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Child-care center has served area's youth for 180 years

January 07, 1997

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

Some of the area's youngest residents meet every weekday in one of the oldest institutions in Washington County - the Hagerstown Day Nursery at 102 E. Washington St.

The nursery started out nearly 180 years ago as the Hagerstown Charity School, founded in 1818 by The Female Society for Instructing Poor Children, according to histories of the school.

At that time, free public schools did not exist in the area and only the well-to-do could afford to educate their children.

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Both boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 12 were taught "reading, writing and the first rules in arithmetic," and girls were also taught knitting and "plain sewing," the society's constitution stated.

"This was started to take care of the children that didn't get any education," Hagerstown Day Nursery board member Virginia Clark said. "That nursery has never closed its doors since it opened."

It remains the oldest charity still in continuous operation in the state of Maryland, Clark said.

In 1841, the Maryland General Assembly authorized the Washington County Commissioners to spend up to $400 to erect a building for the Hagerstown Charity School.

The red brick schoolhouse was built about 1842 on the corner of East Washington and North Locust streets and has been in continuous use as a child-care facility since then. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Hagerstown Charity School evolved into the Hagerstown Day Nursery in 1907 after the public school system developed to educate all children.

Today the nonprofit day care, which is licensed by the Maryland Department of Human Resources, can take up to 20 preschoolers between the ages of 3 and 5, director Trina Johnson said. Enrollment is at about 17 children now.

Hagerstown Day Nursery's philosophy is "to offer a preschool education and nutritious hot meals and a family-like environment for children in the area," board vice president Marilyn Statton said. "It's a good little school that serves a certain niche in the community."

Parents pay $60 a week for child care from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays, Johnson said. The nursery is funded by private donations, tuition and the United Way.

"Our day-care center is one of the cheapest in the Hagerstown area," she said.

The parents have a wide range of incomes and the nursery offers a limited scholarship program, Johnson said.

Through the Maryland State Department of Education food program, Hagerstown Day Nursery serves a nutritious breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack every day, she said.

The educational curriculum emphasizes the months of the year, holidays, the alphabet, colors, numbers, shapes and opposites, Johnson said.

"Most of our children when they go to kindergarten, if they've been here since they were 3, they're way ahead," she said.

The staff consists of three full-time employees and one part-time employee.

The two-story nursery has a playroom, art room, dining room, office and play yard in the back.

"It's just a little, tiny place for little, tiny kids to go," Statton said.

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