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 An Abbreviated History Of Emmitsburg

Originally Published in the Emmitsburg Chronicle, August 31, 1951

[Historical Society Note: Recent detailed research conducted in support of a new book on the history of the Emmitsburg area does not support much of this abbreviated history ... for the correct history, please read Setting the record straight, the real history of Emmitsburg's founding.]

This is merely a historical, sketch taken from the articles that have appeared in the Emmitsburg Chronicle. It is imperative that it be brief and only the leading facts are given.

First Known as Poplar Fields [Note true]

The first foundation of Emmitsburg dates back to the year 1786. It known as Poplar Fields. [Not true]  Seven families made up its population: Richard Jennings, Adam Hoffman, John Rogers, 'Michael Smith, Frederick Baird, and James and Joseph Hughes.

The town at that time consisted of a few houses about the Square and was called Silver Fancy. [Not true] In and about this time William Shields built a house where the old Hoke's Store was; that was the beginning of the "Shield's Addition." The first house was erected by Captain Jennings. It was a frame structure one story high. The first brick house was also built by the Captain. This house stood where Allman's old store was, now the home of the American Store on the Square. James and Joseph Hughes built the first hotel, the Eagle. Some of the succeeding owners were the Elders, Spanglers, Slagles and Mondorffs.

Its site is now the Mondorff hotel. The next brick house was built by the Hughes brothers. It stood on the northeast corner of the Square until 1863 when it was destroyed by the big fire. Dr. Robert L. Annan and his brother, I. S. Annan, rebuilt on the same site the house later being occupied by Mrs. R. L. Annan, J. Brooke Boyle, Charles P. Mort and now the J. Edward Houck family. The house destroyed by the fire was the cradle of the, Catholic Church in Emmitsburg, it contained a room where the Catholics assembled for worship before their church was built. The third brick house is the one now located beside the Fire Hall and owned by Mrs. Genevieve R. Elder. For many years it was the Presbyterian parsonage.

Among the early industries can be mentioned the tanning business. Mr. Christian Flaut began the business and sold out to Lewis Motter in 1798. Mr. Motter was from York County, Pa, and was the father of Lewis Motter. The Chronicle says: "Mr. Motter came to Emmitsburg on Sept. 5, 1798; here he, raised a large family; by his industry and good judgment and determination of purpose, he accumulated a considerable amount of property, filling many important positions of trust, he became a safe counselor and a, benefactor in the community"

Nor was education forgotten by the early settlers. Mr. Thomas Cochran, whose remains rest in the Catholic Cemetery, was the first schoolmaster. Dr. Rench was the first physician, and John Ropely the first magistrate. The settlement at Tom's Creek boasted of a physician before Dr. Rench came to "Silver Fancy." He was Dr. Brown.

One hundred and sixty-five years ago, in 1786, the men of the settlement assembled at Hockensmith's tavern (formerly the Meade Fuss home), one and a half miles from "Silver Fancy," to deliberate changing the name of the town. Hon. John McGurgan being called on to preside, proposed to order and proposed to change the name from settled down and called his new "Poplar Fields" to "Emmitsburg," after William Emmit, Esq., one of the largest landholders in the district.

(The Emmitsburg Historical Society supports the statement that Emmitsburg was founded by William Emmit, however, recent research has disprove the remainder of the paragraph above ... learn more about the Real History of Emmitsburg's founding)

Mr. James Helman in his History of Emmitsburg, says that the town was named after Samuel Emmit, father of William Emmit. The elder Emmit took out a patent for 2,250 acres of land on May 17, 1757, He early began selling off lots which were taken by the settlers. [This statement is misleading.  Samuel Emmit did not begin to sell lots until March of 1785, the date of a letter of agreement between him and the prospective purchasers of the lots was signed.]  Shortly after the meeting at Hockensmith's tavern, the name of the post office was changed from Poplar Fields to Emmitsburg. Mr. William Greenamyer, who died in 1802 at the age of 30, was the first postmaster. He was the son-in-law of Mr. John Troxell. who built the brick house next to the Eagle Hotel (now Mondorff), before mentioned. This house was destroyed by fire in 1863, and was rebuilt by Joshua Shorb. It was remodeled in 1909 for the Emmitsburg Savings Bank (Now the Farmer's state Bank).

