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City officials consider options for Alms House

June 22, 2007|by DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - A member of the Hagerstown City Council wants to save the deteriorating Alms House on North Locust Street and possibly restore the structure as a Civil War museum.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said the museum is just an idea at this point.

"We could make this place for everyone," she said.

Built in the 1790s, the Alms House once provided shelter for the poor and served as a hospital for Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War.

A Herald and Torch Light newspaper article from 1874 states that roughly 40 of the wounded soldiers who died at the house were buried in the backyard.

Jerry Bayer of the Sons of Confederate Veterans was among those who toured the house Thursday morning.

"(The Alms House) definitely looks like something that should be saved for generations to see," said Bayer, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., resident.

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Most of the Confederate dead were disinterred from the property in 1874 and reburied at Rose Hill Cemetery on South Potomac Street, he said.

Union dead were buried at Antietam National Cemetery.

Ted Alexander, chief historian at Antietam National Battlefield, said in a telephone interview that several of the soldiers who are linked to the house likely were casualties from the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

In all likelihood, the Confederate wounded were left at the site as Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia retreated through Hagerstown toward safety across the Potomac River, he said.

By comparing some of the dead soldiers' unit affiliations, particularly those from North Carolina, Alexander said there's a chance that some of the men could have suffered fatal wounds July 6 during the Battle of Hagerstown.

The 5th and 20th North Carolina saw some of the toughest fighting during the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, he said. The survivors from those units were called on to support Gen. J.E.B. Stuart's Confederate Cavalry at Hagerstown.

Alexander said Hagerstown played a strategic role for both sides because several roads converged on the city.

Dozens of casualties were reported after Confederate and Union soldiers clashed in Hagerstown's streets, he said.

"(The Battle of Hagerstown) gets overlooked," he said. "It's a significant action ... The streets were filled with blood."

Last February, Hagerstown Community Development Director Larry Bayer told the City Council that the Alms House, which has been vacant for about 15 years, most recently was used for commercial purposes on the ground level and apartments on the top two floors.

The city bought the property in 2004 for $90,000.

Bird and rodent bones litter one of the house's upstairs floors, and a few of the security screens on the windows showed signs of someone trying to get inside.

Bayer suggested to the council in February that the city find a developer to rehabilitate the property.

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