Community leaders revisit 1985 predictions

They got a lot right, including the predictions of growth and urban sprawl

December 28, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • The Whispering Hills subdivision in Smithsburg is shown recently. In 1985, community leaders predicted Washington County would be covered by urban sprawl with little, if any, open land left in the circle around Hagerstown out to Smithsburg, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Clear Spring and Greencastle, Pa.
Kevin G. Gilbert

Twenty-five years ago, community leaders were asked to predict what they thought Washington County would be like in 2010.

Those making the predictions in 1985 at the request of The Herald-Mail envisioned urban sprawl, technology playing a major role in classrooms and a decrease in manufacturing jobs, among other things.

They got a lot right, including the predictions of growth and urban sprawl.

And they got a few things wrong.

For instance, John P. Corderman, who at the time was a Washington County Circuit judge, predicted that Mack Trucks would have left the county.

That was one he was glad to get wrong.

"Thank goodness Mack Trucks is still here. Bless their hearts," said Corderman, 68, of Hagerstown.

Mack Trucks, with about 3,800 employees, was the county's largest employer in 1985, even though the truckmaker had laid off about 700 workers that year when sales of big trucks skidded, according to Herald-Mail archives.

The latest Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission Business and Industry Directory, with data collected about a year ago, lists Volvo Powertrain North America as the county's seventh-largest employer. Volvo acquired Mack Trucks in 2001.

Volvo Powertrain North America has employed about 1,100 or 1,200 workers throughout the year, spokeswoman Belinda Vinson said Monday.

There are few manufacturing companies among the current list of top 25 employers, which shows how the county's employment has diversified with more service jobs and distribution centers.

The county's fifth-largest employer is Citi, which came to the county in 1985, according to the directory and Herald-Mail archives.

The 1985 list of 25 top employers is a virtual who's who of manufacturing companies, led by Mack with 3,800 employees and including Londontown, Pangborn, Fairchild, Maryland Ribbon Co., W.D. Byron & Sons Inc., Fleetwood Travel Trailers of Maryland, CertainTeed Products, Gold Bond Ice Cream, Doubleday and Co., Jamison Door Co., Statton Furniture Manufacturing Co., and M.P. Moller Inc.

Of those companies, only Mack, now part of Volvo Powertrain North America, CertainTeed, Jamison Door and what used to be the Gold Bond ice cream plant, now Good Humor-Breyers, remain. Unilever, which owns Good Humor-Breyers, has said the local plant will be shut down during 2011.

Growing county

Most of the community leaders asked to make predictions back in 1985 talked about growth.

Corderman thought there would be increased residential development in southern Washington County, but predicted that county growth overall wouldn't be substantial.

Historian John Frye said the county would be covered by urban sprawl with little, if any, open land left in the circle around Hagerstown out to Smithsburg, Boonsboro, Sharpsburg, Clear Spring and Greencastle, Pa.

Then-Hagerstown mayor Steve Sager and John R. Hershey Jr., then-senior vice president at Ferris & Co., talked about growth from Frederick County, Md., spilling over into Washington County.

In 1985, Hershey said the mountain separating Frederick and Washington counties was a strong psychological barrier, but predicted that people would learn "of the good life, of the better life of Washington County, eastern West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania."

That growth showed up in a housing boom before the recession began in 2007. Many new homes were built, including a lot of higher-end homes for families who got more bang for their buck as they moved to the county from the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

"We see the lines of cars going down to Washington every day," Hershey said.

Washington County's population grew from 115,603 people in 1985 to 145,910 in 2009, according to U.S. Census estimates.

According to U.S. Census information, farm acreage in the county decreased from 137,529 acres in 1987 to 114,065 acres in 2007, said librarian Harry Sachs of the Washington County Free Library. Housing units increased from 47,448 in 1990 to 60,054, according to 2005-2009 American Community Survey five-year estimates.


Claud Kitchens, who was superintendent of Washington County Public Schools in 1985, made predictions about education.

Kitchens, who died in 2008, referred to a longer school year, perhaps hinting of year-round schooling, which has not been instituted.

But he was right when he predicted technology would become an important educational tool, that computers would be widely used and information would be transmitted by satellite.

Kitchens also predicted the number of highly specialized, part-time teachers would increase.

Washington County Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, in its second year, has several specialized part-time teachers.


Allan Powell, who retired from Hagerstown Junior College, now Hagerstown Community College, predicted that city and county governments would be consolidated to save money.

Sager, on the other hand, said city and county governments would remain separate.

Frye predicted county government would dominate, furnishing the majority of services to the county's municipalities.

"I was wrong on that. Towns still retain their governorship. What I thought would become a countywide government has not advanced at all," Frye said.

But some consolidation has occurred.

For instance, a new central booking facility and consolidated 911 center have opened.

When a call came in under the old system, a 911 dispatcher asked whether the caller needed police, fire or ambulance assistance, and whether he or she needed a city, county or state agency.

Under the new 911 system that began operating in January, dispatchers for fire and rescue, Hagerstown Police and the Washington County Sheriff's Office and Maryland State Police are in the same room.

The new central booking facility, which also opened this year, is attached to the Washington County Detention Center.

The central booking process is intended to streamline arrests, reduce the risk of escapes during prisoner transport and get police officers back on the streets quicker.


Frye got it right, or was close, when he predicted Hagerstown would no longer be a railroad hub, that there would be no more local banks or savings institutions, and that another large shopping mall or two would open in the county.

Trains still make their way through the county, but the roundhouse and several other buildings on the large rail yard between Hagerstown's City Park and Burhans Boulevard were demolished in 1999. Hagerstown, once known as the Hub City because of its rail activity, can no longer claim that distinction.

Centra Bank has headquarters in Morgantown, W.Va., but has a local board of directors in Hagerstown. United Bankshares Inc. and Centra announced earlier this month that United Bankshares would buy Centra, with the deal expected to be complete in 2011.

While technically they are not banks, there are credit unions based in Washington County.

Although they are not indoor malls, an outlet center opened south of Hagerstown in 1998 and a large shopping center, the Centre at Hagerstown, opened in 2000 in the city's West End.

Corderman predicted most shopping would be done at malls, but that the center city would be alive and well.

From the perspective of today, he said: "The center city's alive, but it's not that well. I'm hopeful for it."

Corderman said it seems downtown will rely on government to sustain it.

The University System of Maryland in Hagerstown has done a lot to improve the downtown, but it can be difficult to be in business in that area, he said.

Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.


Editor's note: This story was corrected Dec. 29, 2010, to reflect that Jamison Door Co. is still in business.

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