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Frederick, Past Present

By Larry Fox
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 30, 1995; Page N06
© The Washington Post

It was 1745 when Daniel Dulany, a southern Maryland plantation owner, began laying out plans for his 7,700-acre tract of land in the piedmont of central Maryland. Though Dulany would never live there, he knew the land was fertile and the location was promising, for it lay at a crossroads between the North and South and the coastal cities of the East and the expanding frontier West.

Dulany's dream of a settlement that would become a vital crossroads came true, but in ways he never envisioned. The first settler in what became Frederick, John Thomas Schley, arrived from Germany in 1745 and was quickly joined by more of his countrymen. Within a few years, businesses opened, churches were erected, and, finally, the first of the town's many moments on the stage of history began.

In 1755, Gen. Edward Braddock, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin met in Frederick to plan Braddock's ill-fated campaign west to Fort Duquesne in the French and Indian War. A decade later, the first rebellion against England's despised Stamp Act took place here, not by men disguised as Indians as happened in Boston eight years later, but by 12 Frederick County judges -- known now in Frederick simply as "the 12 Immortals" -- who repudiated the act. That judges' rebellion was an early skirmish in what became a revolution. Two leaders of that rebellion came from Frederick: Thomas Johnson, who nominated his good friend Washington to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and John Hanson, who in 1781 served as the first "President of the United States In Congress Assembled."

More sons of Frederick left their mark on history. Francis Scott Key was an attorney celebrated less for his legal arguments than for the words -- later to become our national anthem -- that he wrote while witnessing the 1814 British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore. Key's brother-in-law and former law partner, Roger Brooke Taney (pronounced "Tawney"), became attorney general, secretary of state and chief justice of the United States. Taney is best remembered for his 1857 ruling in the Dred Scott case, which held that blacks could never be citizens, that slavery could not be banned in the territories and that a slave did not become free when taken to a free state. The ruling inflamed the popular sentiment and helped set the stage for the Civil War.

That conflict left deep marks on Frederick. The personalities that made news in Frederick during that war sound like a casting call for the History Channel: Barbara Fritchie, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jubal Early and J.E.B. Stuart.

And while the second 125 years haven't been as turbulent as the first 125, Frederick is still captivated by the time it spent in the crucible of history. This year, while the city 45 miles from Washington celebrates its 250th birthday with festivals and historic reenactments, it's time to visit some of the places where history was written.

The Beginning
Many of the early settlers of Frederick were German immigrants, who shaped the city with their churches, their architectural styles and their culture. The lifestyle of one of the first families is explored at the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum. This fieldstone farmhouse was built around 1756 by Joseph Brunner, who named his farm after his childhood home in Germany.

The two-story manor house, expanded several times over the years, displays early German American building techniques, including thick walls, deeply recessed windows, a vaulted cellar partly carved out of solid stone, hand-hewn beams and an unusual five-plate stove used to heat the upstairs rooms. The cast-iron stove, forged in 1756 in a Manheim, Pa., furnace, is set in a hallway wall, with its sides extending into adjoining rooms. The stove bears the inscription (in German): "Where your treasure is, there is also your heart."

The impact of Germans on Frederick was also felt at another very old building, the Hessian Barracks, a two-story fieldstone structure built in 1777 to house the Hessian mercenaries and British troops captured at the battles of Yorktown, Saratoga and Bennington during the Revolutionary War. The L-shaped building is on the campus of the Maryland School for the Deaf on the south side of downtown. Prisoners were kept here until 1782, when they were released, with some of the prisoners opting to begin a new life in Frederick.

The barracks held supplies and equipment for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, as they set forth on their quest to map the way west in 1803. During the Civil War the barracks were used as a hospital. Artifacts from the Revolutionary and Civil wars are displayed at the barracks, which is open to groups only by appointment.

North of the downtown area is another grand home, the gleaming white Georgian Colonial called Rose Hill Manor, the residence of Thomas Johnson, Maryland's first elected governor and a friend of Washington.

Today Rose Hill serves as a Colonial life and children's museum. On the first floor, young visitors are offered the opportunity to card wool, stitch a quilt, make soap, candles and brooms, or play with copies of old toys and clothing. Upstairs, the rooms display Colonial-style furniture, clothing and other items used in daily life. Outside, visitors may tour a blacksmith shop, farm and dairy buildings and the icehouse, the thick fieldstone walls of which kept ice, carved during the winter from the frozen Monocacy River nearby, frozen through the summer.

