Pictured above are black workers, in 1885,
at the C&O Canal's Cushwa Wharf in Williamsport.
From the earliest days of the 18th century, the lives, the sacrifices and the contributions of African-Americans have left an indelible impression on Washington County, Maryland. In 1820, 14% of the population was enslaved; Maryland's average however was 26%. By 1860, there were more free African-Americans than slaves in Washington County. Slavery was abolished in Maryland in the fall of 1864.
There are many historic African-American sites in Washington County. Those described here represent some highlights that we hope will engage and encourage you to further exploration of this rich history.
Manufacturer of bar iron products. The furnace was built in 1768 and produced goods for the Revolutionary War. The furnace was a large slave owner during its tenure and also employed many free blacks. The furnace closed in 1858. It reopened after the Civil War but finally closed in 1886. Three miles south of Sharpsburg on the Harpers Ferry Road. 301-739-4200
The site of America’s bloodiest single day, with more than 23,000 casualties. The turning point needed for President Abraham Lincoln to rethink the opportunities for peace and issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which started the process for eventually freeing the slaves from the entire United States. No African-American Union troops fought in the battle, but the effects on the lives of African-Americans are significant. Approximately 12 miles south of Hagerstown on Route 65. 301-432-5124
Founded under the supervision of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal Church (now John Wesley United Methodist Church) in 1818, the Asbury congregation is the oldest African-American church in Hagerstown. The existing building was constructed in 1879 as a replacement for the fire damaged 1864 building. The second oldest African-American congregation in Hagerstown is Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was founded in 1840. The Ebenezer AME congregation was housed in a number of church buildings on W. Bethel Street, with their most recent church demolished in the late 1990s due to concerns over structural conditions. Two other community churches from the 1800s still stand, including Second Christian and Zion Baptist. 155 N. Jonathan St., Hagerstown, MD. 301-791-0498
Built in 1816, it was the home of Dr. Elias Chaney. In 1859, six men and eight women were included as property in Chaney’s will. The house is currently The Hudson House Antiques Shop. 1 South High Street, Funkstown, MD. 301-733-1632
This one-of-a-kind private collection contains books, artifacts and pictures of the rich African-American history in Washington County. The museum is open by appointment only. 540 N. Locust St., Hagerstown, MD. 301-739-8185
According to the National Park Service, this was sometimes an underground railroad stop built about 1812 by John Blackford. This property included a ferry that crossed the Potomac into what was then Virginia. The ferry was operated by two enslaved men, who Blackford named “foremen of the ferry.” These two men, Jupe and Ned, ran the ferry with little oversight. They kept the records, purchased supplies and even hired free blacks for seasonal labor. The ferry remained in operation until 1851. South of Sharpsburg on Rt. 34. Sat/Sun. 301-582-0813, open summer weekends, C&O Canal, 301-739-4200
The land that is now Fort Frederick State Park was once owned by a free African-American named Nathan Williams. Williams was considered the second wealthiest African-American in Washington County. He bought the property and used it as farmland. During the Civil War, Williams used the farmland to produce food which he supplied to both the Union and the Confederate Armies. He helped escaping slaves get through Maryland. Fort Frederick was built in 1756 during the French and Indian War. The fort was also used during the Revolutionary War and during the Civil War. One mile off I-70, Exit 12 (Big Pool), 11100 Fort Frederick Road, Big Pool, MD. 301-842-2155
The most well known African-American entrepreneur in the early 1900s in Hagerstown was Walter Harmon. Prior to his death in his early 40’s in 1915, he built the Harmon Hotel, a bowling alley and dance hall for Hagerstown’s African-American community, and 37 houses in the Jonathan Street area of Hagerstown. The Harmon family operated the Harmon Hotel for many years into the 20th century. The hotel was important as the only place for visiting African-Americans to stay in Hagerstown during the segregation era. Willie Mays stayed at the hotel during his professional debut. Marker on Jonathan Street, Hagerstown, MD.
