African-American history sites, romance bring visitors

November 30, 1999|By Tom Riford

Hagerstown-Washington County made national news recently, because of our many African-American Heritage Sites, and because of a new brochure that the CVB produced with help from the Washington County Historical Society, the Washington County Free Library, and the African-American Historical Association. USA Today, CNN, and other media outlets carried an Associated Press article about the brochure, and also about the many African-American sites of historical interest right here in our county.

According to the History Channel, February marks the beginning of Black History Month ? an annual celebration that has existed since 1926. The Convention and Visitors Bureau has seen an increase in the interest paid to our local historical sites, and encourages everyone to learn more about our local heritage. Many events happened here, impacting African-Americans, including John Brown's Raid and the Battle of Antietam. In our county there are museums, parks, private homes, and historical sites that all are of interest to Black History Month (The Washington County African-American Heritage Guide is posted on the CVB's Web site).


Maryland is home to a significant number of African-American historical sites and exhibits. In 1820, Harriet Tubman was born in Maryland, and Dorchester County today offers tours and living history itineraries. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland opened recently in nearby Baltimore to rave reviews. The museum hosts exhibitions and events, and has a remarkable permanent collection.


Because of Valentine's Day, February also is a month for romance. Interestingly enough, Hagerstown and Washington County has become known as a place where couples meet and explore. Our Downtown Hagerstown Visitors Center receives phone calls from throughout the Mid-Atlantic, from people who are planning a romantic get-away in our community. We recommend sites, parks, museums, restaurants, entertainment, theater, shopping, and lodging options.

Our hotel partners frequently tell anecdotes of couples who met on the Internet, and chose Hagerstown as the place to meet. One such couple, who'd never met in person, recently contacted our Visitors Center. Working with our travel counselors, they arranged a whole weekend here in Hagerstown. With one from Ohio, and the other from well east of here, they chose Hagerstown as a central rendezvous. While here, the couple stayed at the Country Inn and Suites, explored the City Park and Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, ate at the Schmankerl Stube Bavarian Restaurant, and also at LJ's and The Kat Lounge. They sent a wonderful letter thanking our staff for the terrific ideas, and they plan to return soon. We all wonder if we'll be invited to the wedding.

Seriously, our Visitors Center staff is frequently asked about romantic places to explore âEUR¦ we recommend hiking on trails, visiting local parks, watching the sunset from Pen Mar Park, taking in the Washington County Playhouse, canoeing on our local creeks, and attending the Maryland Symphony. These are all typical activities enjoyed by couples. One young couple asked our staff recently about places to go, and wanted to know details about jewelry stores at our local malls. Afterwards, we all had a feeling that an engagement ring was being sought.

A romantic story was related recently, about a couple who "kissed in the middle of the Paw Paw Tunnel." This nearby tunnel is on the C&O Canal Towpath, and a fun bike ride from Hancock. The tunnel is over 3,100 feet long, and the legend apparently is that you can tell your true love, if when standing exactly in the center of the tunnel, you share a kiss. The tunnel is very dark âEUR¦ so I suppose someone would have to like you a lot to go into such a place anyway!

Have a great February ? celebrate Black History Month by visiting any of our scores of historical sites (for more information visit our web site), and also seek a little romance along the way.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization whose mission includes helping attract visitors to Hagerstown and Washington County. The CVB helps to create vibrant growth for the local economy by promoting, developing and expanding the local visitor industry.

Tom Riford is president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. He can be reached at 301-791-3246. His column appears monthly in The Daily Mail. The CVB's Web site is:

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