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Miller House premieres renovated Civil War exhibit

April 09, 2011|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI | alnotarianni@aol.com
  • In honor of celebrating the Civil War's 150th anniversary in Maryland, Stephen Bockmiller, a volunteer for the Miller House Museum, shows the new items and reorganization of the Washington County Historical Society's Civil War exhibit during a reception at the Miller House on Saturday.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

Some might call it a match made in historical buff heaven.

The Washington County Historical Society wanted to do something exciting in 2011 to celebrate its 100-year anniversary.

Stephen R. Bockmiller, development planner and zoning administrator for the City of Hagerstown, needed to do some research for his work with historical site markers.

Bockmiller began visiting the historical society's Miller House, which houses the group's offices, library and museum. A history devotee since childhood and co-author of two books about the U.S.S. Constellation, he was smitten with some of the artifacts he found there. But he noticed that the Civil War exhibit needed some sprucing up.

"It hadn't been updated in about 30 years, since the early '80s," Bockmiller said. "A lot of the stuff in cases was not really correlated with the other things in there. And the labels were so dated they were yellow and curling."

Bockmiller volunteered to renovate the exhibit.

This year also marks the 150th anniversary — or sesquicentennial — of the Civil War. With Washington County being an area steeped in Civil War history, Bockmiller's offer was the "something exciting" the historical society had hoped for.

Linda Irvin-Craig, executive director of the society, said the updated exhibit brings to life the impact that the Civil War had on the people of Washington County.

"So many people think of the Civil War in Washington County as one day at the Battle of Antietam," Irvin-Craig said. "But it wasn't just one day. It was consistent throughout every year of the war."

Irvin-Craig said there were battles in Hancock, Hagerstown, Smithsburg, Funkstown, Fort Frederick and Boonsboro.

"It affected everyday life," she said. "There were troops marching in the streets."

Bockmiller said most of the artifacts in the renovated exhibit were included in the previous one. Bockmiller reorganized the memorabilia and displayed it according to themes. He added framed titles for each case, and new captions expanding on stories related to the pieces.

Tom Clemens, a historical society board member and history professor at Hagerstown Community College, commended Bockmiller's efforts. Clemens said he takes students to the museum each year, and that Bockmiller's work has significantly improved the exhibit.

"This is wonderful," Clemens said. "(Bockmiller) has created some order. It's more accessible and much better for students' understanding. There is much more labeling and explanation. Everything is more identifiable, more user-friendly."

Bockmiller also has authored a new book detailing local history. "Hagerstown in the Civil War" will be available for purchase Monday, and Bockmiller will sign copies of the book Tuesday from noon to 2 p.m. at the Downtown Hagerstown Visitor Welcome Center.

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