Fairplay/Tilghmanton: Tale of two towns

the best of times and the worst of times

August 08, 2005|by ADAM BEHSUDI


The sleepy, twin villages of Fairplay and Tilghmanton have witnessed the passing of time on the road between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg.

The horses and buggies that once carried residents to Hagerstown are long gone. The footsteps of musket-toting soldiers in blue and gray have vanished.

With the exception of some new housing developments in the area, the original villages look much as they did more than a 100 years ago.


Fairplay, the older of the settlements, was bypassed when the Sharpsburg Pike was built between 1830 and 1843, according to George Anikis, a resident of Tilghmanton who has documented the history of the area. He said the new route reduced the distance between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg by a mile but caused some animosity between the villages.

The original road from Hagerstown to Sharpsburg twisted and curved around various properties, promoting citizens to petition authorities to straighten the route. Fairplay, which had been settled along the original road, no longer was in the path of travelers.

"Fairplay is kind of the same today as it was then," Anikis said.

Along the new road, the village of Tilghmanton was created from land owned by Col. Frisby Tilghman.

J. Thomas Scharf, a late 19th-century historian of Western Maryland, wrote in his book that Tilghman "laid out the town into lots for poor people." However, in his research of the area, Anikis found that the lots weren't priced for people with low incomes.

Scharf writes that Tilghmanton was named for its creator, Tilghman, but there are many speculations about how Fairplay got its name.

An 1871 letter to the Herald and Torch Light, the newspaper of Hagerstown, claimed the town was named by a citizen in the 1830s, "in consequence of the honorable and honest character of its inhabitants."

Anikis found the earliest documentation of the name on an 1843 map.

Another story cites the neutral status of the area's Dunkers, a church that stems from Mennonite belief, during the Civil War. Members of the church were taking a "fair play" approach toward the war.

Rosemary Burtner, a lifelong resident of the area, said she noticed a disparity between the residents of Fairplay and Tilghmanton while she was growing up.

"It was economic," said Burtner. "If you lived in Fairplay, you had more money, you lived in a better house, you had a good job."

Burtner, 89, said she remembers walking to school from her father's farm off Manor Church Road. The group of children would grow in numbers along the way as they cut through fields careful to avoid the less-than-savory characters who lived in Tilghmanton, she said.

Anikis said Fairplay could have been more prosperous because it was a farming community made up of landowners, while Tilghmanton residents resided on 1-acre lots. When the pike opened, however, Tilghmanton became a more attractive area in which to live and have a business, he said.

At the District 12 Ruritan park, a sport from another era takes place every year. The annual Fairplay Days jousting tournament has been held in the park for many years, said Sandy Izer, organizer of the event.

Jousting started as a gentlemen's sport and became popular among mounted soldiers during the Civil War, she said.

Burtner recalls going to the jousting tournament to watch her father and brother, both state champion jousters, compete.

"When I was a kid, a jousting event was like a fair or a big carnival," said Burtner.

Izer said that between 60 and 75 riders ranging from novice to professional have participated in recent tournaments.

After the Sharpsburg Pike was constructed, the post office moved from the village of Fairplay to a location in Tilghmanton, on the Sharpsburg Pike. The mailing address for the area remained Fairplay.

Bill Nelson, the postmaster, said the post office delivers mail to 408 people in the area and 130 post office boxes currently are rented.

"Since I came here in April of last year, we've gone from around 370 to 408 deliveries, all to new houses," said Nelson, who has lived in Fairplay for 18 years.

Throughout history, the villages of Fairplay and Tilghmanton were convenient stops for travelers on the same route as today's commuters.

During his research of the area, Anikis found that soldiers stopped and camped in the area during their march and retreat from the battle of Gettysburg. He said at the farm of Dr. Thomas Maddox, the ground was packed so hard from a Union army encampment that laborers had to break it up with picks and shovels.

In 1815, Samuel Knodle purchased land in what is now Fairplay and built a store there, according to land records found by Anikis. The store served the needs of travelers on the road until the present-day route was built.

For Burtner, the area that served as a stopping point for travelers both past and present has been her home for almost a century.

"I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," she said.

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