Waterways played big role in the history of Keedysville

July 12, 2004|by HEATHER C. SMATHERS


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

Long before white settlers arrived in Washington County, native tribes established their homes in the area of present-day Keedysville.

American Indians were attracted to the area because of the waterways that converge there, said Sue Gemeny, president of the Keedysville Historical Society.

In Antietam Creek, American Indians built a fish trap out of rocks, Gemeny said.

"The rocks are in the shape of a point, and as the fish flow into the tip of the point, the natives would stand with nets and trap the fish," Gemeny said. When the water is low, the rock formation is still visible, she added.


In 1731, Lord Baltimore Charles Calvert advertised lands available for settlement "between the rivers Potomack and Susquehanna," according to Margaret Butner Moats' book, "A History of Keedysville."

According to Moats' book, early German settlers came by way of the Monocacy Trail from Frederick, Md., to Middletown, Md.

In 1734, Lord Baltimore granted 115 acres known as Felfoot to Thomas Van Swearingen, but by 1750, Tobias Stansbury is on record as the owner of that property, Moats' book says.

Stansbury amassed 2,100 acres by 1750, the book says. The next recorded owner is German immigrant Conrad Schnebley in 1763. According to Moats' book, the manner in which Schnebley acquired the property is not exactly known, only that he "obtained it in some manner."

Moats, in her book, says in 1740, Moses Chapline, whose brother Joseph founded Sharpsburg, built a "stronghouse" - a defense against Indians - near the Felfoot property. The stronghouse was used during the French and Indian War to shelter settlers, the book says.

Jacob Hess

One important early settler was Jacob Hess, Gemeny said. On Oct. 26, 1767, Hess purchased 99 acres on four parcels for 100 pounds. Hess sold his original 99 acres for 120 pounds, according to Moats' book. In 1770, Hess purchased 150 acres for 750 pounds from Alexander McCullom, the book says.

In 1768, Hess built a gristmill on Antietam Creek, which was known informally as Hesse's Mill. The property, and settlements that sprung up around his mill, were known as Mill Property, according to Moats' book.

Hess' house, which dates to 1768, still stands in its original location. It is the only house on present-day Main Street that does not face the street, Gemeny said. Hess' house faces the original "wagon road" through town from Frederick to points west, which is perpendicular with Main Street she said.

In the 1820s, a turnpike was built between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg and the location of Hesse's Mill and surrounding property became known as Centreville, since it was centrally located between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg, according to historical documents held in the Western Maryland Room of the Washington County Free Library.

The post office was established in 1848. The name of the area was changed to Keedysville in honor of shopkeeper Samuel Keedy, a descendant of one of the earliest settler families in the area. Keedy also lobbied for the post office. The name also was changed because there already was a Centreville in Maryland, Gemeny said.

During the Civil War, the town's buildings were used as hospitals for soldiers wounded in the battles of South Mountain and Antietam, Gemeny said.

Keedysville was incorporated as a town in 1872, she said.

Keedysville can preserve its small-town atmosphere and history because it was bypassed in the 1960s by Md. 34, Gemeny said. Main Street was added to the National Historic Register in 2001, encompassing many of the original homes, she added.

Gemeny said the 2000 census lists Keedysville's population as 476. The census also says that Keedysville has one of the highest levels of education in the county, she said.

Next week: A look at Sharpsburg.

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