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February 16, 2024

Bellevue Asylum records recall the lives of local residents with mental and physical needs

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail June 11, 2023) The name “Bellevue” may bring to mind the infamous Bellevue psychiatric hospital in New York City, which has a history reaching back to an 18th century almshouse. But did you know that Washington County had its own institution named Bellevue Asylum? Built in 1879, the historic Bellevue Asylum was located on the present site of Coffman Nursing Home. Bellevue Asylum stood for 77 years before it was torn down in 1956, and its history is deeply connected to the lives of Washington County residents and the development of healthcare facilities in the United States. To understand Bellevue Asylum’s history, we must return to the year 1800, when Trustees of the Poor for Washington County proposed building a home for the “relief of the poor” in Elizabethtown (now Hagerstown). This building, completed in 1800, was called the Washington County Almshouse. It still stands at 239 N. Locust Street. But attitudes toward the almshouse location caused concern. The almshouse developed a reputation for attracting “tramps” and “idlers,” and town residents requested a more remote location. In 1878, John Nicodemus of Boonsboro gifted farmland to Washington County for a […]
February 12, 2024

To learn more about Black history in Washington County, trace the experiences of a family

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail February, 2024) In 1866, Samuel and Amanda Clark traveled north from Virginia into Maryland with their younger sons. The Clarks, a young Black couple, settled first in the Bakersville area and then in Sharpsburg. They built lives amid the turbulent events of the Reconstruction era in a country still grappling with the atrocities of slavery. The Clarks’ story is integral to understanding the history of Washington County and the Miller House, home of the Washington County Historical Society. By 1870, Samuel and Amanda (Jackson) Clark had settled in Bakersville, just north of Sharpsburg. Samuel, 35, and Amanda, 38, were raising a family that included three young sons — William, 8, Samuel Jr., 5, and Edward, 4. Samuel and Amanda were born in Virginia in the early 1830s; William and Samuel Jr. were also born in Virginia. Edward, their youngest son, was born in Maryland around 1866. It is difficult to determine whether the Clarks had been enslaved before the Civil War ended. Although census records can be inaccurate, Edward’s birth date creates a timeline for the Clarks’ journey to Washington County during a pivotal time in American history, just […]
January 16, 2024

A piece of 19th-century student art is the first item in a new preservation program

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail January 14, 2024) In the early 1860s, Linda Wert, a student at the Hagerstown Female Seminary, packed up her painting supplies and headed off to paint the Hager Mill, only an eight-minute walk from campus. Wert’s painting, which she later titled “The Old Hager Mill,” now resides in the Washington County Historical Society collection. It represents a young woman’s story, and the history of an institution in Washington County that provided young women with vital education in the 19th century. This month, the painting becomes the first item selected for a new restoration program that invites donors to help preserve the important artifacts in the society’s collection. Malinda “Linda” E. E. Wert (also spelled Wirt) was born on Aug. 2, 1841, in Millersburg, Pa., to Simon and Sarah (Mark) Wert. The Wert family deeply valued education; of the five Wert children, three daughters and one son pursued higher education. The 1860 census recorded Linda Wert’s occupation as “Attending Female Seminary,” indicating she had already begun her education at the seminary, nearly 96 miles from Millersburg. The Hagerstown Female Seminary was a young institution when Linda Wert arrived. Built in […]
January 4, 2024

Washington County Historical Society has safeguarded local history for more than a century

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail December 10, 2023) “Washington County should have a historical society,” Harvey S. Bomberger declared on July 28, 1911. Bomberger, 51, was a merchant from Boonsboro. He stood in the reading room of the Washington County Free Library at 21 Summit Ave., addressing 21 individuals interested in forming an official organization. William R. Hamilton, who became the first secretary of the Washington County Historical Society, sat in, recording minutes in a black and red leather leldger. The record book Hamilton held now resides at the Washington County Historical Society. It contains the earliest meeting minutes of the society, taken from 1911 to 1917. These minutes represent the passion and perseverance of a small group that dreamed of preserving Washington County’s history. On Aug. 31, 1911, the WCHS was officially incorporated by the state of Maryland, gaining rights to purchase and own property, receive donations, adopt a constitution and govern finances and membership. The 29 charter members signed the certificate of incorporation, including three women — notably Mary Lemist Titcomb, head librarian of the Free Library and creator of one of the first Bookmobiles in the United States. In 1912, Bomberger was […]