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Early Washington County pioneers deserve some respect

July 12, 2003|By David Wiles

The Washington County government continues to infuriate the more than 100 direct descendants of early trail-blazing pioneers buried at the new county dump located west of Hagerstown. Local family members simply want the remains of their descendants buried with other family members at St. Paul's Lutheran and German Reformed graveyard near Clear Spring. But the Washington County government seems to be shopping around for the best price for a mass burial.

The historic Rufus Wilson farm was purchased by Washington County about 13 years ago. At that time, the Clear Spring District Historical Association informed county officials that two cemeteries were located on this property. We were told that the graveyards would never be touched.

Ten years later on April 20, 1999, the headline in The Herald-Mail read, "Graves to give way to landfill." The official county report proclaimed, "none of the families were historically significant." With Independence Day just passing, sharing some insights about the people buried at this graveyard containing a Revolutionary War soldier who was wounded while fighting for the freedom we enjoy today, seems very fitting:

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Settlements around the area of our new county dump can be traced back as early as 1732. The "dump families" who settled along the Conococheague Creek, spoke only German. And it was these same immigrants who were a part of a movement who conquered the western frontier known today as Washington County.

It was not easy for our early "historically insignificant" families to set up housekeeping where no houses existed. Logs were cut and dragged to cabin sites. Boards were slit for doors and window frames. Roof poles were pegged and set. Wooden shingles were made for the roof. Packed dirt made the floor. Greased paper was put in the window openings because glass was scarce.

For months, axes echoed along the Conococheague Creek before houses stood in this new frontier section of Maryland. As this one phase of the hard work ended, these "historically insignificant" foreigners sat in their new homes with only their ax, a rifle, an iron pot, a few tools, a few packets of seeds, a bit of bedclothing and the clothes on their backs.

Farming and furniture-making had to be tackled by the "historically insignificant" families rooted along the Conococheague. Beds were built in the cabin corners by driving crotched posts into the ground and running rails to the walls. Across the frame was stretched a deer skin. Boards were used for tables and benches were made from half logs and the cradle was made from a hollowed log.

Nutrition was not a problem for the "historically insignificant." The woods were full of deer, turkeys, rabbits, squirrels and groundhogs.

As with so many other pioneer homes, departed family members were buried on their property. The one graveyard at the dump could contain as many as 80 graves. Descendants today of the one located graveyard include the family names of Wachtel, Stine, Kretzer, Kriner, Troupe, Clopper, Miller and many others.

Many people were surprised some 13 years ago when Washington County purchased the Wilson farm to be transformed into a dump. After all, the property is surrounded on three sides by the scenic Conococheague Creek. This farm with its unique Civil War history has become our county's monument glorifying America's throwaway society.

In 1999, representatives of the Clear Spring District Historical Association and some living descendants of those buried in the graveyard, met with a Washington County official concerning the moving of the graves. The historical association had contacted scores of family members before the meeting and the majority wanted to have the graves moved to St. Paul's graveyard.

We supported the county's plan to move the graves and wanted to assist any way we could. However, we were told at that meeting that it would be as long as 30 years before the dump reached such capacity that the graves would have to be moved.

We never got a response from our meeting four years ago concerning the relocation of the graves. Recently, I talked to the county engineering department and was informed that bid requests were released concerning the moving of the graves. A June 20 Herald-Mail story reports that Rose Hill Cemetery of Hagerstown is willing to rebury the remains in separate graves if identified. Those not identified will go in a common grave. No thank you, Rose Hill!

Our request to the Washington County Commissioners is simple. Move the remains to individual graves at St. Paul's graveyard where many of the now dead attended church as far back as the 1700s.

Move all of the markers, too. And, as you pledged several years ago, place a monument at the new site detailing the move.

There was county money available to build a bridge at the dump over the Conococheague, and there was county money available to build a brick-faced office building at the dump, and there was county money available to erect a forever-standing brick sign at the dump. There should be county money to do the honorable thing and move each departed person at the dump graveyard to peaceful individual graves at St. Paul's.

It has cost $12 million to convert the beautiful Wilson farm into a dump. It is projected that when the last bag of trash arrives in the year 2080 (if not much sooner) a very high mound covering 15,768,000 cubic yards of garbage will be sitting on the land where a few German speaking people arrived in the 1700s to begin their new life in a wonderful new country called America. They were anything but historically insignificant.




David Wiles is president of the Clear Spring District Historical Association.

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