Founded in 1762 by Jonathan Hager (1714-1775), Hagerstown was originally considered part of Frederick County. That is until Hager ― known as the “Father of Washington County” ― laid the groundwork for the town’s separation from Frederick and the subsequent creation of Hagerstown as County Seat of Washington County. Hager immigrated to America from Westphalia, Germany, and arrived in Philadelphia in 1727. At this time, Charles Calvert was the proprietor of Maryland Colony and unlike other landowners, was offering large amounts of territory for a very small sum of money. Hager took the offer and in 1739 purchased 200 acres of land in Frederick County along the Monacacy River. Originally named Elizabethtown ― in honor of his wife, Elizabeth Kershner ― the name was later changed to Hager’s Choice (or Hager’s Fancy) and eventually became known as Hagerstown.
The Downtown Historic District is significant for its portrayal of the economic growth and development of the city, and for its architecture as a showcase of late 19th and early 20th century commercial styles when Hagerstown became a leading manufacturing city and a rail center in Maryland. This resulted in a great population growth and a commercial boom period that occurred between 1880 and 1920. This economic boom is reflected in the almost total redevelopment and transformation of the downtown commercial area during that period. Large hotels catering to rail and automobile travelers were built and commercial establishments were either remodeled or newly built to reflect the prosperity.
Our walking tour will start in Public Square, through which the National Road once passed, by walking north on Potomac Street to City Hall where you can view Little Heiskell, the symbol of Hagerstown...
southeast corner of Franklin Street and Potomac Street
Hagerstown’s first City Hall was a combination marketplace and office structure in the square. The first floor was an open-air market, farmers would drive their wagons through the enormous open archways to sell their goods. In 1818 City Hall was rebuilt one block north of the square and in 1941 the current City Hall was built. A model of the original City Hall is on display on the first floor. Little Heiskell, Hagerstown’s symbol, is a weathervane in the shape of a Hessian soldier. He was designed for Hagerstown’s first City Hall in 1769 by a German tinsmith named Heiskell. During the Civil War, a sharpshooter used Little Heiskell as a target and shot him through the heart. Undaunted, Little Heiskell remained atop City Hall until 1935 when he was removed to the Hager House Museum in City Park. A replica can be seen above the current City Hall.
Independent Junior Fire Company
105 North Potomac Street
The Junior Fire Company was formed in 1842 by the young members of the Franklin Union Fire Company with the motto “Here We Are.” The cornerstone for the original fire station was laid on May 30, 1852 and served as a hospital during the Civil War. It was remodeled in 1892. Early on, citizens were required to burn candles in their front windows to help firemen find their way out of town after dark. Gas lights had not been installed at that time. The first recorded bucket brigade began in Hagerstown in 1791. In 1871, the Independent Junior Fire Company introduced the first steam engine in Hagerstown.
John Wesley United Methodist Church
129 North Potomac Street
The roots of the Methodist church in Hagerstown began with circuit preacher Bishop Francis Asbury in 1776. Records of the existence of a small chapel appear in 1812; in 1825 a larger Old St. Paul’s Church was constructed on North Jonathan Street. The first services in this chapel took place on November 22, 1885. The congregation numbered but 400 members and the cost was slightly over $50,000. In 1969 as the result of the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren churches, the name of the church changed from St. Paul’s to John Wesley United Methodist Church.
114-116 North Potomac Street
This was the first wholesale business in the Cumberland Valley. Note the arch over the brick driveway through which horse-drawn wagons entered the courtyard.
132 North Potomac Street
This vernacular stone house was probably erected between 1800-1810.
142-144 North Potomac Street
The brick double-house at 142-144 is typical of the 1870s when Hagerstown was expanding rapidly and space was at a premium.
Zion United Church of Christ
201 North Potomac Street
Zion Church was erected between 1774 and 1776. Its present Romanesque appearance is the result of extensive renovations made in the late 1800s. This German Reformed Church was the first large building in Hagerstown and occupied a commanding position on this high hill, once known as Potato Hill. Jonathan Hager donated the land and lumber used in the construction of the building and, ironically, he was killed beneath falling timbers while working on the church in 1775. He, his wife and son are buried in the graveyard behind the church. The two unique bells hanging in the tower were cast in Rotterdam, Holland, in 1785 and contain several metals, including silver.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON NORTH POTOMAC STREET TO PUBLIC SQUARE AND TURN RIGHT, WEST, ON WASHINGTON STREET.
northwest corner of Washington Street and Potomac Street
The Eagle Hotel was owned at one time by the McIlhenny family, whose son, Edmund, invented Tabasco Sauce. Edmund was born on the second floor, fronting on West Washington Street. William Henry Harrison stayed here in April 1841 on his way to be inaugurated our 9th President.
