Gifts to historical society continue

December 28, 2012|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • The Bell Pottery Collection was given to the Washington County Historical Society by Frank W. and Roy V. Mish in honor of Mary Vernon Mish.
Submitted photo

The Bell Pottery Collection was given to the Washington County Historical Society by Frank W. and Roy V. Mish in honor of Mary Vernon Mish.

The first telephone service at the Miller House cost $4.80 a month, and installation cost $6.

In August 1968, the Washington County Historical Society received a memorial fund in honor of Victor D. Miller III, for various projects.

As the year moved along, the society received important additions to the collections of local furniture and other materials.

Significant in this time period was the recruitment of the spouses of deceased members Vic Miller and Mary Mish to the board of directors and the gifts that each made in honor of the service of these two people.

Frank W. Mish Jr., husband of the late Mary Mish, was elected to the board in November and within two months he was joined by Catherine Miller, or "Catchie," as she was affectionately called by her husband, Vic, and others who knew her. 

As the society's work moved into 1969 and the 1970s these individuals continued to bring special gifts to its work. Within the year after Vic Miller's death, through his estate and his widow's concurrence, the Millers paid off the second mortgage of $3,333.34 on the Miller House. 

The Bell Pottery Collection, given by Frank W. Mish and his son, Roy V., in honor of Mary Vernon Mish, was initially housed in the summer kitchen of the Miller House 

This collection contained 491 pieces and a catalog of the items was prepared by Mr. and Mrs. Leon Gruber, who delivered their report as a program for the society. Later gifts from this family included, among others, a large doll collection.

Proposed programming for this time period included providing an exhibit and lecture on John Bell, the potter, who was born into the family of Peter Bell, also a potter. Peter Bell's pottery had stood on the site of the Miller House in 1804. It was taken down by subsequent owner William Price who had the existing house built in 1825.

Other new accessions were the Pearl Clock Collection, appraised at $20,000; an Arthur Johnson tall case clock, made in Hagerstown, which had been owned by the Seibert family; the portrait of Maj. Peter Seibert; and a bequest of the Martin Rohrer 1796 desk. The Rohrer family was the second owner of the Hager House.

Dr. and Mrs. Richard Prather continued as curators for the Hager House and Edith Maugans was working with the Valley Store Museum, which included the rural post office, to keep this wonderful collection accessible. Membership was listed as more than 550, many of whom were actively volunteering. A special meeting was called to elect Ralph Donnelly of Hancock as the first vice president, since Simms Jamieson had been moved into the presidency upon the death of Vic Miller.

Soon after, the County Commissioners offered the retired two-room Beaver Creek School to WCHS for use as a small museum. Initial concerns were raised by board members about the added financial burdens of another building to maintain, but volunteers were ready to prepare the space for exhibits and to remake it into a museum. Catherine Beachley offered her services in coordinating the effort to design exhibits depicting a turn-of-the-century classroom in one room and offer programs.

Then technology became an issue. Volunteers declared the need for a telephone at the Miller House. It would cost $4.80 a month and provide interconnection to the Hager House. Installation would be $6.00.

Gifts from the estate of M. Josephine Sweeney included six Empire chairs for the dining room from the Otho Holland Williams family; a portrait of James Hurley, grandfather of late Mayor of Hagerstown Richard Sweeney; and a letter signed by Jefferson Davis. Questions arose about creating fireproof space in the Miller House for document storage.  A later donation of funds made work on this project possible.

Getting the dining room ready for interpretation as a formal dining setting meant that the library would need to be moved into the lower level of the house, where Miller once had his offices. The space was currently rented and using it would mean a loss of income, but necessary to operations as they continued to develop. This space would also serve as the area to receive the fireproofing for protection of the historic documents.

Preservation of Revolutionary War-era cannons excavated at Mt. Aetna Furnace began a new effort to be shared with the American Legion and the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Owners of the site, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Shafer, replied to a request that they would present a cannon forged there for display.

