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Roots of Boonsboro reach to 1770s

June 07, 2004|by HEATHER C. SMATHERS

BOONSBORO

Editor's note. This is the first in a series of stories examining the history of towns in Washington County.

heathers@herald-mail.com

More than 200 years ago, would-be landowners were leaving more congested areas and higher prices to find affordable land.

The quest for land led two brothers to Western Maryland, where they settled and established the town of Boonsboro.

While the town was not officially founded until 1792, its roots reach to the late 1770s, when Lord Baltimore offered land to German farmers who were fleeing rising land costs in Pennsylvania. Baltimore hoped the farmers would settle the land and help Western Maryland prosper, said Douglas Bast, a historian and longtime Boonsboro resident.

William Boone, the first of the two brothers who founded Boonsboro, arrived around 1778 and settled a 100-acre farm, Bast said. With the help of his brother, George, William laid out a town in 44 half-acre lots in 1792 and Boone's Berry officially was founded.

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Although Boone's Berry was the name originally given by the brothers, the name was changed several times before arriving at the present Boonsboro. One common practice was to name a town after the wife of the founder, Bast said.

"Margaretsville was a name used in maps and was named after George Boone's wife, Margaret," Bast said. "It was probably the person who made the map that designated that name."

A popular name given to the town by visitors was Boonsborough, and the shortened Boonsboro became standard in 1866, according to documents from the Boonsboro Historical Society.

Historical Society records also show Boonsboro became an incorporated town in 1831 and held its first local elections in 1832, electing Jonathan Shafer as burgess.

During the Civil War, Boonsboro and its citizens were in the heart of the action during the nearby battles of South Mountain and Antietam, Bast said.

The Civil War affected town residents directly and personally, he said.

Two brothers from Boonsboro, Jacob and John Heck, fought against each other during both local battles. Jacob fought for the Confederacy and John for the Union.

On Sept. 14, 1862, Confederate forces held back Union troops at South Mountain, allowing Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to regroup his forces at Sharpsburg, according to a Department of Natural Resources Web site.

After the battle, both brothers went to their home in Boonsboro to have a meal and visit with each other. They parted company only to meet again on opposite sides at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 16, 1862, Bast said.

Citizens of Boonsboro have long been proud of their town and their heritage. One piece of history the town cherishes is the first monument erected to honor George Washington, Bast said.

"People in Baltimore were in the process of making a monument to Washington, but by July 4, 1827, their monument was not built, so people from Boonsboro created a stone monument on South Mountain and dedicated it to Washington," he said.

Another claim to fame for Boonsboro are the "Hearts of Gold" cantaloupes that once were cultivated in the area. Boonsboro still is renowned for various types of cantaloupe today, Bast said.

Today, Boonsboro continues to make history, with the first known runoff election for city council planned for this month, said Boonsboro Mayor Charles "Skip" Kauffman. Town Councilmen Richard Gross, 70, and Kevin Chambers, 43, tied during a May 10 town election. A recount failed to break the tie.

Kauffman said he is pleased with efforts to continue to enhance and embrace Boonsboro's history. Residents can expect to see a 45-acre addition to Shafer Park, set to begin within the next year.

Efforts also are being made to restore the Boone Hotel on the square and to preserve the original trolley station, he said.

Next week: A look at Clear Spring.

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