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Emmitsburg: The Municipal Corporation 

Joseph S. Welty


Part 1 of 3

The formation of a town where our community now lies was the handiwork of a gentleman named Samuel Emmit.  On March 5, 1785 Samuel Emmit entered into a letter of Agreement with the future purchasers of the lots in Emmitsburg.  On August 12, 1785, Samuel deeded his son William 35 acres upon which the lots of a new town called Emmitsburg were laid out provided "William Emmit shall perform the part which the said Samuel Emmit was to perform according to the Articles of Agreement"

Anyone who would wish to further examine this indenture conveying 35 acres of original Emmitsburg will find the same recorded among the land records of Frederick County Maryland at Liber WR-6 Filo 82-83.

The ides of Emmit in laying out his town must have soon outgrown the land originally set aside for this purpose. This is confirmed by a subsequent deed of confirmation from Samuel Emmit to his son William dated the 20th day of May, 1786, contains the following language:

"And whereas since the Execution of the said Indenture [referring to the original thirty-five acre conveyance] or deed the said parties to these presents have discovered that there is not fully that quantity of land contained within the courses therein mentioned, which they now find should be requisite for the intended uses and the said piece of land not Beginning at the most convenient place."

The language may indicate that there was surveyor error involved in the first conveyance, but it also indicates a definite desire to expand the town boundaries. The next part of Carrolsburg conveyed by Samuel Emmit, which later became a part of the developing town, was conveyed by Mr. Emmit to William Shields "for and in consideration of the sum of one hundred and ten pounds of late Continental money paid before the delivery of these presents, the same having been equal to twenty two pounds of so much of good Currency." This tract of land encompasses what is now a large portion of the "west end" of Emmitsburg.

In my short career I have had an opportunity to search titles from time to time in Frederick County, and during this time I have often run into lots in the west end of Emmitsburg which have been described as being part of "Shields Addition to Emmitsburg." The original conveyance to Shields involved a transfer of one hundred and six acres of land, more or less, and was dated September 29, 1787.

While looking for the above conveyances, I postulated that lots for a town are laid off, or at least should be, with major and minor streets and alleys providing access to each of the lots. There should be a conveyance from the original owner of the land which provides the purchaser of a lot with such access, either in each deed individually or to all owners collectively. Sure enough, such a deed does exist, dated October 17, 1808, and provides as follows:

"Whereas the said William Emmit in laying of the lots in Emmitsburg did lay off a number of streets and alleys in convenient places for the use benefit and advantage of the holders of lots and others to be used as lanes streets and highways free for all and every person to pass and escape as might be necessary and whereas there has not been heretofore any deed or conveyance made by the said Emmit to secure the uses of the said streets and alleys for the purposes aforesaid the said William Emmit granted bargained and sold any by these presents doth clearly and absolutely grant bargain and sell unto the said Lewis Motter, Samuel Noble and Frederick Gelwicks as trustees in behalf of holders of lots in the said Town of Emmitsburg and their successors to be chosen by the Freeholders of said town on the first Monday in September yearly and every year forever all and singular the said streets and alleys now in use and which were laid off and may appear by a plat of said town except a piece of an alley extending through between the back of lots of John Armstrong and leading across the end of five front lots lately purchased by Michael Sponcellar leading directly through to the land of said Sponcellar and which will be of no public use and excepting and reserving to Lewis Motter his heirs and assigns the use privilege and advantage of a spring of water which rises in one of the alleys to the North of his the said Motter's Tan House provided that him nor them shall not obstruct the said alley so that it cannot be passed or used for the purposes aforesaid."

At the bottom of the indenture is the following note: "Annexed to the foregoing was the following plat " Unfortunately, the plat cited is not reproduced in the Land Records and the original indenture and plat are no longer in the Court House.

The town, from at least a physical standpoint, was now complete in the sense that the lots had been laid off and the streets and alleys had been for the most part secured for public use. Yet, from a legal standpoint, a municipal corporation, capable of at least a certain amount of local self-government under the auspices of state law, would not exist for several years. In the meantime, if the citizens of Emmitsburg wished to have local laws passed, they had to go to a higher authority to obtain them.

On January 8, 1803, the General Assembly of the Maryland passed a law regulating the running at large of hogs in the Town of Emmitsburg. The sanctions set up in this law for violation are rather different from our present day legal system. If a hog was found running at large, it was legal for anyone to kill it on the spot or to impound it. If impounded, notice was to be given by advertisements set up in public places describing the impounded hog. The owner had five days to prove ownership and make compensation for injury sustained by any inhabitant of the town, and to pay the sum of two shillings for each hog for every day impounded.

