UntitledThough the Franklin County Career and Technical Center in Chambersburg, Pa., cost a lot more to build, served a much smaller community and took a lot longer to build than originally imagined, the result was a vocational and technical school that has graduated thousands of skilled workers over its 41 years. Not only that, but 98 percent of them have been able to remain in the area after graduation because they had the skills that local employers needed.

The idea of a vocational-technical school for Franklin County was first suggested as part of a statewide plan for such schools. At that time, it was envisioned that one school could serve students in Franklin, Adams, Fulton, and part of Cumberland counties.

The idea was kicked around for a couple of years until a group of people from the business, agricultural and education communities formed in 1963 to start looking at how to make the idea a reality. Gradually, the school’s district shrunk until it became Franklin County and the Shippensburg area of Cumberland County.

Industries and businesses in the proposed area were sent 1,680 surveys to determine what skills students needed to have to be employable and what business areas were most in need of workers. About 80 percent of the surveys were returned and that information along with the results of a student interest survey were reviewed by the committee to come up with 22 proposed courses of study.

The proposed school was presented to the school boards in 23 different school districts in two counties for their review. In March of 1964, 108 directors from those boards met in a special meeting to decide on whether or not building a new vo-tech school was a feasible idea.

Clair Fitz, area coordinator of industrial education at Penn State, spoke to the directors about the opportunities a vo-tech school would present. “Saying vocational-technical schools provide sound terminal education for those pupils not planning to continue into college, Fitz added that skills learned in these schools give pupils ‘something to sell’ when they enter the labor market following completion of their schooling. The new skills; he continued, will give the county a better and higher labor market and generally bolster the county’s economy,” reported The Public Opinion.

After two hours of discussion, the vote was unanimous to submit an application for a new school to the state. George Fries, who was a member of the committee, called the vote, “a fine, progressive step forward.”

At this point, it was believed that the school could open in 1966 at the latest and cost $1.2 million to build. The Pennsylvania Department of Education gave the project its go ahead and the search began for a site where the school could be built.

Eventually, 108 acres were purchased in Guilford Springs, but construction issues, including how to get adequate water to the site, delayed the project and increased the costs. Construction began mid-1968.

The school partially opened in the fall of 1969 with 14 areas of study. Another seven areas were added the next semester. The total cost of construction came in at $4.2 million.

“That $4.2 million will pay for a sprawling modern building that features the latest in automotive repair shops, a practical nursing suite, and even a temperature controlled hothouse for agriculture students,” reported The Public Opinion.

Initial enrollment in the school was 227 students from the six participating school districts of Chambersburg, Fannett-Metal, Greencastle-Antrim, Shippensburg, Tuscarora, and Waynesboro. The students attended the vo-tech center for three weeks to train in their skill areas and then their home schools for three weeks to complete their general educational requirements.

The Franklin County Area Vocational-Technical School was formally dedicated on April 19, 1970. In his dedicatory remarks, Superintendent James Gibboney said, “A vocational-technical education will help our youth to cultivate the ability to construct their own environment and to create their own destiny. Through your united efforts, you have placed a monument here. Not a monument of brick and stone and steel, but a monument to the living, to the minds of men.”

Though the name has changed to the Franklin County Career and Technology Center, the school still remains a monument that grows and adapts to provide the county with a skilled labor force.

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Joseph Flautt Frizell was walking along the track of the Emmitsburg Railroad one evening in May 1922 with some friends. They were goofing around as teenage boys are wont to do as they approached the station, which was located on South Seton Avenue.

The Emmitsburg Railroad had been incorporated on March 28, 1868. It connected Emmitsburg to Thurmont by rail, and from there to other communities via the Western Maryland Railway. Besides making it easier for townspeople to travel to places like Baltimore, it also provided a convenient way for students to arrive at St. Joseph’s College and Mount Saint Mary’s College. The railroad was more than seven miles long and opened for passenger service on November 22, 1875.

Frizell and his friends saw a baggage car approaching them. Then they noticed another local youth, Paul Humerick, on the front of the baggage car. He had apparently jumped aboard hoping to catch a free ride, probably to the station in downtown Emmitsburg, which marked the end of the line.

