Posts Tagged ‘Frederick County’



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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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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goldfish-1377880092-article-0George Thomas started his business as a roadside stand in Buckeystown in Frederick County, Md., that sold the vegetables and goldfish that he grew on his farm. “He had a keen eye for finding some type of venture where he might be successful,” Charles Thomas said of his grandfather in a 2006 interview. While customers may have bought his vegetables, they tended to show more interest in the goldfish bred in his goldfish hatchery, Three Springs Fisheries.  When the U.S. Postal authorities agreed to establish a branch office near the fishery to assist in the shipping of the goldfish, they asked George Thomas to select a name, and in 1932 the Lilypons post office branch was created. By the end of World War II, Thomas’ fish hatchery, now known as Lilypons, had become the world’s largest producer of goldfish.

Hunting Creek Fisheries near Thurmont, Md., was started by Frederick Tresselt, a graduate of Cornell University who had worked at the state trout hatchery in Hackettstown, New Jersey. “In driving around the county with a friend in 1922, Dad was amazed to see all the goldfish ponds in the area,” his son, Ernest Tresselt said in 2006. “Every farm that could had fish ponds. It was a cash crop for them [the farmers].”  Hunting Creek Fisheries opened in 1923 and is still in operation today as a family-run business raising ornamental fish and aquatic plants.

Tresselt believed that Frederick County might not have had the oldest goldfish farms in the country, but the county did have the most goldfish farmers. At the peak of goldfish farming in the County (1920’s and 1930’s), he estimates that as many as thirty or more farms were raising millions of goldfish.  The 1925 “News-Post Yearbook and Almanac” listed the county’s production at three-and-a-half to four million goldfish on 400-500 acres.

The Powells eventually had 45 acres of ponds on their properties and would ship out 120,000 goldfish a week from September through November.

“In the early days, we would get the fish out of the ponds and ship them around the country to five and dime stores,” Powell said.

These goldfish were sold for $10 to $50 per thousand, and the value of the yearly production was approximately $75,000.  By 1932, production increased to seven million goldfish on 500-600 acres, with goldfish selling for $35 to $70 per thousand (retail price five-ten cents each). Reports estimated Frederick County goldfish farmers had brought $1.5 million into the County.

In 1920, county farmers organized the Gold Fish Breeders Association of Frederick County, in part to fight against the high cost of shipping, property assessments on goldfish ponds and other issues of importance to Frederick County goldfish farmers. The organization ended once many of the county goldfish farmers left the business.

Early goldfish farming was relatively simple. In the spring, farmers stocked their ponds with breeder goldfish. The goldfish reproduced, and the young grew through the summer.  Feeding the fish was kept at a minimum.  Generally, some form of ground grain, like wheat middlings or ground corn, was the food of choice. The breeders were kept in the deepest ponds since these ponds provided a good water supply over the winter.

Powell said his family looked for fish with long fins and thick bodies. They would spread Spanish Moss in the ponds where the goldfish could lay their eggs. The moss was then moved to empty ponds so that the goldfish wouldn’t eat the newly hatched fish.

In the fall, the goldfish were harvested and sorted by size. Buyers would come driving trucks full of fish cans in which to carry the fish, or farmers would ship the fish to the buyers. A single farmer might ship thousands of fish each day during the harvest.

“At first, we were shipping dark fish to bait shops for fishermen, but later they began to say that the colored fish caught more fish, and they wanted them,” Powell said.

Goldfish production in Frederick County soared, until by 1920 eighty percent of goldfish produced in the United States originated in Frederick County. By 1931, the U.S. Commerce Department reported that the goldfish industry was a $945,000 business in the United States.  Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s the publications of The News- Post Year Book and Almanac note that Frederick County had “more goldfish produced than in any part of the United States.” Interestingly, the yearbooks list goldfish as “selected crops harvested” rather than “livestock on farms.”


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thWhen Luther Powell and his brothers attended the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, they saw a presentation about raising goldfish. Upon returning home, they realized that their farm had a good water supply so they dug ponds and began a new business venture.

The idea caught on with other farmers who saw it as a way to make money from their ponds and within a few years nearly all of the goldfish in America were coming from Frederick County.

“At one point, 83 percent of the goldfish in the country were from Frederick County,” said Bill Powell, Luther’s grandson.

Bred in China for their color, goldfish were the first non-indigenous fish brought into the United States.  The historical record does not confirm an arrival date, but stories with references to goldfish put their arrival as early as 1826. They were being sold as pets by the 1850s, and interest in them spiked after P. T. Barnum opened the first public aquarium in 1856.

Once suggestion for the popularity of goldfish in the county is that the German families that settled the county enjoyed a fish-rich diet, which had led to a depletion of fish in the local streams. They purchased carp from the government to supplement the natural fish population. The carp were shipped in cans, and some goldfish, which are cousins to carp, also stowed away in the cans.

Ernest Tresselt wrote in his book Autobiography of a Goldfish Farmer, “That’s how goldfish found its way to the Maryland countryside, on the tails of edible carp. It is easy to speculate that one or more farms in Frederick County got goldfish along with their carp during the period when the carp culture in farm fish ponds was advocated as a supplementary food supply.”

Charles J. Ramsburg of Lewistown is believed to be the first goldfish farmer in Frederick County.  By the early 1900s, Ramsberg was shipping about a million fish a year around the country, according to History of Frederick County.

Another pioneer in goldfish farming was Ernest R. Powell of Lewistown.  In 1892, at the age of twelve, Powell began to breed goldfish.  By 1910, when his biography appeared in History of Frederick County, Powell had become successful enough in his enterprise to be identified as “one of the largest dealers of goldfish in Frederick County.”