The matter of the amount of damage sustained was not to be determined by a court of law, which would certainly be the case today, but rather was to be determined by any two disinterested persons living in the area. If the owner did not comply with the judgment, the hog became the property of the impounder. In addition, the impounder could obtain protection from suit by the owner in civil court by simply pleading the general issue and setting up the act as a defense. The very next law passed by the General Assembly of the Maryland for Emmitsburg was passed December 31, 1803, and again dealt with swine running at large in the town and in Shields Addition to the town.

The prior law may have proved somewhat harsh, as it was repealed and some protection for the owner was built into the new law. Now an offending hog could only be seized by a constable, and the costs of seizure and impoundment were to be covered before a justice of the peace with a $75 fine. The swine was sold after advertisement and the proceeds applied to the costs imposed by the justice of the peace. Any surplus was divided equally between the constable and the public street improvement, somewhat more in line with principles of justice as we know them today.

On December 24, 1808, the General Assembly passed Chapter 102 of the 1808 Session which authorized "a lottery to erect suitable buildings for a School House for the accommodation of the Youth of Emmitsburg, and its vicinity in Frederick County." Prominent local citizens Phillip Nunamaker, Lewis Motter, Lewis Weaver, James Hughes, William Emmit, Henry Williams, and John Haston were given permission "to propose a scheme of a lottery for raising a sum not exceeding twelve hundred dollars provided they before the sale of any ticket give their bond conditioned that they will apply the money within twelve months after completion of the drawing of said lottery, as will satisfy the fortunate adventurers for prizes drawn by them and after deducting necessary expenses within eighteen months after the lottery is drawn, apply the money raised for a schoolhouse in or near the town of Emmitsburg."

A bond was set in the amount of two thousand dollars, which was to be recorded in the Clerk's Office of the Frederick County Court. This bond provided protection for the subscribers and assurances that the lottery would be conducted exactly in accordance with the terms of the law. I have not been able to determine whether or not this lottery was ever carried out, but this law helps establish that the settlers of the area, especially the Emmits, were educated men who often demonstrated imagination and foresight.

With Chapter 87 of the 1814 Session, the General Assembly of the Maryland passed an act "to incorporate a Company to make a Turnpike Road from the Turnpike leading from Westminster through Harmon's Gap to Hagerstown, to Emmitsburg in Frederick County." The project was very large in scope for the time period. The act authorized subscription books to be opened up for a capital stock of thirty thousand dollars, twenty thousand of which was directed to be sold in Emmitsburg through the efforts of commissioners of sale, who included William Emmit, Robert L. Annan, George M. Eichelberger, Jacob Troxell, and George Troxell.

The next step towards the development of a thriving community taken by the General Assembly on behalf of Emmitsburg citizens was the introduction of a water supply into town. A company which was to provide this service was incorporated under an act known as Chapter 90 of the 1815 Session of the General Assembly of Maryland. The act was entitled "An act for introducing a supply of Water into the Town of Emmitsburg." The corporation was to be called "The President and Directors of the Emmitsburg Water Company" and the company was authorized to issue up to ten thousand dollars worth of stock in twenty dollar denominations. This act ended with the proviso that "if the said corporation shall not carry into effect the intentions of this act within five years from the passage thereof, in that case all the powers vested in them shall cease and determine."

However, the record indicates that the corporation was unsuccessful in this venture. A second attempt was made in 1823 through the passage of Chapter 168 of the 1822 Session of the General Assembly. The act was entitled "an act incorporating a company to introduce a copious supply of water into the town of Emmitsburg, in Frederick County." From the appearance of this new act it can only be assumed that the old company went bankrupt or that it was never able to get off the ground, and the five year proviso of the first act nullified its authorization. The financial goals for establishment of the company were set for a capitalization of between $3,500 and $4,000. Again, subsequent legislation seems to indicate that the establishment of a water company did not meet with great success.

On March 2, 1827, Chapter 147 of the 1826 Session of the General Assembly was passed and is entitled "An Act Supplementary to an act incorporating a Company to introduce a copious supply of Water into the Town of Emmitsburg, in Frederick County." From the reading of the law, it could be inferred that the corporation established in 1822 was somewhat successful but had not issued all of its stock and had not collected fully for stock sold. Three individuals were set up as commissioners of sale to finish the uncompleted task of organizing the company. They appear to have been successful in their efforts, since there is no subsequent act incorporating another water company. Further legislation many years later names the Emmitsburg Water Company.

