"Charming" Hagerstown? Just maybe

October 28, 2004|by TIM ROWLAND

Yet there it was, front page. In no less an authority than the Baltimore Sun. I thought, what's this, a story on Hagerstown, Indiana? But no, it was us. And we were being portrayed in a light that was sort of the metropolitan equivalent of "The Swan."

Us? In a story along with words like "charm," "chic," "bustle," "promising," "attractive," "excitement" and "air-conditioned?"

Aw shucks, you don't need to make such a fuss over l'il ole us. As a matter of fact, I'm not sure that I, for one, can handle it. Usually, the only national ink we get is when a deer runs amok or some Little League pop puts a beat-down on an ump. This whole "Hagerstown: It's Not Just for Losers Anymore" angle has caught me a bit off stride.

The article tells the story of a once grand railroad town that fell on hard times for a few decades (as they say in Boston, "Hey, anybody can have a bad century") and is now clawing its way back to respectability.


Sure, the story says, there is still a long way to go. Hagerstown, says writer JoAnna Daemmrich, has not "experienced the kind of gentrification that has transformed historic small towns from neighboring Frederick to Savannah, Ga." In other words, we're still hicks, but we're learning to clean up nice.

That's fine with me. If "gentrification" is code for $4 cups of coffee, leave me out of it.

But overall, she was very kind. She calls our downtown retail soup of bargain stores, pawn shops and bail bondsmen "eclectic." That word never would have occurred to me. I might have chosen - well, never mind what I would have chosen, the point is that someone else thinks we're cool and that's what counts.

The story mentions a couple of young professionals who moved from points east to Antietam Street, on a block that is "gritty, but promising."

That's us, gritty, but promising.

Their three-story house was built in 1887 and has polished oak floors and new wiring and cost just over $200,000. In Montgomery County, $200,000 buys you a utility shed with no wiring and pressure-treated-lumber floors built in 1987.

This gives me hope for my own home, built in 1907 with polished sumac floors and wiring that appears to have been done by Calvin and Hobbes.

The owners of the Antietam Street house said "Living here has been a pleasant surprise."

I lived on Antietam Street for six years and it was surprising, all right. Pleasant? Depends on your perspective, I suppose. I mean, nowhere else in America have I seen a crack house with vaulted ceilings, if that counts.

The Sun story goes on to list a litany of improvements the city is experiencing, which taken together do sound rather impressive - $250,000 luxury townhomes, an arts district, a $5.5 million renovation project in the city core, loft apartments, a European-style bakery, renovated buildings and a new parking deck.

That's news. The last time anyone from Washington County saw a loft, it was filled with oat straw and a nest of feral cats.

After reading the entire piece, it made me wonder: Are we looking at ourselves too hard in the mirror? Will people from the cities see our moles and take them for beauty marks? Are we making progress, but fail to notice because we live with Hagerstown on a daily basis. Do we really have much to offer that we overlook in our day-to-day lives? Are we, dare I say, beautiful?

Clearly, the answer is no.

But we are on dangerous ground. Because the urbane find trendiness in the strangest places, sometimes. For all we know, as we speak there may be a couple of ladies having tea on Gibson Island: "Why Iris, you have just got to go to Hagerstown, there is the most adorable little shop on Washington Street - isn't that just too much, they call their main street Washington Street - that sells the most darling fake plastic roses with 'Support Our Troops' stickers on the stems."

I'm warning you people, once we become trendy, it's all over. And I, for one, do not want to have to give up making soccer jokes because of it.

ยท Shameless Plug Dept: I will be one of the many antiques at historic (and trendy) Lehman's Mill just off Marsh Pike in Hagerstown this Sunday, Oct. 31, from noon to 3 p.m., signing copies of my new novel "Home Detention," the story of a mid-life crisis in reverse. For directions, call 301-739-9119 or visit

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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