A Voice of Support for Preserving Frederick’s History

Since 1973, Historic Preservation Month has been observed during the month of May. Preservation Month highlights the importance of saving our built environment and celebrates the role preservation plays in local economies and the continuation of cultural heritage.

Marshall Etchison on East Church Street in Frederick.

One of Frederick’s early preservation activists was Marshall Lingan Etchison (1894-1960). Marshall came of age in a Frederick that saw rapid growth and change as a result of industrial innovation. With the development of new technology, Frederick’s industrialists established dairies, canneries, garment factories, and other manufacturing enterprises, which fueled the growth of Frederick beyond its eighteenth century boundaries. This economic activity also encouraged the “modernization” of the city’s downtown commercial district. 

Etchison was a lifelong student of history and an avid researcher and collector. He appraised local estates and led the Historical Society of Frederick County (now Heritage Frederick) to curate a collection of local artifacts and archives. In 1945, in the midst of Frederick’s bicentennial celebration, the Historical Society opened its first museum in the restored Steiner House under Marshall’s leadership. After his death in 1960, he directed his family to donate much of his own collection of Frederick County material culture and his personal papers to the Historical Society.

Among these papers now preserved in Heritage Frederick’s archives are hand-written drafts of letters and editorials Marshall wrote in support of preserving Frederick’s historic architecture. In 1926 as the city pressed forward with the demolition of the historic Zentz Mill to clear the way for the development of Baker Park, Marshall wrote an impassioned plea to consider what the city was jeopardizing in its continued destruction of local landmarks.

The Old City Mill or Zentz Mill on North Bentz Street beside Carroll Creek.

Written while he was traveling in Italy, Marshall commented that saving old buildings was imperative to maintaining “that elusive thing called atmosphere; a real background and preservation of things ancient and beautiful: things that have real meaning and upon which our modern civilization is based; things made by vanished hands not for monetary reward, but to exist through future generations, as a monument through all times.”

The editorial notes several local landmarks that had been destroyed besides the mill, including the original Saint John’s Literary Institution building on East Second Street and the Old Stone Tavern on West Patrick Street. Interestingly, some of the fabric of the old tavern was repurposed for the reconstruction of the Barbara Fritchie House, including portions of its stairway and floors. 

A decade after his pleas for Frederick to balance its modernization with the preservation of its past, Marshall Etchison again committed his feelings to paper when plans for construction of the C. Burr Artz Library called for the demolition of the Frederick Academy. Built in the 1790s, the Academy was a three-story brick building that stood on the corner of Council and Record Streets facing the Court Square. While initial plans for the library project entailed saving part of the Academy, it was eventually demolished to make way for an entirely new structure.

The Frederick Academy Building

Marshall countered the argument that the building was too old and deteriorated to be remodeled for the purposes of the new library, instead suggesting that the historical nature of the Academy would be an asset to this new public institution for learning. Moreover, Marshall suggested that preservation efforts should focus on saving Frederick’s Court Square, of which the Academy was an essential part.

“Court Square is almost the last spot of ancient beauty left to us in Frederick. It is the great admiration of all outside architects and antiquarian visitors and its atmosphere should be zealously guarded by us, as a heritage to pass on to future generations.” Interestingly, Marshall contextualized his thoughts in the contemporaneous efforts to preserve places with significant links to the United States’ colonial past such as Williamsburg, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; and New Castle, Delaware.

Apart from speaking out on the matter, Marshall Etchison committed his time and attention to documenting historic sites that were disappearing around him. Among his papers are sketches he made of the landscape and structures on the site of the old All Saints Episcopal Graveyard and the original Asbury United Methodist Church on East All Saints Street. His sketches include depictions of grave vaults that remained intact on the site as well as notes about people interred in the graveyard. He also sketched the “Old Hill Church,” the early-nineteenth century brick building where Asbury United Methodist Church was founded and worshiped until their present church on West All Saints Street was completed in 1921.