The planning ground for John Brown’s Raid of 1859. The raid consisted of John Brown and 21 other men, in an attempt to provoke a slave uprising. The raid took over the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry and seized a sizable amount of ammunition. Some historians believe that the raid marked the beginning of the end of chattel slavery, and helped spark the Civil War. Tours by appointment only. 2406 Chestnut Grove Rd., Sharpsburg, MD. Owner - South Lynn 301-652-2857 or 301-977-3599
Grand Army of the Republic posts, similar to today’s American Legion, cropped up all over the nation as a place for Civil War Union veterans to fraternize and be of service to each other. As the posts were segregated, members of Hagerstown’s white Reno Post #4 helped establish Lyon Post #31 for the “colored troops” from the area. A monument to the members of Lyon Post #31 was recently dedicated at the historic Rose Hill Cemetery. 600 South Potomac St., Hagerstown, MD. 301-739-3630
Baseball’s great Willie Mays played his first professional game in Hagerstown in 1950. He was the first African-American to play in Hagerstown’s Municipal Stadium in a minor league game. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career playing with the New York and San Francisco Giants, and The New York Mets.
Home of Richard and John Barnes. In 1800, they were the largest slaveholders in the county with 89 enslaved people. Richard Barnes’s will of 1804 freed all of his enslaved people two years after his death. These included famous African Methodist Episcopal minister, Thomas Henry. 13448 Broadfording Road, Clear Spring, MD. Private residence.
The ‘old’ North Street School, now Memorial Recreation Center, was built in 1888 with a 1924 addition. When its replacement was built in 1947, the old school was converted to a YMCA for use by the African-American community. The ‘new’ North Street School, now the Martin Luther King Center, provided the first secondary education of African-Americans in Washington County. Located on North Street, West of Jonathan Street.
During the Battle of Antietam, it was used as Longstreet’s headquarters, and also as a hospital. The 1836 home included slave quarters on the farm. On Antietam National Battlefield; viewed from Bloody Lane. Private residence.
Country home of Frisby Tilghman, one of the largest slave holders in Washington County. This was the home of James W. C. Pennington (c.1807-1870), minister, abolitionist and author. He escaped from here on October 28, 1827 and made his way first to Littlestown, PA then to New York City. 9030 Sharpsburg Pike, Fairplay, MD . Private residence.
16. Slave Auction Blocks, Hagerstown and Sharpsburg
Although the number of people enslaved in Washington County was less than the counties farther to the east, it was an active slave market. Slave catchers would hunt runaway slaves and sell them at auction in Hagerstown. The old jail on Jonathan Street housed escaped slaves. On the Sharpsburg Square and on the Terrace in Hagerstown, MD.
Both slaves and some free blacks attended this church alongside the white slave owners who founded it in 1849. The original slave balcony can be seen inside, and the historic cemetery contains the graves of several former slaves, including ancestors of Hagerstown’s Doleman family. 18313 Lappans Rd., Boonsboro, MD. 301-582-0417
Founded in 1866, Tolson’s Chapel was a Methodist church built on land donated by the Craig family. John Tolson was the church’s first minister. A Freedman’s Bureau school operated in the church from 1868 to 1870. The cemetery has burials dating back to the 19th century. 111 E.High St., Sharpsburg, MD. Open by appointment only. 240-452-7389
In recent years the WCHS has procured and catalogued nearly 250 documents related to slavery in Washington County, dating from April 1783. Documents include bills of sale, manumission documents and census records. This growing collection is available to researchers at the Society’s library. Open Tues.-Fri. 9am-4pm. 135 W. Washington St., Hagerstown, MD. 301-797-8782
A unique figure in Hagerstown history. An African-American born free near Middletown, MD in 1835, Jacob Wheaton moved to Hagerstown in the 1850s where he lived the rest of his life. During the Civil War Wheaton served as a nurse, helping to combat a smallpox epidemic in early 1863. Wheaton is most widely remembered as the first African-American to vote in the state of Maryland in the spring of 1868. His grave, recently rededicated, is located in historic Rose Hill Cemetery. 600 South Potomac St., Hagerstown, MD. 301-739-3630
This park, named in honor of Jacob Wheaton, was opened in 1935 by the City of Hagerstown to serve the African-American community. The gazebo was the original band shell from the Hagerstown City Park. 449 Sumans Avenue, Hagerstown, MD.
Served in the 9th Cavalry US Army. He received the Medal of Honor for his service at the Battle of Wounded Knee on December 29, 1890. He lived at 108 West North Street, Hagerstown, MD.
2014 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation of Slaves in Maryland. There are many activities planned during the Civil War Sesquicentennial. For more information go to: www.heartofthecivilwar.org
Elizabeth Hager Center 16 Public
Square Hagerstown, MD 21740
Special thanks to the Washington County Free Library,
Washington County Historical Society, African-American
Historical Association, Ron Lytle, and the Washington County
Convention and Visitors Bureau for their help in collecting
information and pictures. Designed by