The greatest impact of the Washington County Historical Society in the early 1970s came from the beginning of planning for the 1976 celebration in Washington County that would span 15 major events and cover many months.
Special focus ran from July to September 1976 to include the birth of the nation and the founding of the county. Speaker at the historical society's annual meeting in February 1972 was U.S. Sen. Charles "Mac" Mathias, who lauded the historical society for its major contributions to Burnside Bridge and Dunker Church, to Antietam National Battlefield. He noted that federal intentions to enlarge Antietam and embark on the C&O Canal project, which was also being developed under the National Park System, would bring great impact to Washington County.
Growing and growing
In other ways, 1972 proved to be a very busy year. Ralph Donnelly of Hancock was elected president of the society; Martin Urner and Mary K. Bowman, the first and second vice presidents; Claude Potterfield, treasurer; and Mary Lou Hoffman, secretary. A process for designing a logo for the historical society began.
Hiring of staff finally moved into action. Wanda Allenback was brought on as executive secretary-coordinator for the board. Ellen "Nellie" Reed was hired to handle clerical work.
The major challenge for the organization was trying to coordinate four locations: the Miller House, Beaver Creek School, the Hager House and the Mansion House and hours to have them open. By June, the Hager House had already had 3,000 visitors for the year, 418 at the Miller House and 508 at the Valley Store Museum at the Mansion House. Committees were assigned to each.
Proposals for remodeling various parts of the Miller House to accommodate the growing programs and gifts that needed proper display kept the board busy adjusting and evaluating what needed to be done first. Among the gifts were a portrait of Vic Miller III and a painting of Crooked Tree.
By October 1972, the board discovered that they had a plethora of eight iron stoves of the same period and were being offered another by the Fair Board. Some would be kept and others sold to help fund other needs of the collection. Remodeling the basement to accommodate the library and an office would cost $5,000 and $1,200 for the new security alarm system.
The group was pursuing arrangements to have Hagerstown's first taxi, a Detroit-built 1910 Regal, housed in the garage. A parade of 31 antique cars, led by the Clear Spring High School Blazer Band, escorted the taxi to its new home. In November, an 1880 sleigh, donated by the Cushwa family, joined the taxi in the garage. Six months later, Little Pet, the antique fire engine, was also moved into the garage, where fencing was installed as a guard rail for the exhibits.
In 1973, as work went forward on moving the library, the current tenant of the office area in basement expected to be reimbursed for floor covering and ceiling lights and fans. Plans were set to allocate new space and the library opening was targeted for late April.
The city installed heat in the Hager House and an accredited historic contractor was employed to work on restoration of the cabin in the park. In the fall, Board President Ralph Donnelly was elected president of the Maryland Historical Society. WCHS hosted the Travel Tour Writers Association in October with a reception at the Miller House and all were entertained later at the Hager House by the Maryland Regiment's Candlelight Tattoo.
The season brought 1,032 visitors to Beaver Creek School, with $100 collected in donations. The board decided to explore new fees for the following season to help reap a little more from the hard work needed to accommodate that level of traffic.
In 1974, the Maryland House and Garden Tour came to Washington County. The Miller House, the Hager House and Beaver Creek School were open for the tour. The Miller House Garden received some of the funds raised from the tour. Preparations for the bicentennial celebration continued to spark great interest and brought membership to 789.
Honorary memberships were extended to David Cottingham and Libbie Powell from the Herald-Mail Co., for the service rendered to the society in promoting the organization through public reports and photography, and to Mary Bowman, for her deep devotion and dedication.
On a sad note, long-time member Mary Kneisley Bowman died in May. An inventory of items, loaned by her on long-term to the society, was prepared for the estate, with a request that the items be donated to the society. Her estate eventually provided on-going support to the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts and the Historical Society through a special fund.
In January of 1975, the wife of retired Col. Dan Dietrich, spoke at the annual meeting on the history of Fort Ritchie and Pen Mar, starting with the geological upheaval that created Devil's Race Course in the area. She had slides showing the area before development at Pen Mar, Monterey and Blue Ridge Summit, with all of their fine hotels.
At this point, Wanda Allenback, coordinator for the society, was officially appointed as a member of the community's Bicentennial Committee as the group continued planning the specified 15 major projects. In the summer of 1975, Carolyn Reed and Linda Fiery developed a lengthy report about life on the local frontier. Both were working as interns at WCHS.
The WCHS Simms Jamieson Library was recognized for its significant resources to those researching the area and their roots, and the Miller House was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places through the Maryland Historic Trust, Governor's Consulting Committee. Beaver Creek School began exhibiting need for much maintenance.
The 1976 annual meeting opened with the adoption of new Constitution requiring a board of 18 members with staggered terms, a new committee structure and a new fiscal year reporting schedule. Many of the 282 attendees came dressed in costume in preparation for the Bicentennial celebration. Interest in bicentennial celebrations boosted the membership drive.
In February a proposal for restoration of the Miller House kitchen to 1825 to 1830 was presented by Eleanor Lakin. The group also received one from Jim Seibert and Ralph Giffin for the garage.
Finally, the Bowman Estate settlement was decreed and members of the society, and others, selected items to keep for the permanent collection. The rest were sold and proceeds put into the Trust Fund, which evolved into the Mary K. Bowman Historical and Fine Arts Fund, now managed by the Community Foundation of Washington County.