Notice was received that the Maryland Historical Trust would be in the area to photograph and identify places of historical interest in Washington County in October of 1968 and would want some guidance. A proposal to combine the Garden Fund and the Vic Miller Memorial Fund to establish the Miller House garden as a memorial site for Vic Miller was presented.

The log cabin moved to the Hager House grounds had been targeted by unruly youths, reported at the August 1970 meeting. A smoke house and a Conestoga wagon had been placed there by this time for the Elizabethtown Project. The donated cannon, manufactured by S. and D. Hughes at Mt. Aetna, was to be placed near the Hager House, also.

Another negative event caused great concern when a gun that had been owned by Jonathan Hager could not be found and was listed as missing, most likely by theft. The item's estimated value was between $600 and $700, but worth much more to the local collection.

Meetings soon began with the county commissioners to discuss the transfer of Beaver Creek School and the financial limitations of WCHS to assume major maintenance and repairs to the building. A committee was formed to examine considerations for the schoolhouse with estimates for costs to rehab and long-term associated costs. They also needed to deal with the legal issues of the shared parking and water supply with the nearby church.

The county went forward with a roofing contract at Beaver Creek School and the committee working on the school exhibits had finalized plans that one room would reflect a schoolroom of the year when the school was built — 1904.  

Items were already being offered for display at the schoolhouse, including an initial loan of documents from Mrs. Winslow Burhans, widow of another former mayor. Loan custody issues and the necessary insurance for same presented new concerns. 

Mr. and Mrs. J. Howard Beckenbaugh offered to take over preparations for the other room in the schoolhouse, where various exhibits would be placed. The annual meeting of January 1971 opened with the ringing of an old school bell from Winter Street School and the invited guest speaker was Superintendent of Washington County Schools William M. Brish, who began his talk with information about the earliest schools dating before 1776.

The board was asked to consider the old Hagerstown Rubber Co. manufacturing plant in the park as a place for a Civil War museum. Thoughts were that a technical museum and the old fire truck could be placed there, as well.

With the increase in activity and the work load that the society had assumed, the board began talking about the need for a full-time administrator. No budget could be framed under the current finances for a position, so there was a proposal that the work would be divided among board members and help was sought for the extensive clerical needs.

An agreement related to the Beaver Creek School for increased financial support, picnic facilities and grounds maintenance by the county parks department was in the works with the county commissioners. The parks department soon began a complete clean-up of the grounds, where weeds and tall grasses had overtaken the property. A final agreement was reached in 1971.

More donations arrived, such as the papers, poems and albums of Edgar Brenner, the young poet of Smithsburg, whose life was cut short by a tragic accident; an antique leather fireman's bucket, a required-by-potential-fine urban household accessory; and a new addition to the growing quilt collection.  

The area beneath the dining room and kitchen of the Miller House was identified for potential storage after a new floor could be laid. Zoned heating for the building was also considered. On the archival side, there was discussion about publishing a book about the three families who had occupied the Miller House since it was built in 1825. Those families were the Price, Neill and Miller families, in that order of occupancy.

As the community, with anticipated help from the society, was starting to prepare for the 200th anniversary of the nation, the Miller House was connected to sanitary sewer lines at a cost of $1,365.00. Security issues were revisited for all sites, including the need to erect a fence around buildings in the park near Hager House. An estimate was given at $2,300 and the board decided to ask for bids.

After receiving appropriate permission to raise funds through the sale of some of the remaining 1937 Antietam Commemorative Coins in the possession of the society, 30 were sent in May 1971 to Stacks Coin Co., who would charge 20-percent commission for selling them. Proceeds would help pay for the fence.

By the end of 1971, the board had drafted a job description for a part-time curator and members were planning to ask the county commissioners for support for this position.

Linda Irvin-Craig is executive director of the Washington County Historical Society. For more information, call 301-797-8782 or go to

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