Reasons abound to live in Maugansville

July 25, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS


Editor's note: This is the sixth in a summer series examining the histories of local communities in Washington County.

Maugansville's town historians can't tell you exactly why the first settlers of Maugansville picked that particular piece of forested Cumberland Valley land, which had no rivers or major streams, as the site of a farm back in 1827.

"When you look at why towns spring up and so forth, Maugansville really has no legitimate reason for being," said Harold Boyer, 69, a retired geography professor who grew up in Maugansville and now resides in Smithsburg. Often, towns grow around major crossroads, churches or gristmills built on streams, he said, but Maugansville had none of those things.

"There was really no reason to settle there," agreed Bob Walton, 63, president of the Maugansville Historical Society. "I figure they got the land really cheap."


However, residents can give you plenty of reasons why people have come over the years to the village those settlers established: The railroad, the dairy farms, the Ruritan Club, Mack Trucks, Fairchild Industries, Washington County Regional Airport, the Saab dealership and the Little League fields.

Then there's something else about the town, a unique country flavor that they can't quite describe.

"It's always been known as a very community-minded area to live, where people are really good friends, people look out for each other," said Ron Bowers, 62, a former Washington County Commissioner who has lived in Maugansville for 26 years.

According to a town history compiled by a group of eighth- and ninth-graders at Maugansville Junior High School in 1949, the town was named after Jonathan Maugans, one of 11 children of Abraham Maugans, who traveled by wagon train from the Wolfsville area in Frederick County, Md., in 1827. Abraham Maugans bought 880 acres and gave each child an 80-acre plot. Jonathan Maugans built the first "building of importance" in 1835, according to "History of Western Maryland" by J. Thomas Scharf.

It's the area's second group of settlers, however, that most residents credit with giving it its distinctive atmosphere. In the mid-1800s, a group of Mennonites from Lancaster County, Pa., came to Maugansville, where they found land that was "cheaper, just as rich, and had plenty of timber and stones with which to build good homes," according to the students' history.

Through the years, the traditions of the pacifist Christian evangelical religious group have helped keep what Bowers called the "conservatism of the town."

Lifelong Maugansville resident Teresa Swain, 45, said she was raised to behave extra respectfully out of consideration for her Mennonite neighbors. When she and her friends walked to the swimming pool in the summer, for example, they never wore only swimsuits.

"It's a world of difference from Baltimore," said Walton, who moved to Maugansville from Baltimore in 1970. Then, he said the town was about 80 percent Mennonite. Now he guesses the Mennonite population is only about 20 percent, but he said the influence remains strong.

"The garage is Mennonite run, and if your car breaks down and ... you're in shorts, you might as well forget it, it's going to stay broken down," Walton said.

There also aren't any liquor stores or liquor licenses in town, Bowers said.

"I think that's what causes Maugansville to have a little bit of a different persona. It gives a flavor of country, a flavor of farm and an overall good feeling to have Mennonites as neighbors."

'Farm flavor'

The "farm flavor" also comes from the area's rich agricultural history, particularly its dairy farms. The students' history refers to Maugansville as a "great milk center," and says "there is no village like Maugansville for its milk dealers."

An updated version from 1955 states that "Eden Plains Farms has the largest herd of Registered Guernsey Cattle in Western Maryland and Eden Plains Farms is the oldest distributor of Registered Guernsey milk in this section of the country."

Warren Riggs, 86, a member of the historical society, said he remembers when the local dairy delivered raw milk in bottles. He also recalls the rivalry that existed between the local dairymen and the Hagerstown dairymen, who pasteurized their milk, before a law was passed requiring all milk to be pasteurized.

A creamery established in 1900 by Joseph Horst, one of the original Mennonite settlers, sold butter and cream to larger towns until it went out of business in 1918, according to the students' history. The popular Creamery ice cream shop that local business owners David and Theresa Litten opened in 2003 was named after the old business, Walton said.

Another important crop was asparagus, grown on Miller's Asparagus Farm, where it was picked with the help of local children and canned. It was sold throughout the Hagers- town area as Non-Tuff Asparagus, Boyer said.

'Our own little government'

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