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Sharpsburg Heritage Days features lectures, exhibits, tours

September 13, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

SHARPSBURG -- A stroll through Sharpsburg brings you face-to-face with history. 

There are stone houses from the 1700s that cradled the uncertain concept that became the United States of America. Churches still stand that served as hospitals during the Battle at Antietam.

But history doesn't linger just in old structures. There are streets, monuments, cemeteries -- even family names -- that tell a story.

It's a story that's more than 200 years old, and people sometimes need reminding.

That's why each year, the community hosts Sharpsburg Heritage Days, complete with lectures, exhibits and walking tours. The celebration, which began Saturday and continues Sunday, is sponsored by the Sharpsburg Historical Society.

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When many people think of Sharpsburg, they think of Antietam, said Paige Phifer. But the town was established in 1763, so there is a colonial history. And from 1830 to 1924, it was first and foremost a C&O Canal town.

"We have a very rich history," she said.

"Since the Historical Society is in the business of educating people, we try to educate festival-goers about the history of this area," said Phifer, who serves as this year's event coordinator. "There is a lot more to this town than Antietam."

To familiarize visitors with Sharpsburg's diverse past, a number of history booths are offered with displays and information, as well as historic lectures presented by writers and historians.

Two walking tours are also available, including a self-paced house tour of 11 buildings -- public, private and sacred -- and a narrated walk through Sharpsburg, which features sites associated with O.T. Reilly, the noted turn-of-the-century battlefield guide and historian.

The event also includes historic craft vendors, food, music, and horse and wagon rides.

A highlight of Saturday's activities was a special tribute to the Spong children, held at Mt. View Cemetery.

The three children, Johnny, 13, Willard, 11, and Sarah, 6, were killed in a steam explosion accident on the C&O Canal near Georgetown on Sept. 11, 1916.

They were the children of Samuel and Nina Spong, both lifelong residents of Sharpsburg. Samuel was captain of canal boat No. 74.

"It is said to be one of the most tragic accidents on the C&O Canal," said Carolyn Shaw, who is a Spong descendant.

"Growing up, I don't remember discussing it a lot," she said. "But I know it had a huge effect on the family. Before she died, my grandmother, who was the oldest daughter of Samuel and Nina, gave me several pictures of the children and wanted them to be remembered."

Shaw said she donated the photographs to the Park Service.

During Saturday's ceremony, Shaw said the children's story would be told and flowers placed on their graves.

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