Historic Newspaper Index
VOL I, No. 1
Hagerstown, Maryland - Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Washington 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 Conococheague Creek.[1]

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[2], 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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]  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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8]

Hagerstown, the county seat for Washington County, was laid out by Jonathan Hager, a German immigrant. The first lots were sold in 1768.[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.”[12]

Remains of two major transportation routes are situated in Washington 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 States.

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 River.[13] It took twenty-two years to construct and operated until 1924 when a flood ended navigation.

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.[14] 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 Hagerstown in 1906.[15] 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. Washington County, once considered the backcountry, is fast becoming a part of the Baltimore/Washington metropolitan area.

[1] Know Your County-Facts about Washington County and its government, League of Women Voters of Washington County, MD 2006, p. 4.
[2] Ibid., 3.
[3] Jeffery A. Wyand, “The Hundreds of Washington County” in the Maryland Historical Magazine 67 (1972): 302 (Baltimore, MD: The Maryland Historical Society).
[4] Thomas J. C. Williams, A History of Washington County Maryland (Hagerstown: John M. Runk & L. R. Titsworth, 1906), 20-21.
[5] Ibid., 21-22.
[6] J. Thomas Scharf, History of Western Maryland (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1882), 1059.
[7] Joseph Chapline Land Conveyances, Sharpsburg file in Western Maryland Room, Washington Co Free Library, Hagerstown.
[8] Williams, 23-24, 26.
[9] John Walkley and John Frye, compilers, “Jonathan Hager Land Conveyances Recorded at the Frederick County Court House,” August 1977. Vertical file in the Western Maryland Room, Washington Co Free Library, Hagerstown.
[10] Williams, 23.
[11] Scharf, 1060.
[12] Laws of Maryland, 1835, Chapter 101. Courtesy of the Maryland Law Library, Annapolis, Maryland.
[13] Williams, 210.
[14] Mary H. Rubin, Hagerstown-Railroading around the Hub City (Charlestown, SC: Arcadia Press, 2003), 9.
[15] Susan Levitas, Railroad Ties (Crownsville, MD: The Maryland Historical Trust Press, 1992), 15.