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From crops to colonials

County's Rural character disappearing

County's Rural character disappearing

May 25, 2008|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN - Bob Coss remembers the treehouse he helped build in the mulberry tree in the woods behind a neighbor's house off Pangborn Boulevard.

"It was pretty big. I think we had three rooms - two levels right above each other and a third level kind of at a kilter - made out of old pallets and deteriorating rubber mats we found at an old factory," recalled Coss, now 48. "It was fancy."

And, he said with a laugh, "it was pretty high up, much to my mother's displeasure."

All of that exists just in his memory now. Much of the woods and the fields that Coss remembers playing in have been replaced the past few years by dozens of new homes in the Kensington Villas development.

"There's a house - or maybe it's the middle of that development road - literally right in the spot where that treehouse sat," he said.

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Much more of what's called "modern progress" already is on the way, changing the land where Coss used to play.

Of course, much has changed already in that Hagerstown neighborhood, where Coss, his two sisters and their friends grew up.

Once a cornfield

In 1957, when his parents, Richard E. and Betty Coss, moved there, the land along what's now the 100 and 200 blocks of Pangborn Boulevard was a cornfield with home lots staked out on it, Betty said.

Richard, an engineer at the Pangborn Corp. manufacturing plant nearby, picked out the lot at 192 Pangborn Blvd. and set about designing the brick split-level he wanted built.

The first house in that block, it was his dream house, said Betty, now 76. From there, Richard, who died in 2003, would walk to work.

The location was "great for raising three children" because it was right across the street from Pangborn Elementary School, which then was almost new, Betty said. She remembers Bob and his sisters, Cathleen and Carolyn, walking to school.

And then, there was the draw of the woods and the fields for "my son, in particular," Betty said, smiling. "He would be out looking for snakes, and he found some."

The setting was attractive, too, to Robert and Mary "Louise" Perrott. In 1968, they bought the stone rancher at 200 Pangborn Blvd., divided from the Coss property by a farm lane leading to the land out back.

Robert, now deceased, was a sheet-metal worker at Pangborn, said Louise, who is 89.

Back then, the area still was very rural. Besides the farm fields behind the Coss house, there were the thick woods in back of the Perrotts and their neighbors, Louise said.

The woods stretched over the hill in back hundreds of yards down to what now is Eastern Boulevard. Back then, where the two-lane road is now, lay the B&O railroad tracks that crossed Dual Highway to the south and Jefferson Boulevard to the north.

Bob Coss remembers that area as where he and his friends would go exploring. His pals included Corey and Greg Poffenberger, David Hardesty and Carl Slater. Coss remembers playing along Antietam Creek down by the Dual and in the rocky land between the tracks and his house.

"We spent a lot of time back in that area," he said. "It was farmed back then - it was always wheat or corn. But there was a lot of it that was not farmed. We could go back there on our minibikes and not damage anything. There were two empty houses back there that are now where the Weis Market is."

An investment

The tracks became a bit of a fascination, too, to Aaron Light Jr. and his wife, Terri.

Within a year after their marriage in 1981, Aaron heard that 77 acres of the area on both sides of the track on the southern side of Jefferson Boulevard where he'd grown up was for sale, Terri recalled.

"Aaron used to play in those fields as a kid," she said.

The land, in three parcels, was owned by ADCO Inc. - J. Edward and Anna G. Shafer, and Jack H. and Patsy S. Mesner - which had planned to develop the part just west of the tracks for housing, she said.

Terri said she and Aaron, who owned Bronka Construction, saw the acreage as an investment to pay for college for the children they hoped to have someday.

The $130,000 price seems small now, but the deal they struck to pay off ADCO within five years was quite a challenge for the newlyweds, Terri said.

"Through a lot of hard work and good luck, we were able to get it paid off," she said.

At the time of settlement, Terri said, she and Aaron saw a proposed "Eastern Boulevard" on the drawings that ADCO provided of the housing development it had envisioned.

"But the actual impact of it was not apparent because it was just a road going through cornfields at that time. ... It wasn't until the land started getting zoned differently that the changes began," she said.

A few years after buying the land, the Lights got seven of the acres rezoned for business, thinking they would build a new office for their small construction company.

But in 1987, local businessmen Cal Ewing Jr. and Howard "Blackie" Bowen offered to buy those seven acres. They agreed to pay $144,000 - more than the Lights paid for the entire 77, she said.

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