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Life in Emmitsburg in the mid 1800's

Reflections on Some Early Taverns

[Originally published in May 15th 1908 in the Emmitsburg Chronicle]

"Mr. -- you are one of the old 'boys' and can no doubt tell of many interesting things in connection with the early days of Emmitsburg," said The Chronicle man to a well-known and highly respected citizen of the town who is too modest to allow his name to appear in print.

"Yes, I can be counted among the old timers and can well remember many things about Emmitsburg about which, later generations know little or nothing. When I was a small boy there were no hotels in Emmitsburg they were all taverns then. The first to assume the more pretentious title was Mrs. Agnew's tavern which occupied the present site of the Hotel Spangler. It was a famous old hostelry and many noted people were its guests. I once heard Francis Scott Key, author of our national anthem, make a speech from its porch. General William H. Harrison stopped there on his presidential campaign tour in 1840, and General Harney, of Mexican War fame, spent the most of one summer there."

"Mrs. Agnew had a great reputation as a caterer and entertainer. The patrons of Saint, Joseph's Academy and Mount St. Mary's College made her place their home during commencement season, and some of them remained for many weeks to enjoy the mountain air and the good cooking for which Mrs. Agnew was noted."

"Thomas Welsh, a sedate middle aged gentleman, was Mrs. Agnew's right-hand man about the hotel. It was said of him that he never laughed and only smiled about twice a year --- when the first summer boarder came in, June and when the last one left in September."

"Won't you tell The Chronicle readers about some of the other taverns, Mr. -- " ? asked the man behind the pencil."

"Well," said the kind old gentleman with a smile and a twinkle in his clear: blue eye, "another of the old-time taverns, was Black's, located where the Emmit House now stands. It was much patronized by teamsters from over the mountain who hauled flour, ground by country mills in Washington county, Maryland, and Franklin county, Pennsylvania, to Baltimore, returning with loads of store goods or German emigrants for the West. It was a sight to see one of these teams of six splendid Conestoga horses and great Louden wagons, and the teamster as he mounted his great saddle horse, cracked his black snake whip, drew his line on the leader, and started off with bowbells on every horse. He felt as big and proud as the conductor of a modern Pullman train."

"It was not unusual to see eight or ten teams go through town together. The charges for the wagons and taverns were not at all extravagant, an eleven penny bit (twelve and a half cents) for a square meal, and three cents for a drink. The menu was not like that of the Waldorf-Astoria, but it was good and substantial, and those who partook had appetites to match, which is the chief requisite after all."

"How about traveling in the early days, Mr. --, did the people make many trips then?" asked the reporter.

"Traveling was a very different thing then to what it is now, let me tell you," replied the patient victim of the interviewer. "Going to Baltimore was like a trip to Europe now, and took almost as much time. Anyone who had been there and had exploited the city was looked upon as a person of distinction by the small boys who thought that perhaps sometime in the distant future they might be able to do likewise. The old swinging Concord Coach and the market wagon furnished the rapid transit. Mr. McDannell who lived and died in a house that stood where J. T. Hays & Son's store now stands, was owner and driver of the stage line. He left Emmitsburg for Baltimore every Monday morning and returned every Friday evening, bringing with him the weekly mail, the only one we received. "

"Do you remember much about the postal rates that obtained in the good old days of the stage coach, Mr. -- ?" timidly asked the newspaper representative, determining to make this his last question.

"Do I remember them? Perfectly," said the old gentleman with an air of astonishment. "They were calculated to make a deep impression upon me for they were very high. To send a letter to any distant part of the country used to cost twenty-five cents, so you can see that there was not very much unnecessary correspondence."

"Come around another time and maybe I will tell you something about politics and the schools as they were in days of old when I was young ..."

Read other stories in this series of first hand accounts of
life in Emmitsburg in the 1800's

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