Near the end of his life, Marshall’s knowledge and belief in the importance of preserving Frederick’s history was sought out by a local committee formed in 1952 to begin documenting the surviving historic architecture in the city. This committee surveyed 976 structures in the city. The work of this committee continued after Marshall’s death in 1960 and laid the groundwork for the creation of Frederick’s historic district, which was established in 1968.

May 3, 2024 By Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist

A Strong Foundation

Heritage Frederick’s Research Center is temporarily closing this month to allow masons from Gruber Latimer Restoration to remove loose mortar and repoint the stone and brick foundation walls of our historic headquarters at 24 East Church Street. This crucial preservation work is possible thanks to a grant from the Delaplaine Foundation.

The foundation walls supporting the museum are two hundred years old. Architectural remains offer clues to the historical uses of the basement space. Portions of whitewash remaining on the walls reveal the outline of the back stairway that once descended to the basement. This stairway provided direct access to all four levels of the building and was likely used by enslaved servants as they completed daily domestic jobs in the household. Houses built in the same time period as 24 East Church Street typically had cellars or basements for storing food, kitchens, and spaces for storing fuel sources for heating the structure. Surviving documents and archaeological evidence indicate that coal was in use on the property as early as 1854, and part of the basement likely held a bunker for coal storage.

The basement before the 1993 renovations, showing the mixture of brick and stone used in the foundation walls. This view is looking through the center hall of today’s Research Center.
A whitewash outline indicates the original location of the back stairway.

From 1882 until 1956 when the building served as Loats Female Orphan Home, the basement continued to house equipment for heating while the long room in the center (beneath the main hallway) was used by the girls for indoor exercise and roller skating. After the closure of the orphan home and the transformation of the house into the Historical Society of Frederick County, the basement continued to be used for children’s activities where antique toys were exhibited. 

By the 1990s, the Historical Society’s library and archives, housed on the second floor and in the attic, were overflowing with manuscripts, photographs, maps, and books. The weight of these collections became a problem, placing too much stress on the wood floors up of the upper stories of the building. The Society looked to the large basement space as an opportunity for alleviating this problem while simultaneously expanding the capacity of the archives and research collections. The project was spearheaded by longtime volunteer and Historical Society President Bill Willmann. Work spaces, a library, a reading room for researchers, and collections storage facilities were designed into the basement space. At that time, extensive repairs were made to the foundation walls, including the replacement of over 1,200 bricks. The organization also installed new HVAC units to maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels for the preservation of archival resources. On September 28, 1993, the renovated basement and new Frederick County Research Center opened its doors to the public.

Dedication of the new Research Center in 1993. Bill Willmann is pictured on the front row, second from the left.

Thirty years later, Heritage Frederick remains committed to the preservation of the building our organization has called home for the past sixty-five years. Once masonry restoration is completed, we plan to reopen the research center in mid-April.

March 6, 2024, By Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist

Celebrating the Holidays in Downtown Frederick

The holiday season has been marked with special displays and decorations throughout downtown Frederick for much of the city’s history. 

Some of the earliest mentions of holiday decorations in Frederick are found in Jacob Engelbrecht’s diary. In December 1864, he wrote that “at the United States Hospital sick and wounded had a real Christmas dinner. Plenty of turkeys, geese, and chickens. All the Barracks were rigged out with evergreens, flags, etc., all in first rate style.” Frederick’s newspapers of the late-nineteenth century record Christmas trees and holiday decorations in the churches and display windows of stores along Market and Patrick Streets. As early as 1892, a large Christmas tree occupied the Morse Fountain at North Market and West Seventh Streets. Later municipal leaders displayed Christmas trees at the Clarke Fountain in front of the Frederick County Courthouse (now Frederick City Hall).

Christmas decorations in Saint John’s Catholic Church (left) and the store windows of Dutrow’s Confectionary on North Market Street (right) in the late-nineteenth century.

