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Historians want site for collections

July 25, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Some local historians and genealogists have begun making preliminary plans for a project through which collections of historical and genealogical documents, including the Washington County Historical Society's library, would be stored and publicly available at a central site.

"You have the makings of an attraction," Councilman N. Linn Hendershot told a group of project supporters at a meeting Thursday. "This is like Disneyland for seniors."

The group has no funding for the project but members plan to seek donations, grants and other funding sources, Melinda Marsden, executive director of the Washington County Historical Society, said Thursday.

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Hendershot said he would try to get Washington County hotel-motel tax proceeds for the project, which supporters tentatively are calling the Cumberland Valley Cultural Heritage Center.

The group would like the site to be in the building at the corner of Summit Avenue and West Washington Street that currently houses the Nicodemus branch of M&T Bank, formerly Allfirst, Marsden said.

The branch is closing in August and will be vacant by November, she said.

The bank says it will sell the 17,720-square-foot building for $950,000, Hendershot said. It was built between 1911 and 1917 and expanded in 1927.

M&T Bank officials with whom Marsden has spoken said they would consider donating some or all of the property but first would need to hear more concrete plans, she said.

The project also could serve as a storage place for old documents that normally might not be saved by government agencies and courts, Marsden said.

The bank would be an ideal site as a storage location for collections of the historical society and other groups because of its size and proximity to other local historical attractions, Marsden said.

The historical society would move its library from the Miller House at 135 W. Washington St. to the building at 101 W. Washington St. The historical society library has about 2,500 books, more than 10,000 photographs, 900 family files, maps, newspapers, rare books and other items, Marsden said.

Hendershot said the project could draw people from beyond the Tri-State area.

"We are one of the major crossroads of American history," he said.

People come from other states to downtown Hagerstown to do genealogical research at the Washington County Free Library's Western Maryland Room, Hendershot said.

Under the proposal, people would be able to sort through government and legal documents at the bank location to find out more about why their forefathers moved to the area and what life back then was like, Marsden said.

Marsden said she initially thought some documents from the Western Maryland Room could be moved into the proposed site but library Director Mary Baykan opposed that idea.

Al Werking, a local historian and genealogist, said he does not anticipate any trouble finding people and groups who want their historical information stored at a central location.

"You are not going to have a problem filling the Nicodemus bank," he said.

For more information, call Marsden at 301-797-8782.

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