The Emmitsburg Water Company was given wide protection under Chapter 28 of the 1884 Session of the General Assembly. This law was made it a criminal offense to, among other things, "hinder the flow of water of any of the supply springs, streams or pipes of the Company, defile the water of any said supply sources, commit any action affecting the purity or cleanliness of said water, open any of the stops and valves of the company or tap any of its pipes without permission." Further, the company was given direct access to the courts for injunctive relief to restrain commission of any of these evils "no matter by whom or under what authority committed."

Several days later Chapter 92 of the 1884 Session of the General Assembly enacted a law "to authorize and empower the burgess and commissioners of Emmitsburg to make a contract with 'Emmitsburg Water Company in Frederick County' a joint stock water company, for the supply of water to said town, and erection of fire plugs or hydrants, and to levy taxes to pay said company according to the terms of said contract, and to provide for the submission of this act to the qualified voters of the town of Emmitsburg." The town minutes do not indicate the result of this referendum, or even whether or not it was held. On July 12, 1883, the Burgess was authorized to grant a right of way to the Emmitsburg Water Company to lay its pipes within the limits of the Corporation. At the same time, the Commissioners voiced a need for fifteen fire hydrants in the town.

On July 15, 1884, Chapter 92, Ordinance No. 54 was passed which, according to the town minutes, provided for a referendum "to take the Sense of the people in regard to water works for the town." Again, there is no indication whether or not this referendum was held, and no results are recorded. However, the town minutes indicate that on September 8, 1884, it was resolved that the town enter into a five-year contract with the Emmitsburg Water Company to supply water for the fire plugs. The price of this service was to be the sum of $.09 for every one hundred dollars of assessable property within town limits. There was to be no extra charge for supplying water for the use of the fountain to be erected in the square. Permission was granted by the Commissioners at their meeting of September 18, 1884, to the president of the Fountain Association to erect a fountain in the public square. On September 25, 1884, the Commissioners passed Ordinance No. 55 relating to the contract with Emmitsburg Water Company.

The Town of Emmitsburg was not incorporated and did not have any legal power for self-government until January 13, 1825, when Chapter 29 of the December Session of 1824 of the General Assembly was passed. Section 1 of the act provides as follows:

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland, that the town of Emmitsburg and Shields Addition to Emmitsburg, shall be, and is hereby constituted an incorporate town; and the inhabitants thereof, constituted a body politic and incorporate, by the name of the Burgess Commissioners of Emmitsburg, and as such shall have perpetual succession, and by their corporate name, may sue and be sued, implead and be impleaded."

Section 3 of this act provides for the election of a burgess and six commissioners for the town. Qualified candidates had to be inhabitants in the town, at least twenty-five years of age, and holders of real property. The first election was to be held on the first Monday in April in 1825 and on the same day annually in perpetuity. In order to vote, a citizen had to be a free white male citizen of twenty-one years of age or more, and had to reside in town for six months prior to election day.

Section 4 of this act enumerates the powers granted to the commissioners. The commissioners were to have full power and authority "to enact and pass all laws and ordinances to preserve the health of the town; prevent and remove nuisances; to regulate fire companies; to impose and appropriate fines, penalties and forfeitures, for the breach of their by-laws or ordinances; to lay and collect taxes for opening and extending the back and necessary cross alleys of the said town; provided that the said taxes shall not exceed twenty cents on every one hundred dollars worth of taxable property in any one year, which they may collect as county taxes are collected, by such persons as the burgess may see fit to appoint. All ordinances and by-laws to be signed by the burgess."

The commissioners were given the power to appoint their own clerk, assign him duties, and pay him a salary. All ordinances were to be entered by the clerk in a book kept for that purpose which was to be open for public inspection. Copies of the ordinances were to be displayed in the most public places of town. Fines under the ordinances, which could not exceed ten dollars for any offense, were recovered before the burgess, in much the same manner as small debts were recovered before a justice of the peace at that time. The commissioners were required to meet at least three times a year, with a quorum requiring four commissioners.

However, it appears that no election was held as required by the act, because Chapter 30 of the December Session of 1825 of the General Assembly was enacted to give the inhabitants of Emmitsburg another opportunity to hold a municipal election on the first Monday of April, 1826. The inhabitants did not pass up their chance this time. Chapter 95 of the 1826 Session of the General Assembly confirmed and validated the election held, and in addition validated and legalized all actions taken by the burgess and commissioners.

Read Part 2, 3

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