The advent of electricity ushered in a new generation of dazzling light displays during the holidays in downtown. In 1934, The News celebrated four strings of multicolored, electric lights strung over the Square Corner. Within a few years, these displays grew to include lighted garlands with illuminated bells and wreaths suspended over the Square Corner and along Market and Patrick Streets in the heart of Frederick’s commercial district. Photographs from the time period capture the glow of these light displays amid the brightly-illuminated signs on many downtown businesses. These displays also provided a festive backdrop for annual parades with Santa Claus, which drew families from across Frederick County. The energy crisis and decline in patronage at downtown businesses significantly curtailed Holiday light displays in the 1970s.

(Clockwise from top left) Electric Christmas lights over North Market Street, the Square Corner, and West Patrick Street, and Santa Claus in a 1956 parade on North Market Street.

The revitalization of downtown Frederick presented a new opportunity to create beautiful holiday light displays on the numerous trees planted along Market and Patrick Streets during the 1980s. The City of Frederick began stringing lights in the trees, with support of local business owners and residents, in the early-1990s. This tradition continues today under the auspices of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.

More recently, a beloved addition to Downtown Frederick’s holiday traditions is “Sailing through the Winter Solstice.” In 2016, Peter Kremers and Kyle Thomas crafted a miniature Coast Guard ship decorated with lights, which they displayed in the Carroll Creek Park. The display was a tribute to Kremer’s son who was serving a deployment in Iraq. The event quickly grew and attracted more floating displays, which were formalized into an annual event that raises money for local charitable causes. This year, the eighth annual “Sailing through the Winter Solstice” includes twenty-eight boats, which are on display until March 2024.

December 4, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist

A Family Piece

One of my favorite quilts in Heritage Frederick’s collection is this triple Irish chain pattern quilt with an unique appliqued oak leaf and acorn border. Although the object is over 160 years old, it is in amazing condition. The material is not faded, yellowed, stained, or deteriorating. The whites and colors are crisp and the hand-stitching and quilting are expert level and very intricate. The quilt also has an amazing story, which is always my favorite aspect of any artifact. This story is about a young woman named Eliza Ann Webb who came to Frederick County just before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Eliza was born in 1834 in Cazenovia, New York, located about 20 miles Southeast of Syracuse; she was the eldest daughter of master carpenter and joiner David Baldwin Webb and his wife, Elvira Olivia Gage. In 1857, Eliza suffered from ill health, and she took the advice of others who suggested she move south to get a change in climate. At the age of 23, she came to Frederick County where she got a job teaching at the seminary in Liberty (now Libertytown). The following year Eliza started teaching the youngest children of John and Ann Gore Kinzer of Johnsville. John Kinzer was a local merchant, and during the time that Eliza spent in their home Ann was engaged in making this intricately patterned, red and green quilt.

The Libertytown Seminary building, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress

As political tensions escalated across the nation in advance of the 1860 presidential election, Eliza decided to return home to New York. The Webb family’s hometown of Cazenovia was considered to be the abolitionist headquarters of the country, in part because it hosted the Fugitive Slave Law Convention in August of 1850. Once back home, Eliza began trying to replicate the red and green quilt she had seen Ann Kinzer making. Her diary tells us that she also received letters from a Mr. Milton Urner, whom she met and fell in love with during her stay in Liberty, but the relationship soon ended. Eliza, along with her younger sister Mary, continued to teach in Cazenovia throughout the Civil War. At the end of the 1860s, Eliza became the second wife of Mills P. Pharis, a salt manufacturer from Geddes, New York, whose first wife died following the birth of their third son. Eliza and Mills had one child, a daughter named Mary Pharis, born in 1871.

At some point after Ann Kinzer completed her own quilt, she sent it as a gift to Eliza. The quilt’s sustained beauty and perfect condition make plain the gift remained a treasured memory for generations of a time and place – and person. Ann’s quilt and its replica, made by Eliza, were passed down together through the family to Eliza’s granddaughter, Katherine Salisbury Hazen, who donated the Johnsville quilt to Heritage Frederick in 1973.

