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Hagerstown's City Market marks 230th anniversary

August 18, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
File photo

Dorothy Jones can remember going to Hagerstown’s City Market on West Church Street in the 1930s, when the farmers market was bustling as people shopped for fresh produce and other goods from vendors.

“That was a way of life. At the time, I was a kid. Everybody on the mountain went to market,” said Jones, 87, who lives near the South Mountain farm her grandparents once owned and from which her family harvested produce for the market.

Her grandmother, Elsie Smith, sold vegetables at the City Market when it operated out of the old City Hall at the corner of East Franklin and North Potomac streets in downtown Hagerstown, Jones said.

This month marks the 230th anniversary of the opening of the City Market, or Markethouse, which began when the area was called Elizabeth-Town, almost 30 years before what first was known as Hager’s-Town was incorporated.

A copy of the April 1783 Maryland General Assembly act establishing the markethouse states that Washington County residents “labour under many great inconveniences, for want of a market-house in Elizabeth-town” and that a “large and commodious space of ground was laid out for that purpose.”

The General Assembly appointed three men to be the markethouse’s commissioners, and they would lay out part of that land for the construction of a markethouse to be open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 1783, according to the act and Gaela Shoop, the city’s market and event assistant.

Various published reports in the past have erroneously listed the City Market’s beginnings as occurring later, even during the 20th century, but this act — a copy of which was provided by the City of Hagerstown — specifically references the establishment of the markethouse.

Old drawings of Hagerstown’s Public Square show the markethouse in the unpaved square.

The building was constructed so town offices were in an enclosed second story and vendors could pull their carts and wagons into the open area beneath, according to a brief history of the market at the market’s website at www.hagerstownmarket.org.

In the early 1800s, the city outgrew that space and a building was constructed in the early 1820s at the southeast corner of East Franklin and North Potomac streets to house city offices and the new markethouse, according to the market history and the Washington County Historical Society. That City Hall later was  demolished to make way for a new building, which was dedicated in 1940, according to the historical society.

A new markethouse was built at the current 25 W. Church St. location and the building was dedicated in August 1928, according to the city’s markethouse history.

Shoop said there’s evidence of vendors operating in the new market in 1929.

While the names City Market and Markethouse have been interchangeable in the market’s history, the city now calls the market the Historic City Farmers Market, Shoop said.


‘A very friendly market’

Dorothy Jones said in the early years on Church Street, the market took up space in the basement and upstairs, but later was only upstairs.

Charles Green, 94, currently the longest-tenured vendor at the market, said when he began selling goods there 60 years ago, the market took up even more space in the building, including the space now occupied by the Hagerstown Fire Department.

“It went from Church Street clear back to the alley,” he said.

Green said the market was very busy then with 10 “meat men.”

Shoop said there now are two meat vendors at the market.

Green said he sells beef, pork, brown eggs, and produce such as tomatoes, cantaloupes and beans he brings from his 150-acre Green Haven Farms on Lappans Road.

“It’s a very friendly market,” Green said.

Once people know you have good stuff, they keep coming back, he said.

“They learn to love you,” he said.

Green said he knows what some customers want before they ask.

A man comes from Howard County, Md., once a month for chicken and fresh eggs, said Green, whose son, Dale, helps him at the market.

For many of the vendors, it’s a family affair, said Beverly Bingaman, who sells fruits, vegetables, flowers and other plants at her market stall.

Bingaman said her daughter, Betty Bingaman, and her future granddaughter-in-law, Angie Herman, help her with the market.

“It’s very exciting to me. I look forward to market every week. I get to see a lot of friends. It’s nice to touch base, and they’re excited to see what new things are coming from the garden,” said Bingaman, who owns Bingaman’s Greenhouse & Produce outside Greencastle, Pa.

Bingaman, 68, has been bringing her goods to the market for 26 years.

Dorothy Jones, who came to be known as “the cookie lady” for her fresh cookies, retired last Christmas from the market, ending her family’s tradition there.

In addition to her grandmother, Jones said other family members who sold goods at the market included Jones’ mother, Alice Mongan, who was a well-known vendor for many years.

Mongan, who died in 1995, told The Herald-Mail in 1979 that as a child, she would help her mother sell home-churned butter and other goods at the market.

“I used to stand on the street in the archway” at Public Square. “I was 10 years old and I have been coming down off the mountain to do this ever since,” Mongan said in 1979.

Jones said her grandfather, James H. Smith, would stay behind while her grandmother wrapped her in a horse blanket in preparation for the trip to market in an open car driven by her uncle, Elmer Smith.

She was around 8 years old at the time, Jones said.

When she was old enough to work in the fields, she would pick 100 boxes of raspberries out of one row, Jones said. The family could get $2 for a crate of 32 quarts of raspberries when people came from Pittsburgh to Boonsboro to buy produce at auction, she said.

When her grandmother gave her a strip of the garden, Jones grew flowers that she cut for her grandmother to sell at City Market in Hagerstown.

“She’d sell them for 5 cents and I thought I had a million dollars,” Jones said.


Ups and downs

Shoop said she discovered, looking at receipts from the 1880s to early 1900s, that the market once had vendors such as cobblers, leather workers and clothiers who sold handmade clothing.

Current vendors sell locally grown food, plants, and handmade or handcrafted items including woodwork, jewelry and artwork, Shoop said.

Recently, the market began inviting some representatives from direct sales vendors such as Thirty-One Gifts, which is known for its bags, and Scentsy, which sells wickless candles.

The market has survived ups and downs in attendance, Shoop said.

The market flourished in its early years, but business gradually declined around the 1950s as supermarkets and, later, large discount stores provided more affordable food, according to longtime vendors and Shoop.

At least five years ago, business began picking up when outdoor and farmers markets regained popularity due to the high interest in locally grown food, Shoop said.

“I think there has been a resurgence with the ‘localvores’ and people just being more interested in where their food comes from,” Bingaman said.

Shoop said recent crowds at the market have reached as high as approximately 800 people on a summer Saturday, with crowds of around 650 to 700 people on winter Saturdays.

Over its long history, the market sometimes has been open more than once a week, vendors said.

Shoop said, even now, sometimes the market opens for an extra day around the holidays.

The market now has 27 permanent vendors and three seasonal vendors, Shoop said. Two more spaces are expected to be filled soon, and Shoop said she has a waiting list for market space for the first time in three years.

The market is open year-round on Saturdays from 5 a.m. to noon, according to the market’s website.

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