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Dedication of the first Job Corps Training Center on Catoctin Mountain. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County, Md., can boast a lot of interesting history from Camp David to the Blue Blazes Still raid. From an OSS training camp during World War II to Camp Misty for children.


“Also on the Government side is the ‘mother’ camp of President Johnson’s Poverty Program,” the Frederick Post reported in 1965.

President Johnson had been the Texas director of the National Youth Administration. It was a New Deal program under President Franklin D. Roosevelt similar in objective to the Job Corps. Johnson convinced Congress it could work again, according to Barbara Kirkconnell in Catoctin Mountain Park, An Administrative History.

The camp, called Camp Round Meadow, opened in January 1965 and served as the place to train people who would be sent out across the country to depressed areas to open and operate other similar camps.

At the camp, 75 people were hired and trained on how to run a poverty training camp. “While these people are being instructed, some 20 persons accepted as trainees by the new program, will be working in the area.

Consideration of using the park for such a site began in May 1964. Federal government officials visited the park and inspected possible sites for the camp. Within a month, the government began converting the 60-acre Central Garage Unit Area in the country’s first Job Corps Center, according to Kirkconnell.

Besides building the camp, officials met with residents of Thurmont, Hagerstown, and other communities where the camp attendees might spend their off hours. They wanted to make sure that there would be a good relationship between the camp and towns.

“Thurmont merchants were wooed by an expected $200,000 in revenue from supplies, equipment and food sold to the camp for the program,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp officials spoke at civic meetings and invited officials and organizations out to tour the camp.

“On January 15, 1965, 85 young men between the ages of 16 and 21 arrived at Catoctin MP to inaugurate the job Corps Program at a site “largely unimproved” since the CCC left in 1941,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The Jobs Corps Center was dedicated on February 27.

The center got off to a rocky start with staffing problems and too many visiting dignitaries not only from the federal government but also foreign governments, such as Japan, Canada, British Guinea, England, Israel, the Philippines and the Ivory Coast.

“Continual recruitment brought a total of 157 recruits into the program but 57 left before the end of June.  The bleak winter contributed to homesickness; stark conditions of the camp without indoor recreation facilities and high expectations added to the general ‘depressive atmosphere,” Kirkconnell wrote.

Camp Director C. A. Maxey blamed the high drop-out rate on the recruits who had “temperamental and emotional problems in boys who had known little but failure,” according to a Baltimore Sun article.

The boys had been recruited from families earning less than $3,000 a year (around $23,000 today) and had an average of a 9th grade education. At the camp, they earned $32 a month plus $50, which was put in a bank account for them. “If they made a family allotment of $25 from the $50, the government matched it with another $25,” Kirkconnell wrote.

The program included a half day of work and a half day of education in the winter. The work time increased and the education time decreased as the weather warmed up. The work consisted of park projects, such as building trails, picnic tables, and needed buildings. They also did work improving the Gettysburg Battlefield.

As they mastered basic skills, they were given more-complex work.

“A sign construction program teaching printing, mechanical drawing, hand routing, measurement skills, painting, and organizational skills produced 225 signs for Catoctin, Greenbelt, Cunningham Falls State Park and Antietam Parks in Fiscal Year 1965-1966,” Kirkconnell wrote.

They also performed work in the surrounding community such as building a ball field and picnic pavilion for Thurmont parks.

By 1966, things were running far more smoothly. By the end of 18 months of operation, 439 men had been recruited to the camp. And 102 had transferred out, 165 had resigned, 24 graduated, 16 went back to school or jobs, leaving 111 Corpsmen in camp at the end of June 1966, according to Kirkconnell.

By that time, it became an election year issue. Congress criticized the program and cut funding. Discipline was a problem and so were community relations.

The Job Corps Center finally closed in May 1969.

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The old Western Maryland Railroad station. Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com.

One of the reasons that there is a Thurmont was lost in 1967.

Thurmont was originally called Mechanicstown, but a movement in 1873 started to come up with a more progressive name for the growing town. Among the supporters of a name change was the Western Maryland Railroad.

“The railroad was all for the idea since it would relieve the shipping and passenger problems caused by a profusion of the ‘sound alike’ communities. There was Mechanicsburg and Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania and several Mechanicsvilles in Maryland as well as our town,” according to A Thurmont Scrapbook.

The Western Maryland Railroad had first reached Mechanicstown on January 9, 1871. The first stationmaster was Harry Shriner.

“Upon the event of the coming of the railroad to Mechanicstown, a group of civic-minded citizens arranged a reception and a banquet for the railroad officials and their guests. It was a big event, taking place in the Stocksdale Warehouse located beside the tracks at the end of Carroll Street,” George Wireman wrote in the Catoctin Enterprise in 1972.

The warehouse served as a temporary depot for the telegrapher and expressman until a permanent depot could be built on the site of the old cannery in Thurmont. The depot had two waiting rooms, an office for the stationmaster and telegrapher and sanitary facilities. The grounds outside were landscaped and there was a water tank at either end of the depot.

By 1890, six passenger, mail and express trains (three eastbound and three westbound) ran through Thurmont daily.

In 1914, Thurmont even had a milk service train running to Baltimore.

During 1923, a young man named S. Elmer Barnhart started working for the Western Maryland Railroad. He was a fresh graduate from the Dodge Institute of Telegraphy and State Agency in Valparaiso, Ind. He had been born in Greencastle, Pa., and served in France with Base Hospital 98 during World War I.

