Group searching for city’s oldest building

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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Forest Fire Breaks Out Before Storm Hits

Prior to the snow storm on Monday, conditions in local fields and forests were reaching a danger level in terms of dryness, as is evidenced by a woods fire that broke out Friday near the railroad crossing in Swanton. Volunteers from several local fire departments were summoned to the scene and contained the blaze after over 20 acres were scorched.


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Outdoorswomen: Wild ramps and rainbow trout

By Susan Guynn
News-Post Staff

SATURDAY WAS THE 11th annual Ramp Cook Off at Deep Creek Lake State Park in Garrett County. It’s a competition where participants prepare their tastiest dish using ramps — fried, grilled, saut?ed or raw.

I’ve never been to this event, but I do have a fondness for ramps. They grow wild in the eastern U.S., in the woodlands from the Carolinas to Canada. On a good weekend, dinner at the Guynn house could be wild ramps with morels and rainbow trout. Didn’t happen this year, but we have enjoyed some fresh rainbows and ramps fried with potatoes, and fresh ramps chopped into a salad on a couple of occasions.

Ramps have a flavor that’s a combination of onion and garlic. The plants begin to emerge in March, and April is the big month for harvesting. By May, the leaves start to yellow and die back. Over the next few months the plants will flower and develop seeds, hopefully producing more ramps next year. But, according to ramp expert and author Glen Facemire Jr., ramp seed germination is 5 percent or less. The West Virginia native has a ramp farm and sells ramps via the Internet (rampfarm.com).

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The Unpredictable Winter of 2012

Mother Nature simply cannot make up her mind this year, or so it seems. She brought spring-like weather to the mountaintop in February, but then enough snow early this week to close the schools for a day. Snow began falling late Sunday night, and the ground was white for most of the day Monday. With trees like this crab apple in full bloom and flowers wide open, the piles of white stuff did cause some damage, although not severe, as the temperature climbed back up Monday afternoon.


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Soon the snow was slush, and then just water. Rain is predicted over the weekend, although Friday is to be sunny. No point in guessing what the next month may hold, however. Photo by Lisa Broadwater.

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GC Commissioners Plan To Keep Current Tax Rate, Increase Board Of Ed Funding

Apr. 26, 2012

The Garrett County commissioners currently plan not to increase the real property tax rate, they stated in a letter to the Board of Education this week. During their public session last week, they had noted that in order to maintain the current fiscal year’s tax revenue, the rate would have to be increased from $0.99 per $100 of assessed value to $1.0331 in FY 2013.

“At this time the Board of Garrett County Commissioners plans to set the real property tax rate at the current rate of $0.99, which will result in $2 million less revenue, based on a reduction in assessments,” the letter stated. “The county plans to reduce expenditures with all county government departments.”


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But the commissioners plan to give the Board of Education $500,000 more this coming fiscal year than for the previous one. Total county funding for the board will be $25.359 million for FY ’13.

“This funding, coupled with the potential state stop/loss revenue to be determine during a likely special session of the Maryland General Assembly, and recommendations for savings from your elementary school advisory committees, should help to avoid the closure of elementary schools,” the commissioners wrote in their letter to the BOE early Tuesday.

By a majority vote, however, the BOE decided Tuesday evening to close Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools.

“While closing community schools is a simplistic approach, you are encouraged to have an open dialogue with the candidates for the position of superintendent on how best to resolve current and expected budgetary issues,” the commissioners’ letter stated. “The looming pension shift, couple with other state reductions to local governments, has prompted us to take the two-year appropriation approach.”

The commissioners noted in their that they could not commit to additional funding for the BOE next year.

“The board of county commissioners will make every effort possible, but cannot at this time guarantee the ability to maintain the same level of funding for FY 2014 with a careful analysis of any further state shifts in the next budget cycle,” the letter stated. “Total funding for Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014 will not exceed $25,359,000.”

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Uncertainty about budget has local educators on edge

Allegany, Garrett schools facing drastic cuts if state lawmakers don’t act

Kristin Harty Barkley Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Area educators say they’re optimistic that state lawmakers will reconvene in the weeks ahead to work out a budget that doesn’t include such devastating cuts for public schools.

But they’re worried it might be too late.

