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Smithsburg history lives inside museum's walls

January 04, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Sari Kilheffer, a member and volunteer for the Smithsburg Historical Society, holds a series of older photographs showing the entryway of the Smithsburg Cemetery.
Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

SMITHSBURG — Maybe it's the water. For whatever reason, Smithsburg packs a punch in historical significance.

There is Emily Clayton Bishop, who in the early 1900s excelled in sculpture when the art form was dominated by male artists.

The Smithsburg native graduated from the Maryland Institute Schools of Art and Design with the highest honors awarded by the school, and her works in later years were included in national exhibitions, according to historical accounts.

Edgar Irving Brenner was a poet born in Smithsburg in 1865. Brenner has been recognized for a number of poems he had published in Pennsylvania College Monthly under the pseudonym Diogenes Blank Jr. Brenner attended the Yale Divinity School, where one professor described him as the brightest man at the school, according to historical accounts.

Brenner died tragically in 1886 when he went under a sheet of ice at a lake while skating with a classmate at the school.

Peter Geiser was a Smithsburg-area native and inventor who made the Geiser separator, an agricultural device that separated grains from the stalk and chaff. The Geiser Manufacturing Co. was ultimately formed, an operation that stretched across two acres.

The stories behind these Smithsburg standouts, as well as other historical accounts of the town, can be found at the Smithsburg Historical Society's museum at 20 E. Water St.

Brochures outlining the lives of Bishop, Brenner and Geiser are available at the society building, where several pieces of Bishop's sculptures are on display.

The society operates out of a stone building that has served as a residence and library. Smithsburg's town council once met in the building and there used to be a cell in the building to hold prisoners, said Sari Kilheffer, a member and volunteer for the historical society.

Today, framed black-and-white photographs depicting the town's past line the walls of the building.

There are photographs of general stores that used to operate in town, as well as hotels. There are a couple photographs of women operating the "telephone exchange," which was the telephone switchboard in town in the 1940s before dial phones came into existence, Kilheffer said.

There are photos that can't be explained, like one of a man using a farm plow to dig up a dirt street in town.

There used to be a lot of mortuaries in town, artifacts from which are on view at the society's museum.

One of the items is a framed piece of glass with an undertaker's name — B.F. Young — printed on it. It might have been a sign of some type that went on the undertaker's building. The sign states that if Young is not there, call W. Kimler.

The name Kimler touches on another part of town history.

Jacob Frederick Kimler was a potter in town, whose shop was in a building that stretched across Kimler Creek on East Water Street, Kilheffer said.

The building's position came in handy for Kimler, who dumped discarded items from his pottery-making operation into the creek, Kilheffer said.

Kimler, whose pottery is on display in the museum, was born about 1790 in Germany's Black Forest, according to a historical account in the museum. Kimler came with his family to America in a sailing vessel in 1832, the account says.

Another undertaker artifact in the museum is a device that looks like it could have been used to administer medicines intravenously.

It is believed it was used to administer embalming fluids to bodies, Kilheffer said. It has a glass holder at the top, to which a rubber tube is hooked.

"It's kind of gruesome looking when you see it, isn't it?" Kilheffer said.

The museum contains historical accounts of schools in town, like one that once combined high school, junior high and elementary students. Visitors can see old photographs of downtown landscapes, like a  light pole that used to stand in the middle of the intersection of Water and Main streets.

"Somebody drove into it, so they finally took it out," Kilheffer said.

Smithsburg also has Civil War history.

Stories are told of a brisk fight that occurred in the town during the Confederates' retreat from Gettysburg, Pa. One shell struck the house of Leonard Vogel, who sealed the shell in the brick wall of the house, according to a historical brochure.

The shell still can be seen in the home, which is referred to today as the Cannonball House on East Water Street.

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