The Clustered Spires
If Frederick's past has a center, it is found along Church Street, where the towering "clustered spires" of the old churches that inspired poet John Greenleaf Whittier can be found.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 35 E. Church St. near the Frederick Visitors Center, is a 141-year-old house of worship with twin 150-foot towers. This church and the nearby 139-year-old Gothic-Revival All Saints Episcopal Church, at 108 W. Church St., were used as military hospitals following the bloody battle of Antietam in September 1862. The All Saints' Parish Hall, around the corner on Court Street, was built in 1814 and counted Francis Scott Key among its worshipers. A few steps away at 10 W. Church St. is the dark-gray stone Trinity Chapel, which has a stone tower that dates to the original church that was built in 1763 and a 188-year-old wooden, Colonial-style steeple, the oldest spire in town. At 15 W. Church St. is the twin-towered Greek Revival-style Evangelical Reformed Church, United Church of Christ, where Gen. Stonewall Jackson worshiped on the Sunday before Antietam. His visit set the stage later that day for the confrontation with another church member, Barbara Fritchie, that inspired Whittier's verse.

These churches sit near Court Square, a stately green now shaded by tall trees. It's a peaceful place, anchored on the west by a 133-year-old Victorian building erected as the city courthouse. Since 1982, the attractive two-story brick building topped with a huge cupola has served as City Hall. Court Square's serenity today belies its often turbulent past: In 1765 citizens gathered here to protest the dreaded Stamp Act and to burn effigies of government officials who enforced the decree that all documents required official stamps. And it was here in an earlier courthouse that "the 12 Immortals" ruled the Stamp Act invalid. In 1781 seven Tories were found guilty of treason during the Revolution in a sensational trial and sentenced to be hanged. And it was on this green that three of the Tories met their fate (four escaped the gallows by being deported).

On the south side of Court Square at 112 W. Church St. is the Tyler-Spite House, a magnificent mansion built in 1815 by Dr. John Tyler, whose medical instruments are displayed a few blocks away in the Historical Society of Frederick County. The mansion is now a bed and breakfast. Its odd name comes from the way Tyler thwarted city officials who wanted to extend a road through his then-empty lot next to his home. Because the law at that time said roads could not be built through an existing structure, the doctor had a crew quickly build a foundation for the house, blocking the roadbuilders. Hence the name: Tyler "spited" the road crew.

These buildings and their past speak of a golden age in Frederick. As the 1800s unfolded, the town was flourishing, enriched by trade, a population boom and the fortune of being at a crossroads. The National Road, the first federal highway, opened in 1808 and ran through the town west to the new frontier. It was quickly followed in 1828 by the first railroad lines and the C&O Canal, which paralleled the Potomac a short ride south of town.

A hint of what was to come may be symbolized by the 105-year-old fountain in the center of Court Square. The figures in the center of the fountain appear to be fighting. The sculpture's name: "Cain and Abel."

"A Great Commotion"
On Jan. 21, 1861, Jacob Engelbrecht wrote in his diary: "At this time, our beloved United States of America' is in a dreadful commotion -- Four of the Southern states have Seceded from the Union viz. South Carolina Mississippi, Florida & Alabama, and they wish to draw with them all the Southern or Slave-holding states. The Rupture, they Say is owing to the Election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the U. States."

Engelbrecht was born in Frederick in 1797, the son of a Hessian soldier imprisoned in the barracks who decided to stay in America after his release. Engelbrecht was, like his father, a tailor and storekeeper. He was an eyewitness to many of the historic events in Frederick and chronicled them in his diaries, which he kept from 1818 through 1878. The coming war concerned him much:

" . . . I do not think that old Maryland will ever leave our Glorious Union, at any rate not by my consent . . . " (Jan. 21, 1861).

Maryland was a state with slaveholders and, because of its proximity to Washington, was crucial to the Confederacy's strategic interests. President Lincoln, realizing the vital role the state would play in the war, asked the Maryland legislature to hold its vote on secession in Frederick, the better to avoid any influence from the southern Maryland slaveholding planters and legislators. The legislators, minus a few Southern sympathizers that legend says were kept from entering the town, met in the spring of 1861 on the third floor of Kemp Hall, a brick building on the southeast corner of North Market and Church streets and decided narrowly to stay in the Union. A plaque on the north side of the building attests to the drama played out there, though the only excitement today is the sweet frenzy inspired by the fudge and chocolate truffles sold at the Candy Kitchen, which has been making delicacies here since 1902.