November 9, 2023 by Amy Hunt, Heritage Frederick Curator

Thurmont’s Garment Industry

Heritage Frederick’s exhibit Stitches Through Time: Women’s Work from Farm to Fashion explores the history of textile production in Frederick County. One facet of this story is the local garment industry which emerged in the late-nineteenth century and grew to include factories producing menswear, dresses, shirts, hosiery, and other articles of clothing. While many of these factories were concentrated in Frederick City, garment factories were found in communities across the county as well, such as the town of Thurmont.

Employees of the Thurmont Branch Factory of Union Manufacturing Company in 1911 (Courtesy of Thurmont Images).

The Union Manufacturing Company of Frederick opened a branch factory in Thurmont in the fall of 1911. Twenty knitting machines were installed in a space on the first floor of the Odd Fellow’s Hall on Main Street. Union Manufacturing Company produced hosiery from silk, wool, cotton, rayon, and eventually, nylon. The Thurmont Branch Factory quickly outgrew its space in the Odd Fellows Hall and was moved to an old school building in town. During World War I, Union Manufacturing Company employees produced woolen stockings for the United States Army at its Thurmont Branch as well as a second branch factory in Emmitsburg and the main knitting mills in Frederick City.

Claire Frock Company’s first factory building on East Main Street (Courtesy of Thurmont Images)

A second garment factory in Thurmont was established in 1935 by A. Jules Bernstein of York, Pennsylvania. The Claire Frock Company began operations in a factory on East Main Street producing cotton dresses. By 1950, the plant employed 125 people and added spaces for sewing, packaging, and shipping to its facility. In the 1960s, the company constructed a second manufacturing facility on the northeast side of Thurmont. By this time, Claire Frock was producing women’s casual and athletic clothing that was distributed across the United States through department store chains like J.C. Penney and Sears and Roebuck. The company was one of Frederick County’s largest employers.

Claire Frock Company employees on strike in April 1950 (Courtesy of Thurmont Images)

While employees of Claire Frock held the factory and its owners in high regard, there were challenges to that harmony throughout the company’s history. In 1949, the employees organized with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). A year later, several employees approached the management with complaints that wages and benefits were not in accordance with the agreement between the union and Claire Frock. When one of these employees was fired, the factory workers went on strike in April 1950. A picket line formed along East Main Street in front of the original Claire Frock factory building. After a week of picketing, attorneys for the Claire Frock Company and the ILGWU reached an agreement and work resumed. 

Claire Frock Company’s East Poplar Street facility in 1972.

In 1974, Claire Frock founder A. Jules Bernstein retired and Calvin E. Sayler succeeded him as president of the company. Sayler began working at Claire Frock Company as a shipping clerk in 1958. Garment production, like many other forms of manufacturing industry in the United States, became increasingly globalized in the latter half of the twentieth century. In an effort to keep Claire Frock operating as part of a larger chain of factories, Sayler sold the company to I. A. Appel Company of New York in December 1986.

Workers inside the Claire Frock Factory in the mid-1970s.

Soon after the acquisition of Claire Frock by I.A. Appel, employees’ hours and wages were cut back and the company ceased pension payments. On April 6, 1987, Claire Frock employees went on strike. A federal mediator was appointed three weeks later to begin negotiating an agreement, by which time the strike had grown to I.A. Appel factories in Tennessee and New York. The strike continued for six months until the union leaders acquiesced and accepted an agreement following short of the workers’ original demands that their wages and benefits be restored to the levels they were prior to the I.A. Appel’s acquisition of Claire Frock. Within two years, I.A. Appel announced that the Thurmont factory would cease operations. There were 175 employees of the former Claire Frock Company who were left unemployed when the factory closed in June 1990.

The closure of Claire Frock Company brought an end to over 80 years of industrial garment production in the town of Thurmont.

October 2, 2023 by Jody Brumage, Heritage Frederick Archivist