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A&E progress and the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on local tourism agenda

February 23, 2008|By TOM RIFORD / Special to The Herald-Mail

There have been some exciting things happening in Hagerstown and Washington County. A little more than two weeks ago, representatives from five Maryland counties toured Hagerstown. The "TADD" (Tourism, the Arts and Downtown Development) group explored Hagerstown's Arts and Entertainment District, visited the Arts Council, the Maryland Theatre, the Gourmet Goat, and also had a networking lunch at Duffy's.

I was pleased to be able to give a talk at the luncheon, discussing the impact of tourism, the renaissance of Hagerstown (especially in arts and retail), and the challenges that can be truly opportunities. I also outlined some of the new things that are happening, including the grants from the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, which have helped the sidewalk project move forward on South Potomac Street.

The five-county collaborative group included business leaders, arts council directors, tourism officials, downtown development and city/town planning coordinators and State of Maryland staffers. We discussed common problems and also solutions, which was helpful for everyone. I was pleased to hear many compliments about Hagerstown and the positive direction in which the Arts and Entertainment District has been moving.

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The announced plan for 40 artist and studio spaces on the top of the Schindel-Rohrer Building is certainly great news. This "Arts Incubator" is a welcome idea by Mike Deming, helped and encouraged by the Arts Council and City of Hagerstown. It will be a great gathering of creativity and potential for further collaboration.

John Brown's Raid 150th anniversary planning

Another group that has begun meeting is not only a multicounty coalition, but also a multistate effort. Representatives from Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania (along with National Park Service managers) have begun planning the 150th anniversary of the John Brown Raid. Events will include seminars, historical interpretation and tours.

The activities surrounding the 150th anniversary of John Brown's 1859 Raid on Harpers Ferry include a tremendous Washington County story. As chairman of the Washington County group helping plan the 150th, I've found that many people are not fully aware that Harpers Ferry National Historical Park has a significant amount of acreage in our county.

Also, a lot of people have never been to the Kennedy Farm, where John Brown spent time assembling and organizing the "army" that carried out the October raid on the armory in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

In mid-1859, John Brown and his followers found the Kennedy Farm and determined that it was suitable and leased it for a period of nine months. The Kennedy Farm is at 2406 Chestnut Grove Road, and is carefully maintained today.

Members of the task force planning the 150th anniversary of the John Brown Raid are eager to tell the story of what happened here in our multi-state region.

Dennis Frye is the chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, and he said at our most recent planning session, "The John Brown Raid is looked upon by most historians as being the spark that began the flame which became the inferno of the American Civil War."

Before John Brown's famous raid, negotiations between the differing North-South factions might have been possible. However, after the attack - and Brown's trial and hanging - emotions ran so high that armed conflict became an inevitable outcome.

Because February is known as Black History Month, we should also remember that the anti-slavery zealot John Brown met with famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Chambersburg, Pa., in 1859, just two months before he carried out his raid. (The African-American Douglass actually objected to the planned raid, and urged Brown not to carry it out, and after the raid - fearing reprisals - Douglass fled to Europe for several months.)

There are many significant stories, which certainly pique the interest of potential visitors to our area. Having collaborative planning and effort helps all of our counties and states, in our goal of attracting travelers to this region.

Tom Riford is president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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