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Rich history in social club

The Alsatia Club is the 170th in series about architectural and historic treasures of Washington County

The Alsatia Club is the 170th in series about architectural and historic treasures of Washington County

May 18, 2008|By PAT SCHOOLEY

Everyone in Washington County has heard of the Alsatia Club. Club members sponsor the Mummers Parade for Halloween. Pedestrians on West Washington Street in Hagerstown might have seen the small sign on the stately house announcing the club's name. But few know much about this organization.

In 1911, Hagerstown had few recreational opportunities for young people, and a group of young men made a habit of hanging out at a soda fountain in D.C. Aughinbaugh's Pharmacy on the north side of West Washington Street's first block. Concerned that these men were occupying seats that could be used by better paying customers, Aughinbaugh offered them a vacant room on the second floor of his pharmacy.

On March 13, 1911, a group of 11 of the young men met at the public library, discussed the proposition and decided to accept Aughinbaugh's generous offer. They named the club Alsatia in honor of that district in central London near the Whitefriars monastery. The Alsatia district was notorious from the 15th through the 17th centuries as a place beyond the reach of the law, a refuge of debtors and criminals of all types. The young club members chose the Latin motto "Ne Cece Malis, Sed Contra" ... "Yield not to adversity, but oppose it," a high-minded sentiment for a bunch of rowdy boys.

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Needing furniture in their club room, the young men persuaded David Horner, proprietor of a West Franklin Street furniture store, to give them credit, another rather audacious move. The club prospered and in four years needed larger quarters. In December 1915 the members moved to the second floor of the Colonial Theater Building on South Potomac Street. A year later, they incorporated the club.

In 1916 they formed the Alsatia Club Basketball Team and a year after that organized a bowling league. A fundraiser, called Oh, That Alsatia Minstrel Show, began in 1920 and continued as a popular event until the Depression. Revived in 1938, it ceased for good at the beginning of World War II.

Concerned about vandalism around Halloween, the club members organized a parade to better occupy the pranksters. The Mummers Parade was such a success that it became an annual event, running continuously, except for the World War II years, from 1921 until the present.

By 1923, the club had again outgrown its quarters, and a committee was appointed to find a centrally located property that could be purchased and converted to a clubhouse. The Alsatians selected 141 W. Washington St., the home and office of Dr. J. McPherson Scott, for their new clubhouse. The club purchased the property from Scott's estate for $30,600.

This building stands in a row of handsome two-and-a-half story structures that for many decades served as homes and offices for lawyers and doctors. In 1823, attorney Otho Lawrence purchased half of lot No. 90 from George Schryock, "subject to the usual ground rent." The deed further explains that Otho is to have water rights to the well on George's half of the lot, adding that, "The exercise of such right is to be subject to the control of said George to prevent the servants of said Otho from any sort of disorder, mischief or injury on said George's property." It is probable that Otho Lawrence built his home and office shortly thereafter, for the style and construction features of the house indicate a building date in the 1820's.

The house is brick. The facade is laid in Flemish bond and the other walls in five-to-one common bond. It has three bays, double internal chimneys in either end wall and a gable roof. Windows have six-over-six sashes with brick jack arches. The main entrance, recessed beneath a low, rounded brick arch, has sidelights and fluted columns flanking the door. An arched fanlight with curved muntins tops the doorway. Laid out in a side-hall, double-parlor floor plan, the entrance opens into a broad hall with original wainscot and an elegant hanging staircase that curves graciously to the top floor. First floor ceilings are 18 feet high. At the back of the property, opening onto the alley, stands a large brick carriage house.

Otho Lawrence died in 1841, but the property did not change hands until Samuel and Annie Kerfoot of Chicago sold it to attorney Zachariah S. Claggett for $3,600 in 1858. Claggett sold it later that year to George Kealhofer for the same amount. Mary Reynolds bought it for $6,000 in 1881 from Kealhofer's estate and sold it ten years later.

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