What Humerick hadn’t noticed was that the baggage car had detached itself from the rest of the train and coasting down the incline in the tracks. The boys on the ground called for Humerick to get off the car, but he ignored them, apparently not recognizing the danger.

“Quick as a flash young Frizell realized the danger and ran after the car, which was moving slowly, jumping it and at the same time pulling Master Humerick down to the earth,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The boys hit the ground, rolled, and climbed to their feet unharmed. Meanwhile, the baggage car continued just a short distance before it hit an embankment. They watched the baggage car “smash over the embankment into a tree. The large tree hit in just the place where Humerick was standing on the car and eyewitnesses say that had the young boy held his place he would have been badly mangled if not killed outright,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

Frizell spent the week afterwards being praised by his friends as a hero. The newspaper said the praise was rightly deserved because “it was not only a brave deed but showed that his mind was working fast to take in the situation.

The incident was investigated and it was found that after the train had stopped at St. Joseph’s College Station without incident on its way to the end of the line at the Emmitsburg station. It was believed that while the conductor was helping passengers off the train at St. Joseph’s College, someone had uncoupled the cars.

The train had left the station heading for Emmitsburg but the baggage car had separated from the rest of the train on an incline.

The car suffered some damage in the accident, but it was expected to be repaired and put back in service. None of the baggage in the car was lost or damaged.

The Emmitsburg Railroad stopped its service in 1940 due to more attractive business options, such as car travel.

Editor’s Note: This is part two of two posts about the 1911 mine explosion in Elk Garden.

Their wives had waited in their homes, trying to ignore the clamor going on just outside their doors in late April 1911. They had busied themselves cooking and cleaning and all the time praying that what they could feel in their hearts was not true and was simply stress making itself known.

An explosion in the Davis Coal and Coke Company No. 20 mine in Elk Garden had trapped 23 men behind tons of rubble in the shaft. Men from all over the region were racing to get to the miners, but removing the debris that clogged the shaft took time.

The Piedmont Herald reported, “In giving credit for heroism displayed in rescue work at the mine we do not wish to detract any credit due the many faithful mine officials, but we do wish to commend the miners of the Elk Garden region, including Wabash, Oakmont, Kitzmiller, and from distant mines for their coolness, skill and daring. It was their brother miners entombed and they toiled, they braved the dangerous gases, they reeled under the influence of the poison and when refreshed plunged into the mines again.”

Unfortunately, heroes aren’t always successful. Knocks on doors began being heard late in the evening of April 24. Even those who could not hear what was said recognized the sobs of a grieving wife. As each body was pulled from the rubble and each widow notified, the hopes of the remaining wives fell.

“The women in nerely (sic) every case staid (sic) at home and there patiently bore the awful suspense until their loved ones lifeless forms were brought to them by the undertaker. It is difficult to tell which were the greater heroes, the women remaining at home in deepest grief, watching, hoping, praying, or the miners braving the deadly gases to rescue the bodies of their unfortunate comrades,” the Piedmont Herald reported.

Despite the fact that mining deaths were almost commonplace, “never before has there been a mine disaster in that region that paralleled, or even approximated the shocking calamity last Mon. morning, when twenty-three men, all citizens of Elk Garden, except one, were suddenly ushered into eternity by an explosion in Mine No. 20, which is owned and operated by the Davis Coal and Coke Company,” reported the Mineral County News Tribune.

According to a Department of Mines annual report, only 25 men died in mining accidents during the year ending June 30, 1911, and 23 of them had died in Elk Garden. The average age of the 23 miners was 31 with the youngest being 18 and the oldest being 57 years old. These weren’t inexperienced miners, either. Among them, they averaged 13 years of experience.

Five of the miners were buried on April 26 and the rest of them on the following day. “The undertakers did their parts exceedingly well, and worked on almost exact scheduled time. The congregations gathered quietly and quickly, and while one interment was going on in the cemetery another funeral was being held in the church,” The Piedmont Herald reported.

The Davis Coal and Coke Company paid all of the funeral expenses for the miners. In addition, the company had also taken out $400 (around $2,200 today) of life insurance for each of its miners, which the widows received. All of the widows were also given goods from the company store to make sure that their immediate needs for food and other necessities would be met.

