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Thornton Wm. Rodgers

Commissioner and Burgess of Emmitsburg 

Don Rodgers

The articles written about Ed Houck and Charlie Harner have been most enjoyable and brought back many memories of my days growing up in Emmitsburg. Those articles also prompted me to write about my father, Thornton William Rodgers; Emmitsburg barber, cabinet maker and mayor.

Thornton Rodgers & son Eugene, in wood-working and upholstery shop on North Seton Ave.

Thornt was born in the Fells Point area of Baltimore City in January 1897. His father was William Rodgers, a native Baltimorean, and his mother was Annie Lydia Humerick. Annie was born and raised on the mountain to the west of Emmitsburg. William Rodgers worked in a pottery factory and developed Tuberculosis and died in 1900 at the age of 31 leaving a young widow, my father who was 3 years old, and his sister Ethel, 7 years old. Annie then moved her little family back to Emmitsburg to her father and mother's home on Hornet's Nest Road.

Annie, Ethel and Thornton lived with Grandad Humerick until Annie married John Kelly in 1902. Although I can't say for certain, I believe Thornton must have spent more years with Grandad Humerick as he said many times that he was raised by him.

Thornton developed Poliomyelitis or Infantile Paralysis at the age of two. At that period in time, the disease was quite often fatal so it is a blessing that he survived. The affliction did leave him with a severe limp which I am sure most people who knew him can vividly remember although few people were aware of the cause. However, the game leg did affect his life in two ways: 1. he wanted to be a carpenter but his mother told me that she did not want him to learn that trade for fear that he would fall from a scaffolding because of the crippled leg and; 2. He tried to join the Army during WWI and was rejected because of the leg.

Instead of carpentry, his mother apprenticed Thornton to a barber in Gettysburg at the age of about  thirteen. I am not positive of his age when apprenticed  but I do know that he went to school only through the sixth grade; any further education was self taught.

Thornton barbered in Gettysburg from about 1910 to 1921 except for a year and a half in 1917-1918 when he worked in the shipyard in Baltimore. He was always an avid baseball fan and took great pride in the fact that he used to cut the hair of Eddie Plank, a Philadelphia Athletics Hall of Fame Pitcher, who was from the Gettysburg area.

Thornton taught himself to play the guitar and used to play in various shows around Gettysburg and Emmitsburg. At one such show in St. Euphemia's School hall, he met Carrie Gelwicks, an Emmitsburg native,  who was acting in the same show. They were married in April, 1921 and  moved into the house on Gettysburg Street, now 201 North Seton Ave. The house had belonged to a Mr. Long and had livery stables in the alley behind the house. These burned in about 1928 and the fire came very close to igniting the houses along Gettysburg St.

Carrie and Thornt raised five children, all  born in the home; Lorraine (Rainey), T. Eugene (Bee), William (Bill), Joseph (Joe) and Donald (Donnie). Thornton's sister, Ethel and her husband Bob Topper, lived in the house next door.

Around the time that  Carrie and Thornt were married, he and Guy Topper opened a barber shop at 26 West Main Street, next door to the drug store. (It was Houser's Drug Store when I was growing up in Emmitsburg.) It was in this shop that Toss Shorb apprenticed for the barber trade. During the 1930's, Thornton became interested in local politics and served as Commissioner and later as Mayor of Emmitsburg. I am certain that his long hours in the barber shop must have sparked many a heated political discussion but I don't remember Dad talking politics at home. Of course, I was very young and the political scene was the farthest thing from my mind.

In the evening, when my Dad returned home from his barber shop, he went to work in his wood shop in the basement of our house. Woodworking and cabinet making was his true vocation – he always said that he never really liked the barber trade but it provided a living even during the depression. With five children and a wife to take care of, he couldn't walk away and try something else.

During WWII he again went to Baltimore to work for Bethlehem Steel at Sparrows Point in Baltimore. When he returned to Emmitsburg in 1945, he went to work with Guy Topper in the barber shop but soon opened his own cabinet making business in partnership with his sons, Bee and Bill, who had just returned from the Navy.

Dedication of the Veterans Plaque in front of the Legion.  Mayor Thornton Wm. Rodgers in on the Right

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when my father was Mayor. From what I understand, the records concerning elected town office terms are not readily available, that is, they are open to the public but would take some time to sort out. I know he was a Town Commissioner in 1936 and was Mayor in 1950/51. Other than that, I believe he was a Commissioner for quite a few years in the 1930's and possibly Mayor in the late 1930's and again in the late 1940's.

During the time that Thornton was Mayor, two accomplishments come to mind: (1.) Parking meters were installed along Main Street and, (2.) The subdivision of Emmit Gardens was surveyed and lots sold.  I remember these because both were controversial at the time.

Naturally, there was a lot of opposition to the parking meters but parking space was limited along Main Street and there were quite a few thriving businesses that needed the spaces for their customers. Some residents tended to  use the spaces as their personal garage and seldom moved their vehicles. Anyhow, the parking meters went in.

Thornton himself did not like the location of the new subdivision of Emmit Gardens and argued to have it placed somewhere else. He thought that the lawns and basements of the new houses would suffer flooding from Flat Run. His ideal spot for Emmit Gardens was on the ridge out Irish Town Road. At that time the land belong to Tom Bollinger, Emma Myers and Pete Long. There was a beautiful view of both the town and the mountains. I don't know why Dad couldn't persuade others to see the benefits of the location. It may have been a matter of the owners not wanting to sell or the cost of extending water and sewerage was prohibitive. I personally think it would have been a great place for the new Emmit Gardens.

The T. W. Rodgers and Son's Cabinet Making business didn't survive for very long as, after the war, new furniture was much cheaper than repairing the old stuff – too bad, I'm sure we now pay plenty for the old stuff. After that, Dad taught wood shop at St. Joseph's High School for about two years and also worked as a maintenance man for St. Joseph's Parish and St. Euphemia's School.

I went into the Army in 1952 and Dad suffered his first heart attack while I was in Germany in 1954. I returned to Emmitsburg in late 1955 and then went to Baltimore to go to school and to work. Dad suffered a second heart attack in March of 1958 and died five days later.

Read other Stories by Don Rodgers

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