After the Maryland vote, there were occasional skirmishes at Harpers Ferry, Point of Rocks, Philippi and other towns along the Potomac River. Frederick, though, lay at the intersection of land and rail routes, and sooner or later the Union and Confederate armies would come through the county on their way to places whose names -- Antietam and Gettysburg -- sober us even today. It wasn't until September of the second year of the war that the storm broke over the city.

"Commotion -- this Morning our town is in a Small Commotion -- the report is that Stonewall Jackson has Crossed the Potomack at Noland's Ferry," wrote Engelbrecht on Sept. 5, 1862. The next day, the Confederate army marched in, and Engelbrecht wrote:

"{T}his morning about 10 o'ck the Rebels took possession of our good City of Frederick without opposition . . . No Commotion or Excitement, but all peacably & quiet the soldiers are around the town purchasing Clothing -- Shoes boots Caps. & eatables. . . . Many of our citizens left town last night . . . "

The occupation was unusual. While the Union supporters burned cots, blankets and military supplies lest they fall into the hands of the Confederates, other citizens of Frederick sympathized with the Southern cause and openly socialized with the occupiers. On Sept. 8, Col. J.E.B. Stuart and his officers held a costume ball for the young ladies of the town. The dance was interrupted briefly by a minor skirmish at one of the outposts, accounts said, and the officers left for battle. They later returned, the dance resumed, forever giving the event the name "the Sabers and Roses Ball."

Two days later, Gen. Jackson's troops marched down South Bentz Street, departing the city on their way to Antietam and the bloodiest day of fighting in any American war.

There are a number of versions of what happened next. As the Confederate troops marched south along Bentz Street, one soldier is said to have spotted a Union flag hanging from the upstairs window of a small house owned by Barbara Fritchie, a 95-year-old widow known for her spunk. The tale continues, in the words of Whittier's poem "The Ballad of Barbara Fritchie":

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.
Under his slouched hat left and right
he glanced; the old flag met his sight.
"Halt!" -- the dust-brown ranks stood fast.
"Fire!" -- out blazed the rifle-blast.
It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.
Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf.
She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.
"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.
Jackson, wrote Whittier, was at first shamed and then moved by Dame Barbara's courage. He then ordered:
Who touches a hair on yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!
Skeptics have questioned whether the Fritchie-Jackson incident actually took place, and the diarist Engelbrecht, who lived across the street from Fritchie, doesn't mention it, though he does take note of her birthday and other events. Evidence that the tale is true is exhibited at the Barbara Fritchie Museum at 154 W. Patrick St., a short walk from Court Square. That evidence includes a letter from Washington resident and writer Emma Southworth to Whittier, in which Southworth described the incident, and letters from Whittier attesting to the authenticity of his account of the event.

The privately owned museum is not the original Fritchie home, which was destroyed by floodwaters from the adjacent creek in 1868. However, many parts of the original structure were used in the reconstruction. Displayed inside are some pieces of Fritchie's furniture and personal items, including her favored china and rocking chair, her marriage license and letters, newspapers and photographs from that era.

The Fritchie incident was not the final time war came to Frederick. In July of 1864, after the tide had turned in the North's favor, Union and Confederate forces fought the Battle of the Monocacy on the river just south of town. The Rebels defeated forces led by Gen. Lew Wallace (who later wrote "Ben Hur"). After the victory, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early, who had burned Chambersburg, Pa., after it refused his ransom demands, turned his attention to Frederick.

"Captured again," wrote diarist Engelbrecht on July 11, 1864. This occupation was far less civil than the one in 1862. Early levied a ransom demand of $200,000 on the city, which five banks quickly raised. The city wasn't burned, but there was looting. "Some estimate the value of the Horses stolen at a million of dollars," Engelbrecht wrote on July 11. "Soldiers stole from the Farmers, money meat, chickens, cattle, sheep, & anything that came in their way. These are awfull times, one day we are as usual & the next day in the hands of the enemy -- but whatever is the final issue, I say, Come, weal or woe -- Come life or death, we go for the Union of the States forever -- one and inseparable."

