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Thurmont’s Western Maryland Railroad Station.

On March 2, 1915, David Firor kissed his wife goodbye and told her that he would be back on the evening train from Baltimore. Then he headed into the city to buy Easter items for his store on East Main Street in Thurmont.

 

That evening, “The train came but Dave did not come home, and it was taken for granted that he did not get to finish his shopping and remained until next day as he had done on future occasions,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

When he failed to come home the next day, Firor’s wife and mother began to worry. They began to make inquiries at the places where he typically went, but no one could help them with any information.

Rumors began to run rampant. He had met with foul play in the streets of Baltimore. He was running from creditors because his business was about to go bankrupt. Both of these proved false.

Firor’s brother, J. W. Firor, was a professor at the University of Athens in Georgia. He took a leave of absence from his teaching to join his family in Thurmont. Then he set off for Baltimore to search for his brother in hospitals and other institutions.

Firor was 31 years old and had a medium build.  He stood 5 feet 6 inches tall and had black hair and eyes. He wasn’t particularly distinguishable from among hundreds of men in the city. J. W. made his inquiries, though, and walked through the hospital wards and looked at John Does in the morgue.

No sign could be found of him.

Ten days later, Grace Firor received a telegram from her husband. He was in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Losing all trace of his identity, knowing nothing whatever of his whereabouts until he was put ashore penniless from a dredge boat at Jacksonville, Florida, and cared for by a family of Italians, David Firor, of Thurmont, last Tuesday for the first time in a week realized who he was,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

The cause of the problem was what Firor called “sleepy-headedness” and the doctors called aphasia. In recent months, he had started sleeping a great deal of the time and when he slept, he was nearly impossible to wake. His mother even said that he could fall asleep talking or standing up.

Even after being found in Jacksonsville, he had an attack where he slept for 18 hours straight.

When asked about what had happened to him, Firor said that he couldn’t remember how he came to be on the boat. The last thing he remembered was speaking with Helen Rouzer, formerly of Thurmont, in a Baltimore Department Store.

He also had taken $60 with him to Baltimore when he left Thurmont. It was all missing when he reached Jacksonville. He didn’t remember what had happened to it, but since no orders were delivered to the store, he apparently didn’t spend the money on what it had been intended for.

Some people suggested that he may have been robbed. While this is a possibility, Firor still had his gold pocket watch on him when he was found. It seems unlikely that a robber wouldn’t have taken it as well.

Firor apparently never solved the mystery of what had happened to him during the missing days. He didn’t even know whether he had been conscious for most of them.

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alexandria-canal-and-wharf_12659630893_o.jpgIn C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian Karen Gray’s study of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, she divides the canal’s existence into the three periods. The first period is the time up until the canal opened to Cumberland. During this time, the canal was being built, but it had partial operations for different types of boats. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the canal operated independently for the most part and also had its golden age. From the turn of the century until the canal closed, it operated primarily under the Canal Towage Company at a reduced capacity. The research has even turned up a couple mysteries that have yet to be solved.

Before the canal was fully completed to Cumberland in 1850, flatbed riverboats used to travel the Potomac River and enter the partially open canal at the dam near Williamsport. From there, they could continue their journey to Georgetown.

The question is how did they continue their journey? Riverboats were carried by the current with the crew using poles to guide the boat. Poles could not be used on the canal, though, or the clay berm would have been damaged. So how were the boats moved through the canal?

“Most likely, someone rented mules at Williamsport, but we don’t know for sure,” Gray said.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is how canal boats that were supposed to be 92-feet long fit into some locks that could hold boats no longer 85 to 90 feet. The 92-foot boat length comes from a single boat that was used to make drawings from. At the time the drawings were made, the boat had been out of the water for years so it is probable that frame may have loosened somewhat, adding length and width to the dimensions. This is only a guess at this time, though.

“All of this information is a great resource that we’ve been able to make available to the world so that future researchers and future students can dig down and do deep analysis,” Bill Holdsworth, president of the C&O Canal Association, said.

He said that since much of the current beliefs about the canal come from oral histories of canallers and information from the canal’s last days, this new information is changing people’s impressions of the canal. canal-boat-crossing-aqueduct_12256215046_o.jpg

Catherine Bragaw, chief of interpretation for the C&O Canal, said that rangers are always looking for stories that people can relate to and that as more research becomes available, it may change the stories.

“It’s not unusual for history to change,” Bragaw said. “Some history stays consistent. Some is dynamic as more is uncovered.”

She said that interpretation is an art because different people can focus on different aspects of the subject. That, in turn, affects, the stories and information they incorporate into their presentations.

“It’s fascinating to unlock the mysteries,” Bragaw said.

That’s just what this new research continues to do. It is unlocking the mysteries of the early days of the canal and discovering new ones that need to be solved.

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GoldfishCompetition in goldfish farming was inevitable, however, and by the late 1930s, the appearance of larger, more diversified, growers across the country reduced the demand from Frederick County, Maryland, farms.

Modern technology also worked against county goldfish farmers. Advances in shipping techniques and the increased variety and quality of goldfish available from growers around the world gradually changed the goldfish market.  By the 1950’s, fish could be shipped in plastic bags by air freight. The plastic reduced shipping costs and the planes extended the distance the goldfish could be shipped. This further increased the competition in the market.  Air transportation allowed areas that had not previously engaged in goldfish farming, such as Arkansas, to become competitive or even better locations than Frederick. “By going south, you had a longer growing season,” said Charles Thomas. “In a place like Arkansas, instead of having only one crop each season, you could have two.”

The result was that farms producing only common goldfish seasonally, such as those in Frederick County, could not compete. By the 1940’s only a few farms in Frederick County were still cultivating goldfish. “Everything changed,” goldfish farmer Ernest Tresselt said. “We have to supply fish year round. The competition made it unprofitable for most farmers, and they went out of business.”

The Powell family got out of the goldfish business in the 1960s. “People didn’t want them. They were starting to ban them from being in lakes. The county had a severe drought that made it hard to keep the ponds full. Fishermen were using spinning lures more than live bait, and kids didn’t want goldfish as pets. They wanted tropical fish that were harder to care for,” Bill Powell said.

By 1980, Lilypons, once the world’s largest producer of goldfish, had diversified so that it now specializes in water garden supplies and plants more than in fish. Hunting Creek Fisheries and Eaton Fisheries also survived by diversifying their offerings into plants, game fish, and/or other types of ornamental fish, such as koi.

Today, there are still fish ponds in Frederick County.  Lilypons devotes some of its nearly 500 ponds to goldfish. Hunting Creek Fisheries still has ponds in Thurmont and Lewistown, as does Eaton Fisheries in Lewistown.

Other goldfish ponds have disappeared, however. The Claybaugh fish ponds in Thurmont are covered over by Mountain Gate Exxon and McDonald’s.  Fish ponds belonging to Ernest Powell and Maurice Albaugh along Moser Road no longer exist.  The area east of the Maple Run Golf Course used to have Ross Firor’s ponds but does no more.  The ponds on William Powell’s Arrowhead Farms on Appels Church Road north of Thurmont and Frank Rice’s goldfish ponds alongside Route 15 south of Thurmont have been filled in and turned back to pasture.

Frederick County no longer is the biggest producer of goldfish in the country, but there was a time when the county led the country in growing the fish of emperors and kings.

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