These are the beginnings of Emmitsburg. As early as 1800, such well-known names as these began to appear: Hays, Biggs, Arnold, Smith, Blair, Danner, Hockensmith, Rowe, Crabs, Ohler, Nickum, Shields, Carrick, Troxell, Martin, Cochran, Overholtzer, Baker, Zimmerman, Bollinger, Clark, Tatterson, Eiker, Bigham, Elder, Taney, Weller, Morrison, Long, Ovelman, Valentine, Kelly, Agnew, Brawner, Creager, Ogle, Mathews, Knauff, Krise, Motter, Winter, Helman, Hoffman and many other just as familiar.

Thirty-eight years after the town had been named it was incorporated by the General Assembly of Maryland, by its act of 1824, passed January 13, 1825. This charter was amended and ,enlarged in 1854.

William Elder "Explorer"

An emigrant from St. Mary's County, William Elder, was the first white man that explored the mountain to the Southwest of town. To a portion of it he gave the name of "St. Mary's Mount."

At that time the land belonged to the Indians. Elder was so pleased with the country that he settled down and called his new home, "Pleasant Level" He built a house and was joined by his family and a few friends from his former home. This house was built many years before the revolution. In the little burial ground close to the house he buried his first wife. This was 1732. This good women, who shared the hardships of her husbands pioneer life, died of consumption (tuberculosis), in her 34th year, leaving four children to morn her loss. Necessity compelled her husband to hollow out a chestnut tree , and in this rude coffin the remains of Mrs. Elder were interred.

In 1775 Mr. Elder was buried by her side.

Back of this pioneer's cottage stands Carrick's Knob, familiar to all who have ever visited this part of Frederick County. Up near its top rocks jut out over the tree tops. Here, tradition says, the Indians resorted during the Revolutionary War to reconnorting as scouts for the British army. Everyone knows it as "Indian Lookout."

At the suggestion of Rev. Mathew Ryan, a visitor to the town, Captain Joseph Hughes in 1793 built the first catholic church in Emmitsburg.

He was the contractor and architect. He and his brother donated the ground upon which the church stands and also the land for the cemetery, where their remains now rest. In 1831 the edifice was enlarged and in 1841 a "more fitting temple" was erected. The labor of building the new church fell to the lot of Father McCaffrey of Mt. St. Mary's College. it was finished in 1842. The steeple was built in 1869 by the firm of Tyson and Lansinger. Both these gentlemen were well-respected by all their fellow citizens. At first the church was known as Saint Mary's, but was changed to St. Joseph's in 1808.

"Some years before the foundation of Emmitsburg," says our authority, Mr. Charles F. Rowe, now deceased, "about 1761 a thrifty band gave thrifty colony of Scotch Irish located themselves and belonged near Mason and Dixon's Line, in what was then called York County, now called Adams County. These men were used to hardship, being tiller of the soil. They were robust and healthy, they were industrious and of economical habits, and withal a handsome race of men. They built their church in Tom's Creek Hundred, in Maryland, about a mile and a half from the then, embryo town of Emmitsburg. Before the Revolutionary War, this church was supplied by pastors from Donegal Presbytery. One of these, Hezekiah James Baleb, D.D., was a member of the renowned Mecklenberg Convention in 1775, and died the same year.

In 1839 the church was torn down and rebuilt in Emmitsburg. Thirty years-after this it was remodeled. A few years later, in 1878, a new church was built which was burned to the ground in 1902 and later rebuilt.

The Lutheran congregation was organized in 1757 at Tom's Creek. In 1797 a building was erected in town which was jointly used by the Lutheran and German Reformed congregations. During the pastorate of John M. Titzel, in 1868, the Reformed congregation separated from the Lutheran and built a church, the same that they worship in today.

The Elias Lutheran Church which was built in 1797, enlarged in 1835 and remodeled in 1870, had at first a small spire framed into the timbers of the roof. This was badly shattered by a bolt of lightning, and the present steeple was built in 1814 by Peter Troxell, architect, and George Smith, carpenter. The money necessary for this work was largely provided for by lottery.

Cholera Breaks Out

In 1846, Rev. G. W. Aughinbaugh became pastor of the Reformed Church and during the time he labored in this place the cholera broke out. Rev. Aughinbaugh evinced no small degree of courage and self-sacrifice in ministering to the suffering during its entire course."

