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Marge Peters served more than 20 years with Washington County Historical Society

July 25, 2013|Linda Irvin-Craig
  • After more than 20 years of creative service with the Washington County Historical Society, Marge Peters continues to help the agency.
Submitted photo

 There’s a cherry tree growing in the Miller House garden. It sits among the gooseberry bushes, near the grape arbor and under an ancient black walnut tree that overhangs from a neighboring property.  There’s a fig tree, a quince tree, a dogwood and several odd apple trees.  

But the cherry tree has a plaque beneath it.  This tree was dedicated to the many years of hard work and accomplishments of Marge Peters as director of the Washington County Historical Society.

Most of these plantings have overgrown their space and, of course, someone in the neighborhood regularly helps themselves to the fruit, removing them by way of whatever containers might be left out by those caring for the garden. Plus, the garden needs a lot of rework, but that is another subject.  

Marge Peters left a more than 20-year legacy of creative service with WCHS. After retirement from this organization, she moved on to help get the ball rolling for the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum, where she served five years as the president of the Friends of the WCRHM and is currently serving on its board of directors. During her tenure for both organizations, she charmed volunteers into doing things they didn’t know they could do and to turn over rocks looking for grants.

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Under her direction and that of the board, the Washington County Historical Society Cookbook, called “A Collection of Treasured Regional Recipes” came to fruition, with artwork donated by Linda Hauver Lamb. This book contains local recipes from distinguished contributors. More than 500 copies were sold in very short order and copies are still available from the 25th anniversary reprint. 

Making room and expanding exhibits

In March 1982, WCHS was looking for additional space for its collection and operations. The building just east of the Miller House was appraised at $35,000. However, action was deferred because of a lack of funds. Vincent Groh, as part of the active long-range planning committee, made several offers of buildings, where space might be available for exhibits from the collection.  Adaptive renovation costs and staffing needs made each offer a challenge.

The City of Hagerstown had asked the society to resume management of the Hager House, with funding from the city. The City later hired a caretaker. The mortgage on the Miller House was paid off and the Society received a letter of appreciation from the Smithsonian Institution for its participation in preparing a training film on various types of museum security entitled “Protecting Cultural Property.”

Norman Reed completed an indexing of the articles in the old issues of the Cracker Barrel that had been donated. The calls and letters for genealogical assistance increased throughout this period and the board approved hiring a part-time assistant for Peters in April 1982.

Peters worked diligently to obtain the research papers of Mary Mish for the archival collection and that was accomplished in June 1982. She also oversaw remodeling of the library and worked with John Frye to convert the library to the accepted Dewey Decimal system for identification of the growing resources.

Professional policies regarding use of the Miller House by other groups were developed and adopted in 1983. Copies of the 1877 Atlas of Washington County were ordered for resale.  Members of the WCHS were to be admitted to events at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts on the same term as members of the museum supporters, in exchange for sharing the mailing list and continuing to hold the lecture series at the museum, and the museum was to share its mailing list, as well, with the society.

A quilt exhibit brought in more than 600 visitors to the Miller House. Efforts began to gather all of the old minutes and publications of the Washington County Historical Society into a reference collection.  

An archaeological dig in the garden for pottery and other shards of household items was requested in September 1983. Later, Gene Comstock of then-named Shenandoah College, offered to do a pottery appraisal. The culmination of this work recognized that John Bell, the illustrious local area potter had lived on the site of the Miller House, when his father, Peter Bell, opened his pottery production in 1804. Cases were built in an upstairs room to display the vast collection of pottery from members of the Bell family.

As the county decided to raze the old jail, a tour was arranged to see if there were items of interest to the society. A potential open house was slated for July 1, 1984. Issues concerning the opening of the old jail dungeon and a dig for artifacts there arose and the society drafted a statement for the file. Planning for the society’s 75th anniversary had begun.

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