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March 12, 2024

The summer of ’64 brought grief to the Hall family. A letter between sisters sums it up

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail March, 2024) The summer of 1864 was a tumultuous one for the United States, caught in the throes of the Civil War. The Federal Army employed more aggressive tactics in the South — such as burning private homes and property — and the Confederacy was losing ground. Locally, the summer of 1864 irrevocably altered the life of 19-year-old Hagerstown resident Sarah Bell (Hall) Matthews, who witnessed the Ransom of Hagerstown and the aftermath of the Burning of Chambersburg. Sarah Bell Hall was born in Hagerstown on Oct. 6, 1845, to William Hall, a master machinist, and Elizabeth (Noel) Hall. Sarah’s parents had moved to Hagerstown from Pennsylvania by the early 1840s; they had at least seven children together. On May 30, 1864, the Halls received terrible news. Their oldest son, Noel, a 22-year-old private in Company K, 12th Regiment, Pennsylvania Reserve Infantry, had died from wounds received at the Battle of the Wilderness in early May. Noel’s body was transported home from Virginia and buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. Sarah had lost her brother, but soon she lost the presence of her older sister, Kate, who married Nathan Wright […]
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 […]