washington county


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May 21, 2024

The Updegraffs wore a lot of hats — and manufactured most of them

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail May, 2024) Hats have long fulfilled many roles, from functionality to symbols of self-expression and social status. One iconic hat of the last two centuries is the top hat. Two 19th-century silk top hats in the Washington County Historical Society’s collection offer glimpses into early local hat manufacturers — particularly the hatter George Updegraff. When top hats emerged in the 1790s, descending from earlier styles like the 17th century Pilgrim hat, they were made from felted beaver fur. Beaver felt top hats were initially expensive status symbols, but they were also functional, as beaver fur shed water. Beaver fur was so popular the European beaver population had been depleted by the mid-1600s. French fur traders sought beaver pelts in North America, trading with native populations for furs or hunting down beavers along rivers. Trappers moved further west, decimating beaver populations and spreading malaria through native populations, until reaching California by the 1820s. As pelts flooded American markets, the prevalence of American beaver felt top hats grew, influenced by European fashions. Washington County was no exception. On Aug. 12, 1823, the Maryland Herald announced that the hat manufacturing firm, Updegraff […]
April 25, 2024

When ‘thieving scoundrels’ stole their horses, these locals organized to find them.

Article Author: Abigail Koontz (This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail April, 2024) The American West between from 1865 to 1895 is often painted as the untamed, lawless domain of bandits and cowboys. But did you know that Western Maryland had its own bandits during that time? Across Washington County, residents of local towns, villages and farms were plagued by the relentless and crafty schemes of horse thieves. Western Maryland in the early 19th century saw the emergence of turnpikes, railroads and canals, but the most common means of transportation was by foot, horse or horse-drawn transport. Horsepower touched many aspects of daily life, from individual transport to income. Horses pulled barges, fire engines, mail coaches, farm equipment and hearses; they hauled resources and powered wars. Because horses were such a necessity, thieves saw a lucrative opportunity, especially in areas like Washington County that still were part of the frontier. Between 1790 and 1804, Washington County newspapers such as The Washington Spy and its successor, The Maryland Herald and Elizabeth-Town Advertiser, published more than 110 notices of horse theft (not counting lost horses). Victims during this time offered a range of monetary rewards for their horses and the capture of […]
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 […]