27 West Washington Street
This handsome three-story structure was erected in 1899. Built of brick and reflecting the influence of Romanesque architecture, it was capped by a striking copper-plated domed roof. The original embossed tin ceiling, so typical of the era, may be seen in the bookstore.
Maryland Symphony Orchestra
30 West Washington Street
Western Maryland’s only professional orchestra was founded in 1981 by a small group of Washington County music lovers, turning the dream of a few into a vibrant reality that has entertained and educated thousands in the quad-state region. The orchestra is headquartered in a Classical Revival building flanked by engaged Ionic columns on its upper floors.
Washington County Office Building
33 West Washington Street
Erected in 1936 for Montgomery Ward and Company as a department store, the building was purchased by the County in 1973. It was the site of the 1st Hagerstown Bank Building, erected in the early 1800s. Nathaniel Rochester, the founder of the bank, left Hagerstown in 1810 with a large company of pioneers to start the town of Rochester, New York.
43-47 West Washington Street
Originally built in the 1820s, this was the Updegraff home. The adjoining building housed a hat factory, robbed several times by Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. In 1865 Updegraff began making gloves, at first specializing in odd sizes and later servicing the upscale market. The business grew to be one of the largest of its kind in the United States and in 1906 Updegraff and his sons established a nationally known glove factory in Gloversville, New York. A faded sign painted on the 4th-floor wall still advertises the Updegraff company as “clothiers, hatters and furnishers.”
59 West Washington Street
The Lyceum, a public debating hall constructed circa 1848, stood on this site during the Civil War. Heated debates took place here prior to the Civil War on the state of the Union. Following the Battles of Antietam and Gettysburg, the Lyceum was used as a hospital for wounded troops of both armies. The building now houses a bank.
north side of West Washington Street
Beltzhoover’s Tavern, now where the University Of Maryland Systems Campus operates, was a popular traveler’s stop here in the early days. President George Washington stayed here in 1790 on his way to visit Williamsport. The Washington House Hotel was constructed on the site in 1856 and was one of the elite stops along the National Road for many years. Abolitionist John Brown stayed here in June 1859, using the assumed name “Isaac Smith.” He traveled with his two sons to southern Washington County, rented the Kennedy Farm at Samples Manor, gathered his men and conducted his raid on the Federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Brown was captured, tried and hanged at nearby Charles Town, Virginia (now West Virginia.) Artist James Taylor stayed here in late 1863. He wrote of seeing many bullet holes splattered about the outside walls from the July 6th, 1863 battle. The City built this park in 2005; the fountain was added in 2006 as a project with the Sunrise Rotary.
Washington County Court House
95 West Washington Street
This is Washington County’s third courthouse. When the county was established in 1776, the first courthouse, a combination building that served also as a market house, was built in the middle of the town square, one block east of here. It proved too small to house the government and too big and obstacle in the square. The county’s affairs were moved to a new courthouse built on the site of the present building and designed by United State Capitol architect Benjamin Latrobe in 1816. That building burned in December 1871. The cornerstone of the present building was laid on October 9th, 1872. The design was by H. A. and J. P. Simms of Philadelphia and the construction was by Robert C. Thornburg. Just over a year later, on January 2, 1874, the County Commissioners accepted the completed courthouse and held their first meeting there. The Italianate style architecture of the building is unusual for this part of Maryland. An annex, attached in the rear was added in 1963.
101 West Washington Street at the corner ofSummit Avenue
Now the home of the Discovery Station at Hagerstown, the beautiful, Nicodemus Bank buildingis one of the most architecturally significant buildings in downtown Hagerstown. The original bank housed the Federal Depository during the Civil War. The magnificent main vault with leaded glass was installed in 1913. The building’s three floors contain 5 vaults behind a white marble exterior and soaring palladium windows.
115 West Washington Street
This side entrance Federal-style home features a wide fanlight and sidelight entrance.
132 West Washington Street
The early inhabitants of this community settled in and around Public Square. However, by the 1820’s the more elite began moving up West Washington Street. The building at 132 came into the possession of Mr. Jacob Hanson Beachley about 1865. A beautiful free hanging stairway remains untouched inside. One of the half-story rooms housed a large water-tank, permitting the family to have a flush toilet in its “necessary room.” In 1906, the home was purchased by local physician Edward Wareham, who converted it into apartments.
135 West Washington Street
Peter Bell, Jr., a local potter, built the original structure in 1818. The Federal-style building that is now known as The Miller House dates back to 1824. It is believed that the rear of the house is part of Bell’s earlier structure. The Miller House is now a museum and home of the Washington County Historical Society.
152 West Washington Street
This red brick townhouse has an unusual arched entranceway. A leaded sunburst pattern over the door is repeated on the dormer windows. The center double-chimney with internal fireplaces on each floor is unusual for the period.