Methodists Build in 1831

In 1831 the Methodist Church was erected, during the pastorate of Rev. Mr. Moreland, a native of Ireland who emigrated to this part of the country. "With a heart overflowing with sympathy towards his oppressed countrymen," information has it, "his home was always open to receive them; a kind welcome a cheery word and a good humored benevolent smile always awaited them. This venerable patriarch found dead in his gig one bright Sabbath morning in August, as he was on his way to officiate in the Methodist chapel on the banks of Tom's Creek. His remains were solemnly interred in the cemetery adjoining the new church in Emmitsburg, which he caused to be built. The first sermon delivered in this edifice was the funeral panegyric of Rev. Mr. Moreland, a fitting valedictory to the labors of this worthy gentleman."

Mt. St. Mary's Established 1808

This peaceful valley early attracted those whose interest in higher things had brought them into conflict with the world. Mt. St. Mary's College, founded in 1808, "was one of the by-products of the French Revolution, which drove out the priests, then the chief educators, and caused John Dubois, a Parish clergyman to emigrate in 1791, to the new republic. This pious gentleman purchased a site on the mountain near Emmitsburg and raised a group of log houses that developed into Mount St. Mary's College.

This institution is the second in point of age and existing catholic colleges in the United States having under the same management a lay college and an ecclesiastical seminary. From it have gone forth such men as Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop Hughes, Jerome Napoleon Bonaparte, Archbishop Purcell, Rev. John LaFarge, George H. Miles, Bishop Allen, and many other high dignitaries of the church and county.

St. Joseph's Founded in 1809

Another of Emmitsburg's famous educational institution was founded just one hundred and forty-two years ago. In 1809 Mrs. Elizabeth Seton, in a plan dwelling and with humble surroundings, laid the foundations of St. Joseph's Academy. Mother Seton died in 1821, and was regretted by all who had the happiness to, know her. The charter for the incorporation of this institution was granted in 1817. This establishment now contains the mother house and seminary of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, from Paris. There are about 2,000 Sisters working in different parts of the country who belong to this mother house.

No Battles Fought Here

Emmitsburg, although not the scene of any battle during the Revolutionary War, nevertheless l suffered from the depredations of armies. During the Civil War time and again troops went through the town. At the time of the Battle of Gettysburg (about 10 miles north), some anxiety was felt for the safety of the place.

Before the battle, on the night of June 23, 1863, a fire broke out in the livery stable of Bear and Guthrie, which has since been known as "The Fire." It spread rapidly over a large portion of ,the place and rendered many of the inhabitants homeless. The stables where the fire began soon (were destroyed and the flames communicated to the dwellings of Mr. Lawrence Dwell, Mr. Adelsberger and Dr. Eicheiberger and then laid waste to the whole side of the street going East for about 10 doors from the Square, then crossing the street and destroying the buildings from there West to the hotel which stood where Hotel Mondorff now is.

Railroad Completed in 1875

The Emmitsburg Railroad completed in 1875.

Fire Likened to Chicago's

The last days of June and the first days of July, 1863, were strenuous days for the people of Emmitsburg. The great fire which wiped out about a third of the town occurred on the night of the 23rd of June, 1863, comparatively, almost as great a calamity for Emmitsburg as were the great fires of Baltimore and Chicago for those cities. Some of our people were uninsured and suffered almost total losses, there was much inconvenience and some suffering, but one touch of nature makes the whole world kin. Neighbors opened their doors and took the homeless ones in, barns and sheds were used as temporary abodes, a general appeal was made for help and the response was prompt land generous. With true American vigor and pluck the people began to rebuild their ruined homes and, as is always the case, the new buildings were of a better class than those destroyed hand Emmitsburg rose from its ashes, a better town than it was before.

About the time of our fire the War of the Rebellion was at its height. Lee bad crossed the Potomac and occupied the Cumberland Valley as far north as Carlisle, Pa. The Union Army was moving northward, our town was on the line of march, our people were excited and apprehensive. A great battle which would perhaps decide the fate of the country inevitable, it must be fought not far off. A delay of 36 hours on the march of the Union Army would have made Emmitsburg the center of the battle fought at Gettysburg.

On Saturday the 27th day of June, two regiments of Michigan cavalry camped a mile south of Emmitsburg on the Toll Gate held the advance of Kilpatrick's division. They were armed with the deadly Spencer repeating carbines and looked like they could fight. They stayed until Monday, when the division arrived and they all marched to Hanover, Pa. They were guided by Jim McCullough, an Emmitsburg soldier boy, who was counted as one of the best scouts in the army. It was this force that got between Lee and Stuart and kept them apart during the Battle of Gettysburg. On the 29th and 30th of June, the First and Eleventh Corps arrived and the country at once became a vast camp.

