Chewsville a history of community cooperative

August 01, 2005|by TONY BUDNY


For nearly 100 years, two cooperative organizations helped shape the community of Chewsville.

The first cooperative was formed in the early 1870s, growing from a warehouse and shipping organization. The second cooperative was formed in 1930 and helped guide the community until the mid-1960s, according to local historical accounts.

A. Romayne Miller, 86, was the former assistant manager for the second cooperative, known as Chewsville Co-operative Association.

"I was one of the younger workers there. I was in my 40s. It was one of the best co-ops in the area and one of the last that survived. I had many good experiences there," he said.

"The memories of the co-op have always been mixed, but we all remember it," he said.

The first cooperative, as described in former Chewsville resident J. Kiefer Funk's 1963 history of the community, started around 1872 as a warehouse for packing, shipping and transportation of various agricultural products like wheat and fertilizer to other areas for sale.


The owner, B. Abner Betts, created a thriving business and a transportation center for Chewsville by adding a passenger train station to the complex and a grain elevator to clean, weigh and transport mass amounts of grain to a rail car, the essay said.

With the death of Betts in 1912, the business fell into disrepair until 1925, when it was purchased by the Ralph B. Wyand family. The business grew so much that in 1930 a new corporation was formed that became known as the Farmers and Fruit Growers Association, which shipped apples to markets around the country and overseas, according to the essay. This new corporation, with the combined apple and grain sales, became known as the Chewsville Cooperative Association.

The cooperative continued apple sales until 1938, when World War II and economic depression led to the end of apple sales, the essay said.

The grain and fertilizer business thrived for many years after apple sales declined. The cooperative existed until 1966, when there no longer were enough farmers to support grain and fertilizer sales, Miller said. The complex was demolished.

The cooperative association land is owned by Jernigan's Landscaping, said Heidi Black, 50, a lifelong resident of the Chewsville area. The mill, elevator and train station have been torn down, but the office building and warehouse still stand. Jernigan's Landscaping rents the office to a man who does carpeting and reupholstering, Black said.

Chewsville's name is shrouded in mystery, as several historical accounts of the name's origin differ.

J. Thomas Scharf, author of "History of Western Maryland," claims the name Chewsville comes from Samuel Chew, who bought a 5,000-acre plot in the area in 1796.

Funk claims Capt. Pelegrine Fitzhugh, an aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and son of William Fitzhugh, a prominent landowner in the area, married Samuel Chew's daughter, Elizabeth, and the town was named for her.

Black said another possible origin of the name is a shortened version of the former name of the community, Fitzhughsville, as the pronunciation would have sounded similar to "Fitzchewsville."

Aside from the cooperative association, life in Chewsville consisted of school and church, according to the Rev. John W. Schildt, longtime pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church.

"School and church were places for socializing. We didn't have an official community center until 1976," he said.

The schoolhouse remains but no longer serves as a school, according to Miller. Built in 1924, it stands behind the church, he said.

In the 1970s, the Chewsville and Leitersburg school districts merged and the need for a schoolhouse in Chewsville no longer existed, Schildt said. Children in Chewsville now go to Old Forge Elementary School, he said.

Chewsville also has a post office where 29 postmasters have overseen operations during 166 years, according to post office historical records. A general store once shared the building.

Harold Leather, 83, postmaster from 1954 to 1986, attempted to sell the general store in 1984, but the store went out of business the same year, he said. The store once was a popular place to spend the day, he said.

Black said Chewsville is quieter today than when she was growing up there.

"The mill (at the cooperative association) was always active. With it gone, it makes for a lot quieter community," she said.

Black also said town residents aren't as close-knit as they once were.

"Everybody's mother used to be at home. Now, people's mothers work and parents commute to Hagerstown a little more often than they used to," she said.

For a community with 293 people, according to the 2000 census, any change is noticeable. Black said she can no longer walk down the street and know everyone she sees.

"I think a lot of people like it this way. We just go about our lives. People still go to church on Sunday. To me, Chewsville is just home," Black said.

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