He began his career with the railroad at Edgemont but he soon moved to Rocky Ridge’s station.

“Part of his job involved relaying basketball results by Morse telegraphy from Mt. St. Mary’s College to the Associated Press,” George May wrote in the Frederick Post in 1967.

Barnhart took over operating the Thurmont station in September 1939.

“The peak of his career was in 1952 when he was freight, ticket and baggage agent and operator at Thurmont; agent for the Railway Express Agency; Mayor of Thurmont which included being superintendent of the Municipal Light Company and Chief of Police and an elder and financial secretary of St. John’s Lutheran Church of Thurmont,” May wrote.

As automobiles continued to can gain favor as a form of transportation for Americans, the Western Maryland Railroad stopped passenger service to Thurmont on March 1, 1957. Freight and mail service continued, though.

Occasionally, a few special trains would be scheduled to carry passengers on special excursions, usually to Pen-Mar Park.

“On Saturday, October 12, 1963, the local station resembled a scene from the pages of history when large crowds gathered to ride the special excursions to Pen Mar Park, located a short distance west of Blue Ridge Summit in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains,” Wireman wrote.

With little notice, the Western Maryland Railroad closed the Thurmont depot on January 13, 1967.

“The need for the station diminished during recent years because of more modern accounting practices in Hagerstown, which took over the work of the Thurmont Agency,” Wireman wrote.

Many people assume that the decision to close the depot came about because Barnhart retired on January 1, 1967, at age 65. He had spent 44 years with the railroad and 27 years in charge of the Thurmont train station.

“On April 4, 1967, the fate of the station was soon learned. A wrecking crew appeared on the scene and began demolishing this Heritage Landmark. Within the short period of three days, a stranger visiting the site would never have realized that a railroad station once stood on this very spot,” Wireman wrote.

While the trains still run through Thurmont, they no longer stop in the town.

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Dr. Alfred Blalock performs one of his early heart operations at Johns Hopkins University. Courtesy of Alan Mason Chesney Medical Archives, Johns Hopkins University.

James “Jim Boy” McKenzie of Lonaconing had lived nearly four years with only three-quarters of his heart, but time was running out for the young boy.

When Jim Boy was born in 1946, it was without the right ventricle of his heart. The right ventricle is one of the four chambers of the heart. It pumps deoxygenated blood from the heart through the lungs and back to the left atrium in the heart.

Without the ventricle, Jim Boy was able to live but he suffered from a unique version of the Blue Baby Syndrome. Blue babies have poorly oxygenated blood that is blue in color rather than red and this blue blood causes their bodies to look blue. In Jim Boy’s case, it was only his hands, feet and lips that apparently turned blue.

His parents had taken Jim Boy to Johns Hopkins Hospital four times over his short life and “specialists informed them they could do nothing for Jim Boy at the time, but possibly could aid him if he lived a little longer,” the Sunday Cumberland Times reported in December 1949.

So Jim Boy returned home with no relief in sight and his condition grew worse. He suffered an attack in August 1949 and was admitted to Allegany Hospital. For six weeks, Dr. Thomas Robinson watched over Jim Boy trying to find an effective treatment. Nothing worked.

Jim Boy was admitted to Johns Hopkins on Oct. 27 for the fifth, and what many people expected to be the last, time.

Doctors told the McKenzie family that things didn’t look good for the youngster. He had two blood clots in the main artery leading to his heart and two more were forming in the main artery to Jim Boy’s brain.

Doctors Alfred Blalock and Helen Taussig took on the case and recommended surgery for Jim Boy, but they only placed his chances of survival at 60 percent. According to the Sunday Cumberland Times, “later the specialists gave him even lesser odds as he never ate much, weighed only 24 pounds, could hardly walk two feet without falling and his breath was very short.”

Blalock was the surgeon-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor and director of the department of surgery of the medical school. He had become well known when he showed that shock generally came from the loss of blood. He recommended using plasma or whole-blood transfusions as treatment for shock, treatment that is credited with saving the lives of many casualties during World War II. He had also developed the use of shunts to bypass obstructions in the aorta.

Taussig’s interest in cardiology and congenital heart disease led her to discover that the major problem with Blue Baby Syndrome was the lack of blood reaching the lungs to be oxygenated.

In 1943, she overheard a conversation Blalock was having with another doctor about his shunt technique when she began thinking it might have an application in treating Blue Baby Syndrome. She interrupted the conversation and began brainstorming ideas with Blalock.

From this conversation, Blalock and Taussig developed a successful way to treat Blue Baby Syndrome. The first operation using shunts to treat Blue Baby Syndrome took place in November 1944 and was successful. The following year, the pair published a joint paper on the first three operations in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

By the time Jim Boy came to them, Blalock and Taussig were famous for successfully treating Blue Baby Syndrome. If anyone could help Jim Boy, they could.

The surgery lasted four hours, during which they transferred the main artery of Jim Boy’s right arm to his heart and a near-normal function returned to the boy’s circulatory system, according to the Sunday Cumberland Times.

A half an hour after the operation, Jim Boy was conscious enough to recognize his mother and his lips were already turning pink.

By post-operative day two, he was more talkative and on day three the nurses were calling him “Chatterbox.” He was released from the recovery room to a regular room on day four.

In the following month, Jim Boy gained two pounds, his chest expanded and he grew 1.25 inches.

His parents said, “The two doctors who have restored the warmth to our son’s hands and feet certainly have put a warm spot for them in our hearts.”

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