More farmers began entering the business, using existing farm ponds or new ponds dug by hand with shovels, wheelbarrows and horse-drawn scoops.  “In the early part of the century, I think people in the county, especially farmers, saw goldfish as a way of making extra money,” Tresselt said in a 2006 interview. Tresselt believed that goldfish farming flourished in the county in part due to “the availability of water on many farms because of the mountain streams and springs. The temperate climate, with its distinct seasonal changes, is ideal for the propagation of goldfish.”

George Leicester Thomas, who founded Three Springs Fisheries in 1917 in Buckeystown, believed that the success of goldfish farming in Frederick County was largely due to the fact that the mineral content of the water was well-suited for goldfish.  Thomas’grandson, Charles, agreed, saying that the rich color of the goldfish resulted from good breeding stock and water rich in nutrients from truckloads of manure dumped in the ponds. “The manure has nutrients that fish thrive on and actually all they have to do is open their mouths in order to eat,” he told the Frederick Post in 1981.  It was these nutrients in the water, according to Thomas, that gave Frederick County goldfish the reputation of being the best-colored goldfish in the country.

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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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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of three articles about the great Ransom train wreck in 1905.


Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com.

On June 17, 1905, around 5:55 p.m., near Ransom, a little village southeast of Patapsco, Md., in Carroll County, the Blue Mountain Express and a freight train collided head-on.

“Just west of the bridge, they came together with terrific force, the three engines being piled one upon another, fortunately in such a manner that sufficient steam connections were broken, to relieve the boilers, and thus prevent the further horror of one or more explosions,” reported The Washington Post.

“After the freight train whizzed past Patapsco, it was only a couple of minutes and it sounded like the whole train rolled down the track. The noise was terrific! I never heard such an awful noise like that!” said 13-year-old Emil A. Caple who was walking near the tracks on his way to the Patapsco Post Office and General Store.  

George C. Buckingham was a conductor on the freight train. He had just looked at his pocket watch and thought the train would be able to make up the five minutes it was running behind. As he put his watch back in his pocket, he felt “the awful plunging jar, crash and grind of wood and steel.”

“There was no time to move. The man ahead of me, a Washington doctor, dived out of his window; we were two seats from the front of the first coach, and I sprang to my feet and amid the groans and shrieks of the injured, I made my way out,” Cunningham told the Hagerstown Daily Mail.

The Frederick Daily News reported that the men who were sitting on the bumper suffered the greatest casualties.

“When the crash came the more fortunate, who were on the engine, jumped or were thrown from the train and were only injured. Those in the baggage car were terribly mangled, and the crews of all three engines were killed. Their bodies all believed to be under the wreckage of the engines,” reported The New York Times.

Flagman George Lynch was at the back of the freight train at the time of the collision. He was the only one of the nine crew members on the three engines to survive.

“There was a jar and then a succession of bumps, but I was not thrown down,” Lynch said.

Despite the impact of the engines in which “the three steam monsters were reduced to scrap iron,” none of the passenger coaches derailed. They all survived because of this, and “none of the passengers were injured aside from slight cuts, bruises and shocks,” according to one newspaper report.

Caple said that everyone who had heard the wreck came running. “I ran right along with them as fast as my legs could carry me. On the way down, we passed a man with a railroad flag in his hand running towards the Patapsco store. Somebody asked him, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘My god, I don’t know.’ He ran up the track to telephone Westminster,” Caple said.

When Caple arrived at Ransom, it was hard for him to see the actual wreck because of all the steam escaping from busted engines and what he did see, he wished he hadn’t.

“People were crawling from the wreck scalded. Some were laying with arms and legs chopped off and screaming and crying were terrible. Carloads of lard in wooden barrels had burst open and many passengers were covered with it and rescue crews had to work in it up to the knees to pull people out. They told all of us to either help or we would have to leave. So no matter what age, every one of us pitched in to help.

“I helped pick up arms and legs. No one knew for sure who they belonged to, so they told us to give them to anybody who didn’t have one that it looked like they belonged to. I helped another man who was scalded. He kept crying that he was so cold, so I got a coat and put over him. They said he had been scalded inside and I believe he died.

“The whole bottom just west of the Patapsco River was strewn with wreckage and bodies and people calling for help.”

Westminster knew of the crash minutes after it happened. Captain H. Clay Eby, a former conductor on one of the trains involved in the crash, lived near the crash site. Though he couldn’t see the collision, he had recognized the sound and what it meant. He had a telephone in his house, so he called E.O. Grimes, the railroad agent in Westminster, and alerted him to the collision.

Once news of the wreck got out, a relief train was put together at Westminster and sent out to help. The injured were taken by train to a hospital in Baltimore. “Just before the first relief train taking the injured to the hospitals of Baltimore left the wreckage began to burn.”   Ambulances were also ordered to the scene. An express train following the freight train acted as a relief train for the other side and the passengers on both trains gave all possible aid to the victims.

George Stimmel, a laborer from Thurmont, was one of the passengers taken out of the wreck alive. He was taken to the Hotel Albion in Westminster, but he died the next morning. While on the relief train to Westminster, he “offered a touching and pathetic prayer for his wife and children, pleading earnestly that they might be supported by Almighty God and that the wife might be enabled to train up the children in the paths of christianity and righteousness.”

About 75 men from the Western Maryland and Northern Central railroads used two steam cranes to clear away the wreckage. “With two great steam cranes the three engines were righted and placed upon the tracks, then slowly towed down to the siding near Lawndale. The overturned cars, the broken and twisted axles and machinery were hauled out of the way, and watches, pocketbooks, blank books and other effects belonging to the victims of the wreck were collected,” reported The Catoctin Clarion.

Here are the other parts of the story:




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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.

Here are some more stories that involve the Western Maryland Railroad in Thurmont:




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