Home | Mission & Goals | Meeting Schedule | Search | Contact Us | Submit A Story | Links

[Historical Society Note. Recent research by the Emmitsburg Historical Society does not support this account of the beginning of Emmitsburg.  For more information on the founding of Emmitsburg please go to: Setting the Record Straight: The Real History of Emmitsburg's Founding.]


Mary Anne Erickson

(Originally published in the Frederick Magazine August 1992)

Silver Fancy seems a rather poetic and perhaps pretentious name for a tiny frontier settlement. When its population increased to seven families, people called the place Poplar Fields and then Carrollsburg. Samuel Emmit acquired over 2,000 acres in the area originally chartered to the Carroll family and began to sell lots. To honor this fellow citizen and local landowner, townsfolk agreed on the name Emmitsburg.

Founded in 1786 mainly by English-and German-speaking immigrants, Emmitsburg was incorporated in 1825. Roads lead south to Frederick, north to Gettysburg, and west to Hagerstown. ‘Though the old town pump has gone, and the fountain was taken away because it obstructed traffic, the town maintains an air of the quiet sweetness of the old days, emphasized by the existence of a long stretch of old-fashioned two-Story houses along Main Street. 

The older portion of the town is west of these, however, once the real center of the old German houses, all of which were swept away in a fire of many years ago.’ These words by Bentztown Bard Folger McKinsey in a 1938 Baltimore Sun are pertinent today: earlier this year the quaint community with its federal architecture gained a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its notable past.

While many people think of world famous canonized "daughter" Elizabeth Ann Seton, born 1773, when they think of Emmitsburg, there was also a famous "son" named John Armstrong, born 1772. His reputation as possibly America’s finest antique gunsmith is known throughout the country.

According to Wade Chrismer, in the town’s history compiled by Emile and Mary Nakhleh in 1976, residents of Emmitsburg had strong pro-South feelings during the Civil War. Townspeople warmly received Confederate troops in 1862: the South was at that rime under the impression that Maryland was going to join its cause. This book tells that in 1906, a priest who had been a prefect during the war wrote, "In and around the College a very bitter feeling towards the North Dr. McCaffrey in his remarks was exceedingly bitter." 

It evidently puzzled the writer as to how Dr. McCaffrey, then president of Mount St. Mary’s College managed to get away with what he did without being arrested. It is noted that "though he claimed that it was in the interests of neutrality, Father McCaffrey refused to let the American flag to be displayed on the campus when Lincoln was shot. Federal orders were issued for every house to display some sign of mourning. An official visited the college, but there was no sign visible, until Dr. McCaffrey produced a small piece of crepe on a door which had been opened back so that it would not be visible until disclosed.

At least 232 Sisters of Charity, however, from Emmitsburg served during the Civil War in many military hospitals Richmond, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Frederick included and even on a number of battlefields, heroically trying to save the wounded of either side. Two were natives of Emmitsburg: Sister Mary Catherine Chrismer and Sister Mary Rosina Quinn.

A few readers may remember when the 'Dinky' ran the nearly eight miles between Emmitsburg and Rocky Ridge. One of the smallest railroads in the country, organized in 1868 and dissolved in 1940, it was financed largely by the Sisters of Charity at St. Joseph College, so students and visitors could avoid a time consuming round trip of 16 miles by horse. It was said that ‘many new students got his or her first taste of Emmitsburg college life during a wild ride on ‘the Dinky’ in September."

According to The News, September 21, 1944, not everybody got the word when the rail line closed: "Mrs. James Tucker of Boston, Mass., en route here to place her daughter in St. Joseph’s College, bought railway tickets in New York for Emmitsburg via the Emmitsburg Railroad. The mother and daughter arrived at Emmitsburg Junction at night to learn that the rails had been taken up some years ago, leaving them and their luggage stranded at the junction. Guy Baker, who operates the mail and express truck between the junction and Emmitsburg, gave them and the luggage a lift to the college."

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