Downsville has a tale to tell

History, local lore important to town's residents

History, local lore important to town's residents

July 04, 2005|by TONY BUDNY

Editor's note: This is the third in a summer series examining the histories of local communities in Washington County. Next week: Big Pool


You might not think a rich history would be found in a town on ce referred to, according to local historian Sandy Izer, as a "widening in the road on the way to the river."

But Downsville, between Sharpsburg and Williamsport, has a history that goes back even further than the community itself.

Spielman Road, which passes through Downsville, is one of Washington County's oldest, unaltered roads and many people traveled its route.

"(British Col. Robert) Dunbar and 700 British regulars of the 48th regiment marched through here in 1755," said Izer.

Almost 100 years later, the need for a post office led to the formal establishment of the Downsville community.

Local historians know Charles Downs established the town of Downsville in 1848 so he could open a post office. Izer said accounts from that time period indicate Downs was able to open a post office, although there is no official record of one until 1855, when Charles' brother, Christopher, became postmaster of one there.


The post office lasted only 48 years before rural free delivery forced the closure of it and many other small post offices, according to John Frye of the Washington County Free Library.

Izer said other well-known historical figures have visited Downsville.

"In October 1862, (Union Gen. George) McClellan and even Abraham Lincoln encamped here," she said.

History, whether from textbook, experience or local lore, remains important to the citizens. Some, like Leroy Shank, who declined to give his age, and James Mellot, 76, contend history is one of the things that has kept the community together.


Mellot, who has lived in Downsville for most of his life, said storytelling typifies the Downsville resident.

"My uncle Stokes used to ride to the old general store and kids would come from all around to listen to the stories of his experiences he told," Mellot said.

Shank grew up on a farm that has stood for hundreds of years. It was owned by the Long family, one of the most prominent families in Downsville. He remembers when Downsville residents were united.

Development in the area is changing the community, he said.

"At one point, there was a strong sense of community. I could name almost everyone in Downsville. Now, with all these new people moving in, I don't have a chance at that," Shank said.

Mellot sees similar changes.

"People used to see me and they would wave, and I would wave back. Now people fly by in their cars and they don't slow down. They hardly consider others. They're on their way to a destination outside of Downsville," he said.

Izer described the change in terms of social structure.

"The change from a predominantly agricultural community to an urban community is evident," she said. "Most residents no longer work on the farm or a business within walking distance. And newer residents don't often have the same roots families who lived here for generations used to."

Some change has been occurring for decades. Despite its unincorporated status, Downsville once had a town hall, although it did not have a town government.

Details of the town hall appear in a 1920 letter by local schoolteacher Effe Long. The letter states that the town hall served as a community center where the "literary training of young people" occurred.

"Many public speakers of Washington County have received their training in this society," the letter said.

The town hall that Long described was at the end of Natural Well Road, where it intersects Dam No. 4 Road, Izer said. The structure no longer exists - a house stands in its place.

Founder Charles Downs owned a general store at the crossroads of Spielman Road and Downsville Pike. It, too, no longer remains. In its place, stands a tree.

Nothing but one picture, of which Izer has a copy, remains of the original schoolhouse. The new schoolhouse, built in 1939, according to Frye, still stands. No longer used for educating children, it now serves as the Downsville community center and is maintained by the Downsville Ruritan Club.

The churches of Downsville have changed many times.

According to parishioner Jason Malott, the Christian church now is the Downsville Christian Church, completed in 1954 by the citizens of Downsville. The original Christian church, built in 1868 and used until 1954, still stands on Dam No. 4 Road. Today it is an apartment building, Malott said.

The Church of the Brethren, built in the 1800s, is still in use, but the Mount Moriah Reformed Church, just east of Downsville, now is a private residence, he said.

Agricultural roots

Izer said many community residents are interested in preservation.

"They don't appear to have any interest in developing their farms, thereby keeping the immediate structure of Downsville quiet, rural and agricultural," she said.

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