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 The Railroad Hotels

A. W. Cissel

There are two buildings in town whose style, size and composition reflect their original usage as late 19th century railroad hotels. One of these structures, though past its prime, could easily be renovated and adapted to a new use; the other has been allowed to decay to the point that its demolition is imminent, possibly by the time you read this.

The Western Maryland Hotel

The former Western Maryland Hotel, later called Spotswood House, stands at the intersection of Emmitsburg Turnpike (now Church Street) and Altamont Avenue, across from the Plaza Shopping Center. Built by John Lohr in the summer of 1871, it was purposely sited there to take advantage of the proximity to the first railroad depot, then located up the hill between the tracks and the U.B. Church (Wellers). Mr. Lore spared no expense in constructing this three-story brick building with wide porches across the front under a fashionable Italianate-style bracketed cornice. The building had 16 rooms and "every modern convenience."

Mr. Lohr's investment turned sour when the railroad decided to move the passenger depot to the Carroll Street location, leaving the hotel in an inconvenient and isolated locale. In the spring of 1877 the Hotel building was offered for sale. The newspaper commented that nearly $4,000 had been spent on its construction, but no adequate bids were received at the public auction, so John sold the building to his brother Simon Lohr for $2,100. It was renamed Spotswood House and limped along for a few more years with several local merchants maintaining storerooms there. Dentists and lawyers who spent one or twodays in town also made it their headquarters. It later became a Lohr family residence and was finally converted to apartments.

Miller House Hotel

Behind the crumbling, derelict facade of #17 West Main Street, is a time capsule of Thurmont's history. The original building on this lot is the two-story, four room stone structure with a unique beehive chimney which stands behind the more modern structure. Built around 1810, it is one of the earliest buildings in town, and was probably also the site of the town's first Post Office. A later frame and stone addition was attached to it. When wagon-maker William Sefton purchased the 1'/2 acre site in 1828, he paid $700. The Seftons lived there for 50 years, meanwhile building a new, large log and frame dwelling of nine rooms. After his death, the property was sold to Mary E. and John F.D. Miller.

The Millers expanded the Sefton residence, adding a third floor and porches across the front. As "The Miller House" it opened to paying guests in 1886. It had its own livery stable which picked up guests at the railroad depot and also offered excursions in a coach and four to Gettysburg, Penn Mar, and other summer destinations.

Mr. Miller was not only host of the Hotel, but off unofficial social director for the local residents. He organized sleighing and ice skating parties, but especially loved dances when as many as 32 couples met to dance and partake of a midnight supper. His son joined him after the turn of the century when the name was changed to the Hotel Thurmont, but locally it was still called by its old name.

In the 1920's, Mark Weddle owned The Miller House which he bought at a foreclosure sale. How-ever, the Depression years meant less recreational travel and Thurmont's success as a summer resort declined. The hotel building was converted into apartments. In 1940, Mrs. Isabelle Lidie purchased the apartment building for $3,000. It was then operated by two generations of the Lidie family.

The fate of this once distinguished building is a prime example of the legal term known as "demolition by neglect." This structure, which occupies such a prominent place on our town's main street, has been allowed to crumble before our eyes over the last twenty years. But, when it is bulldozed to the ground we will lose more than just the hotel building, we will lose part of Thurmont's architectural heritage in the earlier buildings behind it. The 187 years of history on this lot will be gone - forever. How much more of Mechanicstown we will throw away, before we care to protest, is up to you.

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Read more articles by Anne Cissel