Once the funerals ended, the questions began. “The dead are buried. The ghastly scenes that will remain in our memories while life shall last are now in the past. The heart still aches but submits to the awful stroke, and feels that some day we shall understand,” the newspaper reported.

The cause of the explosion was believed to be an accumulation of gas and dust in the mine. Because of the infrequency of work, the mine had not been running for days when the miners went into the mine on Monday morning. It was something that would have to be investigated.

The West Virginia Department of Mines opened hearings into the mine explosion in early May. As officials questioned various experts and witnesses, they came to the conclusion that the explosion hadn’t been caused by a natural gas leak because the mine should have been wetted down, which would have minimized the risk of coal dust igniting. As dust, coal has a lot of surface area that provides plenty of opportunities for a spark to take hold. Once a spark does catch, it creates a domino effect that spreads quickly.

Chief Laing of the West Virginia Department of Mines announced at the end of the hearing, “The evidence gathered, the chief states, seems to point to the breaking of the mining law by their miners, who are thought to have used black powder.”

The coroner’s jury met for two days and was able to determine what happened even more precisely. The jury’s conclusion was that a blown-out charge had been fired by James Pugh or his son, Arthur. This caused the coal dust to ignite, which led to the explosion.

The miners killed in the explosion were:

  • James Brown, 38;
  • William Buskey, 25;
  • James Dempsey, 57;
  • Leo Dempsey, 23;
  • Samuel Hamilton, 25;
  • Ed Harshberger, 33;
  • William Hetzel, 40;
  • Hawthorne Patton, 20;
  • William Pearson, 32;
  • Arthur Pritchard, 18;
  • John Pritchard, 48;
  • Frank Pugh, 29;
  • William Pugh, 24;
  • Walter Runion, 20;
  • William Sayres, Jr., 30;
  • Wilbur Shears, 31;
  • Harry Tranum, 26;
  • John F. White, Sr., 42;
  • John White, Jr., 24;
  • Charles Wilson, 21;
  • John R. Wilson, 57;
  • Lester Wilson, 18;
  • Roy Wilson, 23;
  • Tom Wilson, 23,
  • Tom Yost, 29.

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Editor’s Note: This is part one of two posts about the 1911 mine explosion in Elk Garden.



Residents gather at Mine No. 20 in Elk Garden, WV, waiting to hear word about survivors after a 1911 mine explosion. Courtesy of the Kitzmiller Mining Museum.


The ground trembled around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of April 24, 1911. Some people in Elk Garden, WVa., might have wished it was an earthquake, not that the town had ever experienced one. But that was better than thinking about the alternative. There had been an explosion in the nearby Davis Coal and Coke Company No. 20 mine where most of the men in town worked.

People ran from their homes and hurried toward the mine to see what had happened, and more importantly, if anyone had been injured or killed. “Many of those who stood round the slope heading were parents, brothers, sisters or wives of those entombed and great feeling was shown, many wringing their, hands and crying aloud, while others, the more courageous, set about planning means of rescue,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times.

The nearby town of Thomas was notified and sent two fire engines with rescue crews to Elk Garden on the Western Maryland Railroad. A count was taken of the miners who had exited the No. 20 mine. Twenty-seven were missing. Only five have been able to make their way out of the mine.

The men working in No. 20 had left for their shift at 6:30 a.m. Work had slacked off during the winter and the miners were only working two days a week. That made it tough going financially for the Elk Garden miners so when the chance had come to work an extra day, they had made sure not to be late. Even so, it wasn’t a full shift. The men who had been called into work were cleaning up the mine in preparation for the next day’s work.

Superintendent Robert Grant organized a rescue crew from the men in town, most of the miners themselves. The rescue crew entered the smoking mine, hoping for the best. Though Grant knew where the men had been working, he kept running into passages closed by falling coal. They snaked their way through passages until they got as close as they could to where the miners working at the time of the explosion had been.

People from town brought bolts of bed ticking and cloth to build temporary brattices for the rescue crews so that air could flow into the mine. All of the actual brattices in the mine had been blown out by the explosion.

