway corridor,
have established warehouse facilities in the Hagerstown area. This in turn has drawn more
people to the area resulting in major residential and commercial growth. This is the modern version of the
proliferation of industry and transportation in Hagerstown, Williamsport and along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal during the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. Washington County, once considered the backcountry,
is fast becoming a part of the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area.