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Transportation played major role in Washington Co. history

September 26, 2007

Washington County was founded in 1776, and became the first county in the United States to be named for our nation's first president.

An increase in early settlers led to the official founding of Washington County, John Frye, curator of the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library, said previously.

A growing population in Frederick County, Md., sparked legislation that broke up that county and established Washington County in September 1776.

Hagerstown, Washington County's seat, already had been established by Jonathan Hager.

Washington County was largely an agricultural county when it was settled by farmers and trappers, and other industry began springing up mainly around Hagertown.

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The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, much of which runs through Washington County, served as a transportation route from 1828 to 1924, hauling coal and other materials from Western Maryland to Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Mules pulled boats along the 184.5-mile canal from a towpath that ran parallel to the canal.

The emergence of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad caused the canal to stop commercial operations, according to the park service.

The county has grown from several thousand residents around the time it was established to a population of 141,895 people as of 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Board of County Commissioners has five members who are elected every four years. The county, however, is exploring whether to switch to charter home rule, a change that would lessen the county's dependency on state legislators in making local laws.

Under charter home rule, the county would be governed according to what's written in a charter. The commissioners' name would change to the County Council, and the council would have more authority in creating local laws than currently permitted, but residents could challenge those laws and force a referendum.

County residents could vote on a charter in the November 2008 presidential election, the county has said.

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