Obscure facts reveal Hagerstown's rich history

October 03, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

HAGERSTOWN ? Like so many cities, Hagerstown has had its share of good times and bad, its successes and failures, its sometimes noble and sometimes quirky cast of characters.

Those of us who are caught up in its present can easily lose sight of its past ? if we ever saw it in the first place. But the story of a place can be an unending source of drama, amusement and passion.

Just ask Tom Riford.

As the executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau, he spends the bulk of his waking hours telling people what makes this place special.

Some of it we all know ? the Civil War history, the Mummers Parade, the Blues Fest.

But some of it is not so well-known; singular in nature, or denoting connections that spread all over the country, the footnotes in Hagerstown's history can be as absorbing as its headlines.


Never at a loss for a good local story, Riford notes that thanks to former Hagerstown Mail founder Thomas Kennedy, Hagerstown was the birthplace of an effort to end discrimination against Jewish residents of Maryland.

Elected to the Maryland House of Delegates from Hagerstown in 1817, Kennedy fought to change a portion of the Maryland constitution stipulating that "all persons professing the Christian religion are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty." This exclusion of non-Christians from a Constitutional guarantee of freedom of conscience was extended in Article 35: "No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State... and a declaration of belief in Christian religion," according to state archives.

Though he'd never met anyone Jewish ? there were only 150 or so in the state at the time ? Kennedy, a native of Scotland, fiercely believed in religious freedom. And when his committee sent a bill removing the discrimination to the full House, it was defeated. Kennedy reintroduced the bill in 1820, with equal failure.

Labeled "an enemy of Christianity" and a "Judas Iscariot," Riford said, Kennedy lost his seat in 1823. But he was sent back to the House in 1825, and the bill finally passed in 1826. A few years later, the Hagerstown Mail was established. Kennedy died in 1832.

Riford and his staff have put together a walking tour brochure of downtown Hagerstown that relays a number of other little-known facts about the city.

Hidden history

A walking tour brochure of downtown Hagerstown relays a number of other little-known facts about the city. For example, did you know...

? One of the more notorious Civil War outlaws was descended from a Hagerstown mayor ? William Clark Quantrill, leader of a gang in the Kansas-Missouri area that included Frank and Jesse James and the Daltons, was the grandson of Hagerstown's sixth mayor, Thomas Quantrill. William's father, Henry, had resettled in Ohio, where William was born.

? Among the American presidents ? and presidents-elect ? to make a stop in Hagerstown was Andrew Jackson, who worshiped at a downtown church while on his way to his inauguration.

? There was another famous James Taylor ? James E. Taylor, a renowned Civil War artist/correspondent, made sketches of Hagerstown in 1863.

? George Washington slept here ? really. The first president sojourned at Beltzhoover's Tavern downtown in 1790. Later, the Washington House hotel was built on the site, and one of the hotel's more notorious guests was abolitionist John Brown, who registered as Isaac Smith.

? The future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. recuperated at Mount Prospect, originally the home of Rochester, N.Y., founder Nathaniel Rochester, after being wounded in the Battle of Antietam.

The "Hidden History" walking tour brochure is available from the CVB Welcome Center at 6 N. Potomac St.

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