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Historical group has labored in Clear Spring for 25 years

June 14, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING -David Wiles needs only to look around the interior of Plumb Grove to justify the 25-year existence of the Clear Spring District Historical Association. But that ambitious and continuing restoration is not all this dedicated group has accomplished.

"I'm a charter member," Wiles said, recalling that while he was only 24 when he joined the fledgling organization, he was committed to preserving not only Plumb Grove but also other historic structures in and around his hometown.

He is the current president, and has served in that capacity a number of times in the past 25 years.

Quietly but diligently would describe the work that the loyal members of the historic group have been doing over the past quarter century. When asked what, if anything, would mark the anniversary year, Wiles said it most likely would be a quiet observance.

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Plumb Grove, which is on the school campus property, is open every third Sunday from June through October, Wiles said. Plumb Grove will be open this Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.

Built in 1831, Plumb Grove was the home of Jonathan Nesbitt, a well-to-do farmer and politician, and his wife, Ann.

"It was falling down when we first saw it," Wiles said.

With investments of more than $200,000 in repairs and furnishings over the years and thousands of volunteer hours, the home has been restored. The original interior woodwork was saved as were many of the doors and floors. Furnishings include many local and Maryland-made antiques.

During the frequent tours of the house, there are never any ribbons or velvet ropes to bar access to anything - touching is allowed. "We do everything possible to make people think they are in the 19th century," Wiles said.

Children's activities are a big highlight each year and the annual Christmas tour draws hundreds of people.

While programs at the house are uppermost in the members' minds, much of the time is spent raising money to keep the house up and to finance the other projects, Wiles said. The main sources of money are fundraisers and the generous donations of members.

"We would love to get an endowment or have more people remember us in their wills," Wiles said.

Wiles said the historic group also would like to get money from the Washington County Gaming Commission but requests are routinely turned down.

In 1967, long before the historic group was formed, the land where Plumb Grove sits was purchased by the Washington County Board of Education so three new schools could be built.

That year, Wiles was in Florence Frantz's sixth-grade class. "She lectured from her wheelchair about history and got me excited about Plumb Grove," Wiles said.

"They were going to tear Plumb Grove down but they came up with a plan to deed it to an historical society," Wiles said. The deal included a provision that no federal, state or local government money could be accepted.

"In 1980, that restriction was lifted and in 1981, we owned it," Wiles said.

Known originally as the Nesbitt-Warner House, Plumb Grove's salvation and restoration became the goal of Joan Warner and the late Hilda Cushwa, Wiles said.

The Clear Spring District Historical Society boasts more than 700 members, young and not so young. Even though the main focus is Plumb Grove, the group also manages two other properties.

The town's first post office at 106 Cumberland St. (1823) has been restored and now serves as the group's headquarters and repository for family research papers and books on local history.

The 1825 Browns' Meeting House at 11 S. Mill St. is where work is beginning. That building was given to the group and efforts are under way to raise $100,000 for its restoration, Wiles said.

To join the group, annual dues of $10 are required. For more information on the organization, the quarterly newsletter or to donate funds, call 301-842-1393 or send contributions to CSDHA, Box 211, Clear Spring, MD 21722.

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