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Town seeks Civil War heritage designation

March 25, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

WILLIAMSPORT -- Leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, the entire Confederate Army passed between Conococheague Creek in Williamsport and Falling Waters, W.Va., Civil War experts said at a public hearing Wednesday night at Williamsport Town Hall.

Coming back from Gettysburg, the Confederate wagon train with injured soldiers arrived in Williamsport, speakers said.

Because the Potomac River was too high for the Confederate army to cross, the wounded were kept in just about every building in town and Confederate soldiers who still could hold a gun stood guard over their comrades, speakers said.

That and other Civil War history in town should be enough to include the town in the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area, speakers said.

The Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area is a designation that offers grants, loans and tax credits to communities to help them promote tourism.

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A participant in the Maryland Heritage Areas Program, the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area includes portions of Washington, Frederick and Carroll counties. Williamsport was expected to be part of the area, but when the area was established in 2006, the town had not completed all of the requirements, officials said.

A crowd of about 30 people gave overwhelming support to adding Williamsport to the program.

Speakers stood and gave detailed accounts of Williamsport's Civil War history, including Greg Shank, who lives outside of town.

Shank read from a Civil War history book about how Confederate soldiers stole lumber from a lumber yard in town after they returned from Gettysburg.

The soldiers made pontoon boats out of the wood and used them to float down the Potomac River to Falling Waters, W.Va., Shank said.

"It's another explanation of why we should do this," Shank said.

"We could hardly tell the story of the Civil War without Williamsport," said Elizabeth Scott Shatto, director of the Heart of the Civil War Heritage area.

Capitalizing on the town's Civil War history is important to help offset the effects of the bad economy, which has forced the loss of thousands of jobs in the area, said Tom Riford, president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It helps smooth out the ups and downs of the economy," Riford said.

The Maryland Heritage Areas Authority is expected to act on including Williamsport in the Civil War heritage area April 9.

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