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George W. Wireman's

The Emmitsburg Railroad

[Historical Society Note: Research conducted in support of a new book on the history of the Emmitsburg area does not support the italicized sentences in Mr. Wireman's history of Emmitsburg's founding ... for the correct history, please read:  Setting the record straight, the real history of Emmitsburg's founding.]

Emmitsburg, Maryland, tucked away at the north end of Frederick County near the Pennsylvania border, was for many years the terminus of the Emmitsburg Railroad which connected with the Western Maryland Railway at Rocky Ridge, a distance of seven miles. Although there is little or no traces of this railroad today, it still lives in the memory of some of the older citizens of the community. The railroad will be the subject of a series in this column starting next week.

*History tells us the village that we now call Emmitsburg was first known as Poplar Fields and in 1786 the name was changed to Emmitsburg in honor of William Emmit, who was one of the largest land holders in the area. The very first white settler in Emmitsburg was William Elder, a Catholic, who came from St. Mary’s County in 1734 and made his home at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.* [see note above]

Elder carried with him his religion, and when he was building his home, reserved the largest apartment in it for a chapel. Elder’s family, accompanied by a number of friends, all members of the Catholic Church, soon followed him. His home, which he named "Pleasant Level" soon became a favorite gathering place for Catholics. From time to time Elder’s home was visited by priests who came from St. Mary’s County and elsewhere to minister to the small but devout and growing congregation. 

William Elder was a native of Lancastershire in England and emigrated to St. Mary’s County in 1730. Records indicate that Elder was married twice. His first wife, whom he married in England, was Ann Wheeler, who was the mother of four sons and one daughter. Ann died in 1739. William Elder married his second wife, Jacoba Clementina Livers, who was the mother of four sons and two daughters. Thomas Elder, one of Jacoba’s sons, married Elizabeth Spalding and settled in the area know today as Harbaugh’s Valley. Thomas and his family lived in the valley for 28 years and then left to settle in Kentucky.

Following the settlement of Elder in Emmitsburg, came a number of Scotch Irish, German and Irish families among whom were the Emmits, the Williams, Baughers, Shields, Grovers, Troxells, Hayes, Weltys, Weavers, Danners and the Zimmermans.

*Emmitsburg’s original population consisted of seven families, namely, those of Richard Jennings, a merchant; Adam Hoffman, a hatter; John Rogers, a tavern keeper; Michael Smith, a blacksmith; Frederick Baird, a carpenter; James and Joseph Hughes, merchants and architects. These sturdy and eminently practical people first called their little settlement or village "Silver Fancy." It might be well to point out here that "Silver Fancy" was a village settlement in itself and was not part of the settlement of Elder’s "Popular Fields." *[see note above]

Records indicate that the very first house built in "Silver Fancy" was a one story frame dwelling, built by Richard Jennings, who a short time later built the very first brick house. It was in 1786 when James and Joseph Hughes constructed the houses on the northwest corner of the Square. Still later they built the "Eagle Tavern." [see note above]

At an early date, Christian Flautt built and operated a tannery, which in 1798 was sold to Lewis Motter. Motter came from the York County, Pennsylvania, area. The Motter's raised a very large family and occupied a high place in the community. 

It wasn’t until 1825 that the community of Emmitsburg was incorporated by the General Assembly of Maryland and the charter was greatly enlarged and amended by the Act of March 10, 1854.

The most serious calamity in the early history of Emmitsburg was the big fire in 1863. This fire broke out in Beam & Gutheries’ livery stable on the night of June 16 around 11 p.m. The fire quickly destroyed the stable and spread to the homes of Dr. Eichelberger and David Adelsberger and then continued down the side of the street almost to the Square. The flames then crossed the street, burning a number of buildings including Wiles’ City Hotel, which was a large, four-story building. When the fire was extinguished some 20 buildings had been destroyed. These were speedily rebuilt but in a more substantial manner than the originals.

Emmitsburg has a rich and colorful history and the thoughts expressed in this column merely touch the surface. 

Have your own memories of the Emmitsburg Railroad?  
If so, send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

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