170 West Washington Street at Prospect Street
This eclectic building, with traces of Queen Anne and Romanesque styles, was constructed in 1902 by John Luther Nicodemus as his in-town residence. J.L. Nicodemus had a genius for business and was considered one of Washington County’s most successful entrepreneurs. He served as the original president of People’s National Bank, which in the course of a dozen years became one of the largest financial institutions in western Maryland. His career also included the founding of several other banks and a land development company. Following his death, his large home was converted into a professional center where a variety of business entities were quartered.
Presbyterian Church of Hagerstown
20 South Prospect Street at West Washington Street
Hagerstown’s first Presbyterian Church was built on South Potomac Street between 1815 and 1817. The cornerstone for the present limestone Gothic Revival style church with brownstone trim was laid in 1873.
TURN LEFT ON PROSPECT STREET.
The Women’s Club
31 South Prospect Street
The Women’s Club has been a fixture on the Hagerstown scene since 1921 offering room rentals for ladies. The Hagerstown Women’s Club created the Potomac Playmakers, one of America’s oldest community theater groups, in 1926 after a motion by member Mary Lemist Titcomb, a nationally recognized figure made famous for her work with public libraries and the founder of the bookmobile concept.
South Prospect Street
Not a part of the original plan of Hagerstown, South Prospect Street is said to have been opened in 1832 by William D. Bell. The north section of the street between Washington and Antietam Streets was a part of the Mount Prospect or Rochester tract which was bounded approximately by the present Washington, Prospect, Antietam, and Walnut Streets. Now demolished, Mount Prospect was a late 18th century house which was once the home of Nathaniel Rochester, a prominent Hagerstown citizen and banker and the person for whom Rochester, New York, was named. Bell divided the property into lots and widened a small alley into the present street. The first house erected on South Prospect Street is believed to be the southern 2/3 of the building standing at number 43, a masonry structure renovated and enlarged in the Colonial Revival style about the turn of the 20th century. It is the variety of architectural styles represented and the juxtaposition of the examples to one another that gives South Prospect Street its strongest and most significant character. The street stretches for three blocks and is lined with more than fifty structures representing a range from the Neoclassical of the early 19th century to the classical revivals of the early 20th century. Other styles include Gothic, Italianate, Second Empire, and Queen Anne. The buildings line a tree-shaded avenue and express a uniformity of quality and scale that make South Prospect one of the strongest streetscapes in Maryland. Although many of the buildings have been adapted for purposes other than the original uses and some have undergone renovations, most of the structures and the street as a whole still retain the environmental quality characteristic of the area in the early 1900’s. The only non-domestic buildings are the St. John’s Episcopal Church and the First Presbyterian Church, each a representation of Gothic Revival from the 1870s.
AFTER WALKING SOUTH BEYOND THE BRIDGE OVER ANTIETAM STREET AND EXPLORING SOUTH PROSPECT STREET, RETURN TO THE BRIDGE AND DESCEND THE STEPS ONTO ANTIETAM STREET.
Prospect Street over Antietam Street
In the mid 19th century, landowners William Bell and Franklin Anderson joined forces to build a stone bridge across the Antietam Street ravine, thus opening the southern end of Prospect Hill to development. Later, the stone bridge was replaced by an iron structure. Although repaired several times in the century and a half of its existence, the Dry Bridge, as it is generally known, contributes to the character of historic South Prospect.
WALK AHEAD TO THE CORNER OF SUMMIT AVENUE.
Old Post Office
southwest corner of Antietam Street and Summit Avenue
This brick building housed Hagerstown’s post office from 1906-1965.
TURN RIGHT ON SUMMIT AVENUE.
Antietam Fire Company
113 Summit Avenue
The Antietam Fire Company had its original roots in the old Lafayette Company which first formed in 1808 and became known by its current name in 1835 when it was incorporated as Hagerstown’s second oldest fire company. This 1889 Romanesque structure is said to have inspired writer George Townsend, who designed the War Correspondent’s Arch at Gathland Park on nearby South Mountain.
