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Woman's research connects boulevard to World War I vets

July 31, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Virginia Magruder documented the link that eluded Hagerstown City Hall: veterans and Memorial Boulevard.

In roughly a week, she sifted through years of newspapers and found clear intent that the road was to be a tribute to World War I veterans.

In April, in the midst of a controversial proposal to rename part of Memorial Boulevard after baseball star Willie Mays, Magruder dug into the history.

She said Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh and N. Linn Hendershot, a city councilman at the time, each asked her to help.

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Magruder, a diehard researcher who lives in Hagerstown, especially was motivated by then-Mayor William M. Breichner's assertion that there was no proof "Memorial" referred to veterans.

Stepping back more than 85 years, she began with The Morning Herald on microfilm. She switched to Hagerstown City Council minutes for a time frame, then returned to The Morning Herald for detailed information.

Magruder found strong conflict at the heart of the Memorial Boulevard saga, which included the construction of a sewage system and the city's attempts to buy private property.

The plan mutated and lingered during more than 25 years of news that Magruder reviewed.

She's still at it, updating her footnoted report as she goes.

'Passionate about history'

Magruder is a fixture in front of microfilm readers.

Genealogy inspired her to read 100 years of Shepherdstown, W.Va., newspapers, hoping to find and verify information about her family.

On one side, her ancestors came to the Shepherdstown, W.Va., area in 1771. The other side arrived in 1832.

Magruder also spent more than four years reading and indexing the Martinsburg Statesman newspaper from 1870 to 1913.

She compiled a 584-page book listing births and deaths, plus other names, places and events of significance, and the issues in which they appeared.

"She's tenacious ...," Hendershot said Friday. "She's very passionate about history. If she doesn't know the answer, she's willing to go find it."

Magruder compared historical research to putting together a puzzle.

Pieces of the story were missing around the time Mays returned to Hagerstown last year and the following months.

In 1950, at Municipal Stadium, Mays played his first minor league game as a visiting player in the New York Giants' system. He has said he faced racial taunts in Hagerstown and had to stay at a hotel apart from his white teammates.

When the Hagerstown Suns convinced Mays to return to the city last year and see how it has changed, Breichner promised to rename part of Memorial Boulevard in his honor.

Some veterans objected and it became a lively debate; Breichner backed off.

An alternate plan - naming the field at Municipal Stadium after Mays - also withered under public criticism.

The veteran connection

Breichner has said that City Council minutes from 1935, when the name of the road was discussed, didn't spell out a connection to veterans.

Magruder's research goes much deeper than the city's review of minutes.

The road already was Memorial Boulevard in 1935; it was split into East and West that year, she said.

She presented some of her research to the City Council on April 26, but it received little publicity.

Breichner did not return phone messages left at his home on Thursday and Friday.

Magruder found that there was a grand plan in Hagers-town around 1916, possibly earlier, to have boulevards connect the city's west, south and east ends.

Memorial Boulevard was part of the plan, although the veteran connection wasn't expressed until 1919, the first reference Magruder found.

Addressing the Rotary Club that year, William Wingert of the city's Sewerage Commission said the boulevard was "a vague hope" three years earlier.

Also, the Sewerage Commission's work "was delayed by the rush of Patriotic Sons to the Colors, to go over (to) No Mans Land and get the Hun," he said.

'Fitting and proper'

But with the war over and at least 59 local soldiers dead, "I can see nothing more fitting and proper than that we do something to make their memory dear and their names immortal," Wingert said, as quoted in The Morning Herald. "Time has demonstrated that there can be nothing better and more permanent than a well constructed roadway.

"An example, most of the grandieurs (sic) of ancient Greece and Rome have been destroyed but you and I may still tread the Appian Way as did the Caesars and St. Paul of old.

"There could likewise no more fitting memorial for Washington county's glorious dead than a park way from our beautiful park to the bridge that spans the historic Antietam: a memorial boulevard that can continue to grow and be a connecting way for our park system to grow as our city grows."

A new electric plant, an incinerator and a garbage reduction plant would be built. A "cooking plant" would boil garbage before it is fed to swine, Wingert said in his speech, most or all of which was reprinted in The Morning Herald.

Turbulent times

As upbeat the speech sounded, Magruder said the times were turbulent.

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