Frederick Today
Frederick survived the war and its invasions, and it's safe to say the town of 45,000 has been a little quieter in the last 130 years. Today it's a favorite destination for history buffs who like to stroll its 33-block historic district. It's also popular among antique hunters, who flock to the clusters of shops along East Patrick, East All Saints and East Church streets and in the revitalized factory district called Everedy Square and Shab Row on East Street near the intersection with East Church Street. Frederick is still at a crossroads -- it sits at the junction of I-270 and I-70 and several major federal roads -- but as the city grows, it still cherishes its past.

Engelbrecht, who served as mayor of Frederick after the Civil War, lived until 1878, keeping his diary until almost his final days. Of the war's end and the peace that came, he wrote on July 4, 1865:

"This was about the first regular Celebration of the 4th of July that we could peacably Celebrate since the breaking out of the Rebellion -- at other times, the rebel Army were too near. . . . Yesterday, however, we had it in the usual old Style, the procession marched through our principal streets, to the Barracks, where a first rate dinner was provided by the Citizens, and all partook to their hearts content."

Taking the Tour
Visitors to Frederick should check out these historic or tourist-friendly locations:

Frederick Visitors Center: 19 E. Church St.; open from 9 to 5 daily. Visitors can pick up brochures and other information on Frederick County attractions and sign up for walking tours on the history of Frederick. The tours, which depart from the center, are conducted April through December at 1:30 Saturdays, Sundays and on Monday holidays when guides are available. Tickets are $4.50 for adults and $3.50 seniors; children 12 and younger free. Call 301/663-8687 for reservations. Parking is available in the garage next to the center.

Historical Society of Frederick County: 24 E. Church St. Furnishings, art and memorabilia collected from notable residents of Frederick over the past two centuries are displayed here. Open Monday through Saturday 10 to 4, and Sunday 1 to 4. Its research library is open 10 to 4 Tuesdays-Saturdays. Admission is $2 and includes a docent-guided tour (17 and younger free). Call 301/663-1188.

National Museum of Civil War Medicine: 48 E. Patrick St. Open Tuesday-Friday 10 to 5 and Saturday-Sunday noon to 5. Admission is free. You can also sign up for Civil War walking tours of Frederick at the museum. Tours are help on Saturday and Sundays at 2 p.m., admission is $4.50, $3.50 for seniors and free for children 12 and under.

Schifferstadt Architectural Museum: 1110 Rosemont Ave. The house is open from 10 to 4 Tuesdays-Saturdays, Sundays noon to 4. Admission is free; guided tours are given with a $2 donation. Schifferstadt hosts a large Oktoberfest towards the end of each October, featuring German music, food and crafts. Call 301/663-3885.

The Hessian Barracks: 101 Clarke Pl. on the Maryland School for the Deaf campus (park in the visitors lot on Clark Place; the map on the large sign there will direct you to the barracks). Revolutionary and Civil War artifacts are displayed inside, but the barracks are open to groups only by appointment. Admission fee depends on the size of the group; call 301/663-8687.

Tyler-Spite House: 112 W. Church St. The mansion, furnished with many Federalist-era antiques, is an elegant bed and breakfast. Guests can also stay in its equally elegant annexes, the Nelson Residence (114 W. Church St.), which was built in 1820 by John Nelson, a member of Congress, or the Ross House (105 Council Street). Room rates are $100-$300, plus tax and tips. Call 301/831-4455.

Rose Hill Manor: 1611 N. Market St. (Route 355). Tours are offered from 10 to 4 Mondays-Saturdays, 1 to 4 Sundays through October, and from 10 to 4 Saturday and 1 to 4 Sunday from November through mid-December. Closed mid-Dec. until the first weekend in April. Admission is $3 adults, $2 seniors and $1 children 2 through 17 (younger free). Call 301/694-1648 for group reservations or for more information, 301/694-1650 on weekends.

Barbara Fritchie House and Museum: 154 W. Patrick St. The museum is open from 10 to 4 Mondays and Thursdays-Saturdays, 1 to 4 Sundays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays) through September; from 10 to 4 Saturdays and 1 to 4 Sundays in October and November; closed December through March. Admission is $2, $1.50 seniors and children 6 through 11 (younger free). Call 301/698-0630.

Mount Olivet Cemetery: 515 S. Market St. Francis Scott Key, Gov. Thomas Johnson and Barbara Fritchie and more than 800 Confederate soldiers (look for the small headstones lined up at the back of the cemetery) are buried here. The cemetery is open from dawn to dusk year-round. Free; call 301/662-1164.

© The Washington Post Co.

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