“Time is really of the essence right now,” said Evan West, Univserv director at Allegany County Teachers Association, who wore red on Thursday as part of a local effort to implore state leaders to act — and quickly.

The so-called “Doomsday Budget” — which includes around $3.4 million in cuts for Allegany County Public Schools and around $1 million for Garrett schools — went into effect earlier this month after lawmakers failed to agree upon a budget before the end of the 90-day session.

The Maryland State Education Association posted a “Doomsday Clock” on its website last week, which outlines in red the effects of the cuts.

“It’s a little theatrical, but it’s real,” West said. “You get to a certain point where counties can’t adopt budgets based on anything other than what they know, and right now what they know is that the doomsday budget is the law of the land. … We’re concerned about whether the effects of a special session will be timely enough to prevent the cuts we’re looking at right now.”

The Garrett County Board of Education voted on Tuesday to close two elementary schools and cut 28 teacher positions to deal with its anticipated shortfall. The Allegany County Board of Education hasn’t proposed any major program cuts yet, but is dipping deeply into its fund balance to make ends meet.

Allegany County commissioners have put their budget process on hold for now, but local governments must approve budgets well ahead of the beginning of the fiscal year, July 1.

The uncertainty has everyone on edge, including teachers.

“Tension is just incredibly high,” said Lynne Elmlinger, a kindergarten teacher at Broad Ford Elementary School in Garrett County. “I’ve never seen morale this low in all my years of teaching. … It’s hard to deal with. We’ve had tears. We’ve had a lot of that, actually.”

Some teachers fear that increased class sizes and a higher student/teacher ratio will decrease the quality of education that students receive. In Allegany County, 90 positions have been eliminated through attrition over the past five years, though not all were teachers.

“As we’re losing teachers it’s going back to we’re losing the special ed inclusion teachers, so there goes the one-on-one help that we try to provide in the high schools,” said Christa Williams, who teaches science at the Center for Career & Technical Education. “We’re providing that now, but as we keep losing teachers …”

Mount Savage consumer science teacher Carol McBride said that smaller class sizes help teachers spot troubled students early and get them on track.

“If you get the student ready to learn and eager to learn and having success, then he’s going to be good all through school,” McBride said. “But if he gets defeated at the beginning, he’s going to have problems through school and he’s not going to be successful in life.”

Some teachers are concerned, too, about losing funds for supplies and technology.

“If I lose lab money, there goes some hands-on, real life connections for my kids because I just can’t afford to do it out of pocket,” the Career Center’s Williams said. “We’re losing opportunties for our kids.”

Misty Dodson, who teaches at Cresaptown Elementary, which won a national Blue Ribbon award recently, said educators want to be able to maintain the quality of education they’re providing. Maryland was named No. 1 in the nation for the fourth consecutive year for high-quality public schools.

“All we’re asking is for the legislators to provide us a budget so that we can maintain that excellence,” Dodson said. “We want to continue to provide that quality of education instead of relinquishing to mediocrity.”

Across Garrett and Allegany counties, educators wore red on Thursday as part of the “Wear Red for Public Ed” campaign to urge lawmakers to act.

Northeast Elementary School teacher John Reuschlein said local public school employees are still in “a state of shock” over the the legislature’s failure to pass a budget.

“The great concern is to have the governor reconvene the legislators and make a realistic budget so that we aren’t damaged by this doomsday budget,” Reuschlein said. “… It’s important that the special session be called as early as possible because the counties have to make their budgets and we have to make our budgets. Class sizes are being determined now, as we’re speaking.”

Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at kbarkley@times-news.com

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Legislators review session; ‘worst year’ for Edwards

Matthew Bieniek Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Local legislators painted a bleak picture of the General Assembly session that ended earlier this month.

Sen. George Edwards said it was a “contentious year, the worst year since I’ve been in the legislature.” A special session is planned for May 14, Edwards said, to pass a budget instead of falling back on the so-called “doomsday budget.”

Edwards was speaking at the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Wrap-Up Breakfast at the Holiday Inn downtown. Also attending were Delegates Wendell Beitzel, Kevin Kelly and LeRoy Myers Jr. A second special session in the summer could deal with gaming issues, he said.