Many of the wives and children of the trapped miners returned to their homes, trying to keep their hands and minds occupied with thoughts other than they were now widows and their husbands had died horrible deaths.

As word of the explosion spread, men began arriving from other areas to help with the rescue efforts. A large group of men from Thomas, WV, was one of the first on the scene. Davis and Coal Coke Company officials notified the Department of Mines in Washington so that a rescue car could be sent to help.

“Work was then begun, making a cross cut through the wall of coal towards the entombed men. Gas still lingers very heavy in the mine and work is possible only at short intervals, and then the strain on the rescuers is terrific,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

In fact, four rescuers themselves were overcome with the gases in the mine. They were pulled from the mine and treated for afterdamp, which is left in a mine after a fire or explosion. Afterdamp is a gas mixture made up of primarily of nitrogen and carbon dioxide. It can suffocate a person is he inhales too much of it.

At 3,000 feet into the mine, the rescuers dug towards the miners not knowing whether they were dead or alive. By evening, it was estimated that the rescue crew was about halfway to the room where the miners had been working. “As the way progresses the work grows harder and the prisoners will probably not be reached until tomorrow afternoon,” the newspaper reported.

Monday evening, a body was found. He was identified as Wilbur Shears. A few hours later, near midnight, five more bodies were found. They were loaded onto wagons and driven into Elk Garden where a temporary morgue had been set.

The grieving began, but there still remained hope, though fading.

When the Department of Mines’ rescue car arrived late in the evening, it brought with it oxygen helmets to protect the rescuers against afterdamp. They were instructed on how to use the helmets safely. The helmets allowed the rescuers stay in the mine longer in their search for the missing miners.

During the day on Tuesday, nine more bodies were found and then another five in the evening. “Some of the dead were burned about the face and hands, some were bruised and faces scarred, while others showed no external signs of violence, but seemed to be calmly sleeping,” the Piedmont Herald Reported.

At noon on Wednesday, the final three bodies were carried out of the mine. The wait was over for the families, but now the search for what had happened would begin.

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Can you imagine a Catoctin County, Maryland? It would have included Frederick County north of Walkersville, Md., and Mechanicstown, Md., would have been the county seat.

It was a dream that some people in the northern Frederick County area pursued throughout 1871 and 1872. The Catoctin Clarion was only on its 10th issue when it carried a lengthy front-page article signed with the pen name Phocion. Phocion had been an Athenian politician, statesman, and strategos in Ancient Greece.

Creating a new county had been talked about within groups of people for a while, and it was time to garner support by taking the issue to a broader, general audience.

“Some sober sided citizens in our valley are quietly discussing the question among themselves, shall Frederick county be divided and the new county of Catoctin be erected into a separate organization?” the newspaper reported. Wicomico County had been formed in 1867 from portions of Somerset and Worcester counties, so the idea of another new Maryland county was not far-fetched. In fact, Garrett County would be formed from the western portion of Allegany County in 1872.

The main reason put forth for creating a new county was the distance and expense of traveling to Frederick, Md., to register deeds and attend court. Opponents argued that creating a new county would be costly for the citizens of the new county. New county buildings would have to be constructed and county positions filled. All of this financial burden would have to be absorbed by the smaller population in the new county.

“Our neighbors across the Monocacy in the Taneytown District have but a short distance to go to attend Carroll county Court. Why shall we on this side be deprived privileges which were granted to them? Shall the people on one side of the Monocacy be granted immunities which are to be withheld from citizens residing on the other side?” the Clarion reported.

Besides northern Frederick County, Phocion said that in Carroll County, Md., residents of Middleburg, Pipe Creek, and Sam’s Creek were also interested in becoming part of Catoctin County.

“If a majority of the citizens residing in Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties (within the limits of the proposed new county), favor a division, I see no reason why it should not be accomplished,” the newspaper reported.

In deciding on what the boundaries of the new county would be, three conditions needed to be met in Maryland. 1) The majority of citizens in the areas that would make up the new county would have to vote to create the county. 2) The population of white inhabitants in the proposed county could not be less than 10,000. 3) The population in the counties losing land could not be less than 10,000 white residents.

