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Downsville history predates the community

September 22, 2005|by TONY BUDNY

You might not think a rich history would be found in a town once 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 there.

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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 residents. 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 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.

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

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