FREDERICK COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Frederick County: Built On Stone & Story
In October 2018, 242 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed, Frederick City was 270 years old. Approaching its 3rd century, our historic hamlet has been the stage to so many significant events that - quite literally- these stories have seeped into the very stone walls and sidewalks of Frederick. Where cherished shops and storefronts now stand, armies once marched. Where superstores and retailers now thrive, valiant soldiers died and slaves were unjustly shackled. The spires of our iconic skyline watch today’s high wheel bicycle races with the same vigilance as they once watched Presidents and prominent figures stroll the streets. Legend follows that Frederick is haunted – not by vengeful spirits (probably), but by the specters of the past that continue to shape its story.
Our particular LFC 2019 story began at the Frederick Visitor Center with a hearty breakfast and a presentation from one of Frederick’s favorite storytellers, John Fieseler. With a passion befitting his position as Executive Director of Visit Frederick, John told a tale of a former Frederick; one that flooded (prior to the Carroll Creek promenade’s construction), had slanted stone streets, and familiar buildings home to unfamiliar facades.
With the maps and photos of bygone days fresh in our minds, it was time to explore! With John at the helm, we walked the streets of Frederick with new appreciation. We were particularly impressed with the rise (and flaming fall) of our old city halls, the habits of young Francis Scott Key as he visited his cousin, the truth behind the legend of Barbara Fritchie, and the incredible story behind how the Weinburg Center first got an air conditioning unit!
Just as every story has an essential chapter that sets the tone for the whole tale, Frederick is impossible to understand without studying the Civil War. Some of the most ferocious and decisive battles of the war happened less than 2 hours from Frederick’s Square Corner (Antietam and Gettysburg, just to name a few). The armies of both the North and South marched through downtown Frederick, and the Confederates even threatened to burn Frederick to the ground unless paid a hefty ransom (more on that later). During the height of the conflict, there were multitudes more wounded soldiers being treated in makeshift hospitals and private homes in Frederick than there were citizens living in the town!
The LFC Civil War story spanned several locations throughout the day:
We glimpsed pre-Civil War life through the eyes (and windows) of Rose Hill Manor, the home of Thomas Johnson (Maryland’s first governor). Painstakingly preserved, this elegant, historic home was a preferred hangout for George Washington and many other famous figures. We were delighted to hear of the manner in which all manner of guests visited the manor!
We stood on a hallowed ground of Monocacy National Battlefield and learned from the experts themselves how leadership and heroic sacrifice saved Washington DC a mere steps from the Frederick City limits. On these idyllic hills, a small union force was pulverized by a larger Confederate army in an attempt to stop the Southerners from reaching an unguarded Washington DC. Though the Union lost the battle, their bravery saved Abraham Lincoln and ultimately won the war.
Finally, we walked among rows of fallen soldiers – Union and Confederate – at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Guided by the charismatic storytelling of Chris Haugh (Mount Olivet Cemetery - Community Relations & Historic Preservation Manager), we learned of the legacies of so many Frederick citizens who were living legends in their own time. Our day concluded under the shadow of Francis Scott Key’s memorial, where the star-spangled banner does indeed still fly o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
It is impossible to fit Frederick’s infinite library of stories into a single blog entry or a single LFC day. As a class, we went away with many answers and so many more questions. What would the slaves held at Best Farm say if they could speak to us today? What was life like for women, children, and minorities in Frederick when the rich elites could afford to build fancy houses? Where can we, as Frederick’s leaders, go today to bear witness and learn about these vital parts of our every growing narrative?
Frederick is a city built upon both stone and stories, each as vital as the other. We must remember our town’s past to successfully lead our city into the future!
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118 North Market Street, Suite 200, Frederick, MD 21701
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