Interest reached the point where a public meeting was held on January 6, 1872, at the Mechanicstown Academy “for the purpose of taking the preliminary steps for the formation of a New County out of portions of Frederick, Carroll and Washington counties,” the Clarion reported.

Dr. William White was appointed the chairman of the committee with Joseph A. Gernand and Isaiah E. Hahn, vice presidents, and Capt. Martin Rouzer and Joseph W. Davidson, secretaries.

By January 1872, the Clarion was declaring, “We are as near united up this way on the New County Question as people generally are on any mooted project—New County, Railroad, iron and coal mines, or any other issue of public importance.”

Despite this interest in a new county, by February the idea had vanished inexplicably from the newspapers. It wasn’t until 10 years later that a few articles made allusions as to what had happened. An 1882 article noted, “It was to this town principally that all looked for the men who would do the hard fighting and stand the brunt of the battle, for to her would come the reward, the court house of the new county. The cause of the sudden cessation of all interest is too well known to require notices and only comment necessary is, that an interest in the general good was not, by far, to account for the death of the ‘New County’ movement. Frederick city, in her finesse in that matter, gave herself a record for shrewdness that few players ever achieve.”

A letter to the editor the following year said that the men leading the New County Movement had been “bought off, so to speak, by the promises of office, elective at the hand of one party, appointive at the hands of the other, and thus the very backbone taken out of the movement.” The letter also noted that the taxes in Frederick County were now higher than they had been when a new county had been talked about and that they wouldn’t have been any higher than that in the new county. “And advantages would have been nearer and communication more direct,” the letter writer noted.

Catoctin County, Virginia

map_compareNearly 150 years later, Virginians started talking about forming a Catoctin County that would be created from western Loudoun County. The proposed county would include Loudoun County west of the Catoctin Mountain watershed. Purcellville, Va., would become the seat of the new Catoctin County.

The movement began in 2005 with a letter to the Washington Post and has waxed and waned since then.

The idea took root because residents in the western end of Loudon County wanted to fight the rapid development encroaching in the area. Interest faded but was then reignited when an extension of the D.C. Metro silver line was proposed, resulting in higher taxes for county residents.

The group supporting the new county has even created a website. It points out that the people of western Loudoun County are feeling disenfranchised with their county representation.

“Our representatives on the Board have been forbidden from placing items on the agenda concerning the vital zoning of our land and the Chairman of our County, elected by county-wide vote, has been stripped of his powers. The current Vice Chairman, a representative from one small area of the County, now holds the Chairman’s rightful powers. Our homes, our livelihoods and the very quality of the lives we lead in Western Loudoun are all on the line and we have no say in our own future if our destiny is tied to the suburbanized east.”

Another problem, according to the website, is that a Virginia Supreme Court ruling has reversed growth controls in the western end of the county, supposedly because of a technicality.

While there is still no Catoctin County, the idea continues to live.

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Gen. John Imboden

I was asked late last year to start contributing to the Wildfulness podcast, which covers topics about Mountain Maryland. I had never done one before, so I thought it would be fun. I would have time to learn a new skill without the pressure of producing a weekly show.


The story of the Confederate attack on Oakland, Md., was my first foray into podcasts.

Here’s the link to the Wildfulness blog if you would like to follow the podcast.

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C&O CoverMy new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Hidden History and Little-Known Stories Along the Potomac River, is out!

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was the great national project that failed to live up the dream in the 19th century. It never reached its ultimate destination, which was not Cumberland, Maryland (where it wound up) or the Ohio River (as the name implies). The early vision of the canal planners was something far grander and longer, and it’s just one of the secrets of the C&O Canal.

In this new book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History Along the Potomac River, you can discover the stories of the canal, its people, politics, and connection to history.

If you’re wondering where the canal could have gone, one possibility was that it would have ended at Lake Erie to offer competition to the Erie Canal. You can discover an alternate starting point in the book.

Other “secrets” of the canal include:

  • Discovering the connection between the C&O Canal and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • Finding out how building the canal led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Discovering how the Johnstown Flood helped kill the canal.
  • Solving the mystery of two murders on the canal that never actually happened.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 67 black and white photographs and illustrations that help bring the stories to life. It is the third book that I’ve done in the “Secrets” series.

Take a look for yourself!

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