Hagerstown always was a business town

January 30, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Washington County maintains an Economic Development Commission to promote the county and it has a chamber of commerce to sell itself to the outside world.

But economic development efforts are hardly new.

In 1911, area businessmen published a pamphlet that promoted the city in much the same way. The pamphlet, compiled by Clarence E. Weaver and published by the Mail Publishing Co., advertises Hagerstown as a "great manufacturing, railroad, inter-urban and distributing center."

In today's NewsPlus section, The Herald-Mail begins a regular series that will appear the last Sunday of each month examining how life has changed in the Tri-State area during the 20th century and how it might change over the next 100 years.

But the 1911 publication, titled "Story of Hagerstown, Maryland," proves the old axiom that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


With a population of 25,000 people, 190 daily trains, 78 factories and seven banks, Hagerstown was already a regional powerhouse. The publication boasted of "Steadily Increasing Wealth & Prosperity."

The pamphlet makes a strong sales pitch, assuring that Hagerstown is filled with friendly, hard-working people who treat newcomers like family.

Many of the arguments surely would be familiar to today's economic development officials: low taxes, proximity to major cities and ports, cheap land, inexpensive labor and affordable housing. The pamphlet said houses could be rented from $6 to $15 a month.

Inside the pages, the publication provides a listing and description of the many businesses that formed Hagerstown's economy in the early 1900s.

They included bankers, jewelers, grocers, pharmacies, department stores and furniture makers.

They also included large firms like the Montross Metal Casket Co., which could turn out complete burial caskets in two minutes at its 78 1/2 acre plant.

The Crawford Co. manufactured automobiles and the Hagerstown Garage repaired them.

The Hagerstown Brewing Co. produced 50,000 barrels of Hagerstown Beer each year.

They all came together - along with "a stalwart hillside population to draw on for workers" - to form what the authors modestly described as the "Mecca of peace and plenty."

They highlighted their success stories. Again, they might sound familiar. They boasted of the Hagerstown Storage and Transfer Co., the "largest and most prominent storage and transfer concern in this section of the country."

The Hagerstown Table Works employed 200 workers at its eight-acre factory.

"The success of this plant and all other manufacturing plants located here shows Hagerstown is the proper place for other manufacturers looking for a good center," the publication says.

The pamphlet also makes clear that local businesses were up on the latest technologies.

W.E. Holland, who had a shop at the corner of Summit Avenue and Baltimore Street, was a dealer in country produce.

"Mr. Holland is very swift in the making of prompt deliveries by automobile, and all orders taken (by) phone will be as carefully attended to as if the customer called in person," the publication says.

Some firms that thrived in the first decade of the 20th century, though, would later see technology render them obsolete.

The Hess Carriage Co., for instance, was founded in 1891 but eventually saw declining demand for building and repairing stage coaches and horse buggies.

Refrigeration eventually overtook the Hagerstown Ice Co., which was founded in 1890 and made 50 tons of ice per day from distilled mountain water and filled seven wagons during season.

"Story of Hagerstown" presents a glimpse of Washington County at the turn of the century. It is as once familiar and different. And that, according to local historians and economic development officials, is the story of work in the Tri-State area during the 20th century.

The characteristics that made the area attractive then continue to be the region's assets, they said.

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