History buffs have list narrowed to seven
Angie Brant Cumberland Times-News
— CUMBERLAND — More than 500 current and former residents have launched an investigation to determine where the oldest structure in Cumberland is located. They are using social media to help solve the mystery.
The Western Maryland History Group was formed on Facebook more than a year ago by local historian Steve Colby. The group became part of an extension for the research Colby was conducting on the National Road and Braddock’s Road.
“I established forums for the Cumberland Road Project and the Western Maryland History websites, but they saw little action. I wanted to create a place where people interested in local history could discuss a myriad of topics and share pictures and histories. Adding photos to the forum format can be difficult, Facebook simplfies the process,” Colby said.
Anyone with an interest in local history is invited to join the group and maybe help solve this mystery or begin an investigation on another topic.
Colby said the group is dedicated to “all things Western Maryland history from General Braddock to the Donohoe’s Hamburger Stand in LaVale. We’re looking for photos, documents and your recollections of bygone people and places in Cumberland, Frostburg, Hagerstown, Frederick, Oakland, Grantsville, Allegany County, Garrett County, Washington County and Frederick County.”
Soon, individuals from Cumberland and throughout the country started joining the group, sharing memories and posing questions about the history of the “Queen City.”
According to member Dave Williams, “Things got lively when I, local historian Bob Bantz, attorney Dan Press, local heritage expert Dave Dorsey and local resident Bill Feeney started kicking pictures and stories around about the people.
“When famous, familiar houses on Washington Street and Columbia Street came into discussion with a good picture, these guys started chiming with the amazing amount of human, social and economic history they knew,” Williams said. “All of a sudden the dry history came alive and people began to connect family names and their own personal experiences with the historic homes and buildings.”
Then, a question was raised that seemed to really pique everyone’s interest, “What is the oldest house still standing in Cumberland?”
“The group went crazy with enthusiasm, suggesting houses daily,” Williams said.
When it became clear that there was no definitive answer, Williams organized a search that would involve members from across the country.
The “principal investigators,” Press, a deed search attorney; Colby, an expert in old land patents; Dorsey, a former employee of the Maryland Historical Trust; and Feeney, a local history enthusiast; sifted through countless historical documents, relying on tips they received from their fellow Western Maryland History Group members. After six months, the “investigation” yielded what the group is calling its finalists.
The seven structures they have determined to be among the oldest still standing in Cumberland include: Hoye House, Washington Street, 1796; Simpkins House, Mechanic Street, 1809; Shriver Farmstead, Third Street, 1790-1810; Laing Farm House, South End, 1812; and Pigman’s End, Fayette Street, 1855.
Additional information is being sought on the Brinker House on Oldtown Road and 128 Greene St. Williams said evidence suggests both structures are early 19th century but a more accurate date has not been determined.
Rick Witt, a former Cumberland resident, recently joined the ranks of the group’s more than 500 members.
Now living in San Diego, Witt said the site has provided him an outlet to share his memories and love of the area, while learning something new about his hometown.
“I am now on the other coast and I am so terribly proud of the history of my hometown,” he said.
Calling the group a “a spectacular collection of minds and hearts who love this area and its history,” Witt said he enjoys the discussions and is pleased when he is able to contribute a bit of information to the online chats.
“I could probably write pages about the Western Maryland History Group and all the things I’ve learned. It is an amazing resource of information and insight into Western Maryland history from many who are working to preserve the rich heritage that we all are so passionate about,” Witt said.
“There are so many in the group who are profoundly interested and concerned about Western Maryland, its past, present and future. Through the posts, pictures and comments, the Western Maryland History group makes me walk down Fayette Street, through the alleys of West Side, up and down Baltimore Street; it is a virtual memory organizer for the sights and sounds of my hometown. I’ve walked Braddock’s Road on Haystack Mountain, sat on the edge of the Narrows and looked down on Nemacolin’s village at Wills Creek; for those who understand and appreciate the history of the area, the Facebook group offers us the opportunity to connect with like-minded people to share thoughts, pictures, news and so much more.
“I’m only saddened by the fact that I can’t jump in the car or take a walk and reinforce the memories that the group has helped refresh and restore,” Witt said.
Colby has also created several other faces Facebook pages: Architecture of Cumberland; Architecture of Western Maryland and the Alleghenies; and Cemeteries and Other Favorite Haunts.
Contact Angie Brant at abrant @times-news.com.
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