Mayor Strite was among Washington County Historical Society's founders

April 22, 2011|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • A native of Leitersburg, Abraham Strite served as a director of the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Turnpike Co. and later invested in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Electric Railroad Co.
A native of Leitersburg, Abraham Strite served as a director of the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Turnpike Co. and later invested in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Electric Railroad Co.

Editor's note: This is the seventh in a 12-part series about Washington County Historical Society's founders.

The Washington County Historical Society will celebrate its centennial year with special exhibits and lectures throughout 2011. Two new exhibits have just opened this month, one recognizing the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and its impact on the people of Washington County and the other celebrating Washington County's long love affair with the American pastime of baseball.

In June, a special archaeological exhibit, arranged by the Maryland Historical Trust, will be available in cooperation with the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Washington County Historical Society.  

Attendees at the recent Mad Hatters' Ball gala birthday event left the party asking for a repeat performance. The committee is looking at the possibility of an annual event.

As we officially kick off our centennial year this month, we continue to recall the society's 29 signatories of the Articles of Incorporation. This week we meet Abraham C. Strite, William J. Witzenbacher and Lauran F. Smith.

Abraham C. Strite

Beginning his professional career as a teacher, first in Boonsboro and then at Hagerstown High School, Abraham Clinton Strite also pursued the study of law while he was teaching. He was admitted to the Washington County Bar in 1885 and began his own practice in 1887.

In 1898 he was appointed to act as a referee in bankruptcy proceedings for the U.S. District Court in Maryland and served at different times as attorney for the City of Hagerstown and for the Washington County Commissioners. In 1904, he was elected mayor of Hagerstown, following one of his mentors, Judge Martin L. Keedy, into that office.

A native of Leitersburg, Strite served as a director of the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Turnpike Co. and later invested in the Hagerstown and Waynesboro Electric Railroad Co. He also served as the first president of the City Savings Bank of Hagerstown, when it was organized in 1905 and then was president of the Planters' Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

It was his law office that prepared the legal papers for the founding and tax exempt status of the Washington County Historical Society.

William J. Witzenbacher

The son of 1853 German immigrants to Hagerstown from the Odenwald region of Hesse Darmstadt, William J. Witzenbacher graduated from Washington County High School. In 1883, he received his Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins University.

His first employment was as an instructor at a private academy, the McDonough School in Baltimore County. He then came home to Hagerstown to study law under Alexander Neill III, owner at the time of what became the Miller House and headquarters of the Washington County Historical Society.

During his long legal career, Witzenbacher served in various positions as legal adviser and representative for the City of Hagerstown, the Washington County Commissioners and the Board of Election Supervisors and as State's Attorney for Washington County.  He also served briefly as interim judge following the sudden death of Judge Edward Stake.

Witzenbacher was active in the establishment of the Law Library to provide the Bar Association of Washington County with needed references. He was considered a significant legal representative for the Court of Appeals.

His flair for languages was a benefit as interpreter for the court system. He read and spoke Spanish, French, Italian and German, primarily so that he could read classic literature in the native tongues, including Latin and Greek. His love of literature and history grew from these endeavors feeding his passion to continue new studies throughout his lifetime. He was elected one of the historical society's original seven directors.

Lauran F. Smith

On May 17, 1898, Lauran Fullerton Smith was mustered into the volunteer service of the First Maryland Regiment at Pimlico. He served as battalion adjutant for a two-year enlistment during the Spanish American War. However, he contracted an illness that caused him to return to Augusta, Ga., for mustering out later that same year.

Subsequent trips to Europe and several winters in Davos, Switzerland, failed to restore his health. His illness had been further aggravated by a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland, landing him in a hospital in Halifax during his first trip overseas. He returned to his home on Prospect Street where he died at the age of 44 in 1915.

A graduate of Washington County High School and of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., Smith had been engaged in the building and loan business in Hagerstown. He was a son of Mr. and Mrs. George W. Smith Jr.

His father, George Jr., was a state delegate and former law partner of Gov. William Hamilton. Pallbearers for Smith's funeral included Dr. W. Preston Miller and Dr. Victor D. Miller, Jr., whose sons gave the historical society its current headquarters.

Linda C. Irvin-Craig is executive director for the Washington County Historical Society. She can be reached at 301-797-8782 or

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