On July 1, the Third Corps under Sickles arrived. The battle was then on and the thunder of cannon was heard. News of a great disaster to the Union Army had reached our town. The Eleventh Corps had been broken and driven back. The First Corps 'vas outflanked and was falling back slowly and sullenly before ,a superior force of the enemy. Reynolds, the commander, had fallen. Things looked dark for the Union Army.

Small flags waved and dipped from the tower of the old Lutheran Church, used as a signal station by the army. Bearers of I dispatches and squads of cavalry dashed madly through the town. ,The long roll of drums and the blood-stirring bugle calls filled the air; the fields were alive with soldiers. To the untrained eye it looked like a great mob, but it was not a mob in any sense, for in a very short time the men fell into orderly lines and in full marching swing, pressed forward across the fields toward Gettysburg, towards victory and also many of them-toward death.

This was as much of war as most of our people wanted to see. A number of wounded men were well-cared for in improvised hospitals in Emmitsburg.

Our town was in possession of the Union troops, except for al few hours on Sunday morning. After the battle a body of Stuart's cavalry halted here. They no doubt thought Emmitsburg was not a desirable summer resort about that time and soon pulled out, joining Lee through the mountain passes to the South and West.

Learn more about Emmitsburg's role in the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War in General

When the army began to arrive in town, the first thing the, soldiers asked: for was fresh bread. Nearly every house in the' town was turned into a bakery and every woman who could bake was busy day and night, kneading bread while the soldiers needed more. The old-fashioned loaf was about three times bigger than the present baker's loaf. It was interesting to see a soldier with a (loaf under each arm, meet a squad of comrades. He would at once break the bread and hand it around. It would vanish quicker than the morning dew. No doubt it tasted to the poor fellows like the bread mother used to bake at home. The mother and the home which many a brave boy never saw again.

The soldiers were well-disciplined and consequently well-behaved men and there was very little trouble between them and the people of town or country,. From here there were 3 brothers l in the Union and Confederate Armies. But the dreadful fraternal strife has passed away and peace, like a river, flows through the land. May it flow forever.

Water Company Formed

A few years after the railroad came, a water company was incorporated and water was piped into the town from the heart of the nearby mountain, to the great financial advantage of the company and to the health and convenience of the people of the town. This was in 1884.

In the dim and distant past, 106 years ago, Emmitsburg had a newspaper called The Star. Copies still available of the 1850 issue show a C. Grate, editor and publisher. It struggled along for a few years and died all easy death and Emmitsburg was without a newspaper for a generation, until Samuel Motter established the Chronicle, which was successful from the start, and with good management and literary ability above the average, has grown up to its present high standard, with a building and a plant which is a credit to the owners and to the town.

Some years ago there lived and worked at St. Joseph's College, a mulatto man; a giant in stature and strength, and like most big, strong men, very good natures, always polite, smiling and obliging. On one occasion Martin (that was his first name), thought he was sick and needed a stimulant. A friend procured some very old French brandy and poured a small portion in a glass and gave it to Martin, telling him how old it was. Martin held up the glass and looking at the liquor remarked with a grin: "It is very small for its age."

It may be said of Emmitsburg, like Martin said of the liquor in the glass: It is very small for Its age.

It is near the two century mark yet it may be truthfully said the town has grown within the past few decades more than it did the preceding 60 years and is not finished yet.

More strangers come to Emmitsburg than to any other town of its size in the state. It may be called a city in miniature.

For a long time it had the only iron foundry in the county; the only acetylene gas machine factory, in fact, you could get all you wanted to use; all that you wanted to read, (including the Chronicle); all that you wanted to eat; all that you wanted to wear, right here in this town of Emmitsburg.

Some day, in the not too distant future, our mountain slopes will be dotted with summer cottages for which there are many ideal sites, unsurpassed for grand and beautiful views, far and near, and life-giving water and air, but we would not have people live on air and water alone. The soil is fertile, producing plenty, fully all cultivated crops and, fruits, and wild berries in abundance. Stream and meadow, field and forest, rockbrake and orchards fruited deep; country life in the country, yet in easy touch with the village and cities. These are what we can offer to all who 'will come.

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