RETURN TO ANTIETAM STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
northeast corner of Summit Avenue and Antietam Street
Danish-born Mathias Moller made his way to America in 1872 as an 18-year old. He found work in a Pennsylvania wood-working shop where he shortly wearied of cabinet-making and set his sights on building pipe organs. Aside from the fact he had no musical background, no knowledge of organ construction and barely spoke English, it was a perfect plan. He built and sold his first organ in 1875 and set out for Philadelphia to build an organ for the nation’s Centennial celebration in 1876. He didn’t finish it in time but sold it shortly afterward and made several more sales. In 1881 civic leaders in Hagerstown, eager to develop commercial and industrial enterprise, invited Moller to build a real factory in town and offered financial assistance for a two-story shop on Prospect Street. Moller’s business thrived and survived an uninsured 1895 factory fire and the company he founded would remain extant until 1992, being the world’s largest builder of pipe organs for more than 75 years. With his fortune he built this 10-story hotel in 1910. The new Hotel Dagmar, named for one of his daughters, was the finest and best appointed hotel in Hagerstown at the time and one of the best in Maryland. The building was constructed of reinforced concrete throughout, with a roof garden and furnished in the most modern style. On the first floor, in addition to the lobby and cafe, were located Mr. Moller’s retail piano and organ warerooms. From 1922 until 1926 Moller manufactured luxury sedans in Hagerstown. Also called the Dagmar, only a few hundred of the automobiles were manufactured at prices upwards of $6,000 when the typical Ford or Chevrolet cost $500. When sales for the enormous cars dried up, Moller switched to taxicabs and trucks that kept the Hagerstown plant humming until his death in 1937 at which point the company was closed.
TURN RIGHT ON SOUTH POTOMAC STREET.
21 South Potomac Street
The Maryland Theatre, a rococo wonder, was built in 1915 from the design of Hagerstown architect Harry Yessler and New York architect Thomas W. Lamb. Lamb also designed The Strand, The Rialto, and The Hippodrome Theatres as well as Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York City along with theatres in England, Egypt, India and South Africa. Its interior design is one of the few Neoclassical 20th century theatres in the area. General seats cost 10 cents and box seats were 35 cents; in June 1928, Maryland Theatre patrons saw the world’s first talking picture, The Jazz Singer. A serious fire destroyed the original lobby and some of the exterior in 1974 and the property was only 45 days away from being demolished for its 1,000,000 bricks before being rescued, restored and renovated.
12-14 South Potomac Street
The Colonial was opened in 1914, designed by Harry E. Yessler. It is considered the first large movie theater built in the Hagerstown area. The Maryland Theatre across the street was designed specifically for vaudeville, though later became a movie house. Its exterior was designed in a fantastically ornate Beaux-Arts style, with white terra cotta columns separating sets of windows on the second and third floors of the theater, topped by a large lunette filled with symbolic sculpture. The interior, however, was much more subdued in its decor. Some of its original interior was replaced during a 1930s remodeling. The Colonial’s days as a movie house are long behind it, and the theater has been adapted for other use.
First Hagerstown Hose Fire Company
33 South Potomac Street
The First Hagerstown Hose Company was organized in 1815 and incorporated by the state legislature in December of 1822. In the beginning the company operated from a shed attached to the St. Johns Lutheran Church one block to the south. During the 1870s, The First Hose Company moved several times before landing in this permanent home in 1881. In addition to housing the Fire Apparatus, a Grand Ballroom was located on the third floor. On the roof of the building stands “RUFUS,” A bell purchased in 1884 from The McShane Bell Company in Baltimore, Maryland. The bell was named for the Committee Chairman, Mr. Rufus Hays. A Fireman’s Pole that goes from the second floor bunk-room to the Engine Room floor is still in use.
Hagerstown Masonic Temple
54 South Potomac Street
The Hagerstown home for the world’s oldest fraternal organization looks much as it did when it was constructed in 1899.
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
141 South Potomac Street
Two half-acre lots were purchased from Jonathan Hager in 1769 by Lutherans. They erected a log church that same year and formally organized in 1770. The brick structure was begun in 1795 and completed in 1806. A Tiffany window and beautiful mosaics adorn the chancel.
Fundamental Baptist Church
146 South Potomac Street
The rear of the church (built 1815-17) is the original Hagerstown Presbyterian Church. Andrew Jackson stopped to worship here on his way to Washington to become President in 1828. The First Christian Church bought the church in 1876 and altered the building. Today it is home to the Fundamental Baptist congregation.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON SOUTH PROSPECT STREET TO RETURN TO PUBLIC SQUARE AT WASHINGTON STREET.
southeast corner of Potomac Street and Washington Street
When it opened in 1929, the 12-story, fireproof Hotel Alexander was billed as “Hagerstown’s New Million Dollar Hotel.” Today its 175 rooms have been repurposed as residential units and the building’s rooftop neon sign removed.
front of Alexander House
The huge clock in front of the Alexander House was purchased in 1908 by jeweler R. Bruce Carson, then in business six years. It stood on the pavement in front of his store in the Baldwin Building. When the store moved into the Alexander Hotel in 1929, the clock was moved to the southeast corner of Public Square. This eight-day clock was wound by hand until 1945, when it was electrified by the Potomac Edison Company. Local buses-still use it as the indicator of arrival and departure times. Given to the City of Hagerstown in 1974, it is still maintained through the courtesy of R. Bruce Carson Jewelers, still in business on the ground floor of the old Hotel Alexander.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN PUBLIC SQUARE.