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Washington County tells rich history

August 14, 2004|by Tom Riford

Editor's note - Tom Riford, Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau president, is writing a monthly column for The Daily Mail about the various tourist attractions which add to Washington County's rich history. His column will usually run the first Thursday of the month. This is his first installment:

More than 10 percent of Maryland's museums are located in Washington County. Washington County is wealthy with history. During 2003, more than a million people flocked to see museums and historical sites here.

The Washington County Association of Museums and Historical Sites is a loose confederation of more than 30 federal, state and private organizations. The many museums are not only amenities for residents and visitors, the museums are treasures that are rich with historical rarities.

Washington County was the first of 31 counties in America to have been named in honor of the father of our country. Founded in 1776, the county honored Washington well before he became our nation's first president. The county sits between two mountains - South Mountain to the east and Sideling Hill to the west. Thirty-three museums and historical sites beckon tourists to visit here.

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One could easily spend an entire profitable summer visiting all the museums and historical sites of interest. The museums here are renown for entertainment and education. A visitor might begin his odyssey at South Mountain, where he'd find the first monument built and dedicated in memory of President George Washington. It was erected by the citizens of Boonsboro in a single day - July 4, 1827.

Then on to the town of Boonsboro to take in the astonishing Boonsboro Museum of history, with its profusion of artifacts - everything from a mummy to a slice of the Wye Oak. Close by is the Bowman House, home of the local Historical Society.

Traveling south on South Mountain finds the South Mountain State Battlefield. The battlefield stretches from Washington Monument, Turner's Lane, Fox's Gap (The Reno Monument,) to Gathland, the site of the War Correspondent's Memorial Arch. The Arch - the only national monument to a free press, and also the only memorial to journalists who gave their lives while providing war coverage - received recent significant national recognition. It is also the site of a museum of the Civil War and George Alfred Townsend (who wrote under the name of "Gath").

The towns of Smithsburg, Funkstown and Sharpsburg each have their own historical societies and museums. Further west in Clear Spring is the Plumb Grove Mansion. Near Sharpsburg is the Antietam Battlefield, the site of the bloodiest one-day battle in this nation's history - more than 23,000 casualties.

North on Md. 65 is the new kid on the block, the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum. Exhibits and collections at this museum remind of rural life here as it was from the 19th century until World War II.

Williamsport has several historical sites, a town museum and the C&O Canal Museum, located at the Cushwa Basin turn-around.

East of Williamsport is a private museum - McMahon's Mill, built before the United States was a country.

There is a town museum in Hancock and a toll house located on "The Old National Pike," one of the first roads paved with macadam, and America's first federally funded road.

There are two "Old Schools" as well as the country store at Beaver Creek and Wilson complex.

The City of Hagerstown offers a wide variety of attractions. Visit the beautifully restored Maryland Theatre (home to the Maryland Symphony) and the Doleman Black History Museum. Hagerstown also showcases the Miller House, a 19th century townhouse filled with many treasures and home to the Historical Society and genealogy library. The Military Museum at the American Legion Post on Northern Avenue displays memorabilia dating from World War I to the present. Rose Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of thousands of Confederate dead, from the several battles fought in this area.

The Hager House located adjacent to City Park was the home of Jonathan Hager, founder of Hagerstown. The Museum of Fine Arts, widely celebrated for its collections, is close at hand at the park. At the Roundhouse Museum, there is a fabulous display of model trains and train memorabilia - including a trolley, engines, cabooses and other rail cars - for all railroad buffs. A few doors from the Roundhouse Museum is the Train Room with its display of Lionel trains and a large model layout of a circus.

In western Washington County, near Clear Spring, Fort Frederick State Park houses a fort built in 1756 to protect the local citizens during the French and Indian War. The fort also played a role in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. The State of Maryland made Fort Frederick its first state park, and it is the only remaining original stone French and Indian War fort in the country.

Sideling Hill Exhibit Center is near the county's western border. There is a fabulous geology exhibit of ancient sedimentary rock formations. The syncline is studied by geologists from around the world.

The goal of the Association of Museum and Historical Sites is to cooperatively promote local museums and historical sites, and encourage preservation through education. This column will inform about the activities of member organizations, and reveal information about special events and exhibits.

Come see the museums of Washington County, join the thousands who have been enriched by our history. Museums and historical sites are an integral part of tourism for our county, but also are wonderful amenities for our residents.

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