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Immigrant brothers gave Funkstown their name, heritage

June 21, 2004|by HEATHER C. SMATHERS

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




heathers@herald-mail.com

FUNKSTOWN - On the banks of Antietam Creek rests the tiny hamlet of Funkstown, the realization of a dream of two brothers in the 18th century.

Seeking their fortune in land speculation, brothers Henry and Jacob Funk, immigrants from Germany, came to Western Maryland in 1749 from Virginia, according to documents held in the Western Maryland collection at the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown.

Henry Funk acquired 88 acres of land in 1754 in the form of a grant by Lord Frederick Calvert, the sixth and last Lord Baltimore. The land is on a bend on the banks of Antietam Creek. The original name for the land was Black Oak Ridge, since it sits on a ridge and overlooks a horseshoe-shaped meander in the creek, according to historical records.

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Records show that in 1762 the brothers built a paper mill on the creek and began their own business.

Jacob Funk wanted to turn his attention away from the mill industry and into land development. In 1767, he completed a plat of a town he named Jerusalem.

He laid his town out in streets and squares, and had 15 log cabins built there, records show.

He built his own stone house in 1769 on the main street, where it still stands. The house is a private residence today.

Documents show that in 1771, Jacob Funk left Jerusalem for Eastern Maryland to establish a town he called Hamburg on the banks of the Potomac River, near the location of present-day Washington, D.C.

In 1776, Henry Funk wanted to establish Jerusalem as the county seat of the newly formed Washington County, named for the Revolutionary War general and future president. Henry lost the bid to Jonathan Hager of nearby Elizabeth Town, historical documents show.

The German background of the town is seen in the traditions and customs of the early settlers. In "The Story of Washington County," Mary Michael discusses the Easter custom of coloring hens' eggs and hiding them for children to find, telling them the Easter rabbit left the eggs.

Michael also writes about the German settlers and their Christmas traditions of putting up Christmas trees and about a man named Kriskringle who delivered toys to children who had been good during the year.

Many early businesses were established on the main wagon road through town. Inns, taverns and shops catered to people passing through. In 1823, the National Road was constructed through the town, bringing more visitors traveling on the road from Baltimore to Cumberland, Md., records show.

In 1840, the Maryland General Assembly passed Chapter 78 of the Laws of Maryland, incorporating "the Town of Jerusalem, commonly called Funkstown." Records at the Maryland General Assembly library and the Maryland State Archives say the name never was officially changed to Funkstown.

Like many towns in Western Maryland, Funkstown did not escape the horrors of the Civil War.

The Maryland Cracker Barrel, in an article written by Jennifer Kerslake in the April/May 1992 issue, outlines the Battle of Funkstown, which occurred on July 10, 1863, between the forces of Confederate Gen. James Ewall Brown "JEB" Stuart and Union Gen. John Buford. Stuart tried to hide the efforts of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who was assembling a battle in Williamsport. Residents of Funkstown hid in their basements during the fighting, but later used their homes as makeshift hospitals, the article says.

History is alive today in Funkstown. Many antique dealers, local dealers of history, have chosen Funkstown to establish their businesses. Dennis Warrenfeltz, owner of Rooster Vane Gardens on South High Street, said he chose to open his antique and collectible store in Funkstown because of the location.

"In addition to being very accessible to main highways, I wanted to be close to other antique dealers," Warrenfeltz said.

He said his store is in a building that is 200 years old, and that he chose the building because of its character.

"The old building gives the store a more inviting feel," he said.

Preserving the past is important to the town of Funkstown. Mayor Robert Kline said the Funkstown Historical Committee works hard to maintain the small-town atmosphere of Funkstown while protecting its historical gems.

Next week: A look at Hagerstown.

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