“The problem is … they picked winners and losers (in the ‘doomsday budget’),” said Edwards. The senator said he would have preferred a level funding approach. “That way you are treating everybody the same,” Edwards said. No matter what happens “we still have a very serious structural deficit,” Edwards said.

While Edwards said he thought income taxes would likely go up for some people, other taxes were nixed during the session and will stay dead for the special session.

“One thing I don’t think you have to worry about is a gas tax increase,” Edwards said. Edwards said mass transit programs should be funded as they are in several other states by a local mass transit tax. “We need to have that conversation,” Edwards said, rather than raise the gas tax.

“You will pay 30 more dollars when you flush your john,” Edwards said, referring to the increase in the Chesapeake Bay restoration fee increase. Edwards was successful in exempting those living in Garrett County west of the Continental Divide, since their streams do not flow into the bay.

The Agricultural Land Preservation Act, which effectively limits septic systems for large subdivisions will heavily affect rural Maryland, Edwards said. The effect will be a decrease in the value of farmland throughout the state, he said.

In the last three years “the governor has raided every fund you can possibly, think of,” said Beitzel, who introduced legislation to put a lock box on the bay fund. The legislation failed.

“We haven’t drilled one well in Maryland, but we had 22 bills on natural gas,” Beitzel said. Beitzel said the one bill that did pass dealing with natural gas drilling in Marcellus Shale created a presumption of fault by a gas company for problems within 2,500 feet of a well.

“This is a very difficult thing for the companies to deal with,” Beitzel said.

Education funding was also a disappointment for Beitzel. Garrett County had the biggest loss of education funding of any county in the state, he said, and that has led to decisions to close schools in the county.

Myers said one of his biggest concerns is the state business climate.

“We are becoming even more of a business-unfriendly state,” he said. The population of the state is increasing, Myers said, but not the number of taxpayers.

“Attracting new business to Maryland is just not happening,” Myers said.

Myers said the special session will cost taxpayers $50,000 a day, “which is wrong.”

“I wonder if as a state we really know where we are going,” Myers said.

Kelly believes allowing table gaming in the state, which would require a statewide vote, could benefit Rocky Gap. The General Assembly spent a great deal of time on same-sex marriage, which all the local delegation members oppose. Kelly said he believes voters will nullify the state’s same-sex marriage law if it goes to the expected referendum in November.

Kelly said he believed the May special session would last two to three days.

Beitzel said he felt the administration was “getting even” with rural Maryland. Edwards said the general view in Annapolis is that it’s cheaper to live out here, but Edwards said he wasn’t sure that was the case. “The fees add up,” Edwards said.

Maryland is the richest state in the nation, but Allegany County only has a median income of $38,000 and therefore a gas tax increase or $30 fee increase “means a lot more to someone here than out there,” he added. Edwards cited the median income of Howard County as $102,000.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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It’s time for the commissioners to address education and jobs

To the Editor: Cumberland Times-News

— To the Honorable Commissioners:

You are to be commended for your efforts in dealing with issues affecting our county such as ASCI, CARC and zoning, to name a few. Now it’s time to address what really matters, educating our children and employing our citizens.

It’s become painfully obvious that elected officials such as Gov. Martin O’Malley and Sen. Michael Miller are more concerned with bipartisan politics and pet projects (i.e. off shore wind farms and Prince Georges county casinos), than with our needs.

In our time of crisis, they adjourned, with no consideration for Garrett County. Isn’t it curious that our county generates substantial tax revenues, much of which comes from nonresident sources, yet those funds are inequitably allocated elsewhere in the state? How is it justified that the teachers and administrators in our county are paid substantially less than those in other counties?

How is it justified that it’s Garrett County that must close its schools?

The children of Garrett County are just as important, and the teachers of Garrett County are just as talented and committed as those in other counties.

Until the elected officials down state rectify this crime, in a fair and objective manner, this is the only issue the commissioners need to address. We need our county leaders to lead, and elected officials to act.

Because of the fiscal responsibility of current and prior commissioners, the county has virtually no debt and enjoys a surplus of funds. It is important to be in this position for a “rainy day.”

Commissioners … it’s raining!

Don’t let the closing of schools and destruction of communities happen on your watch. Don’t let loss of jobs, hopes, and dreams be your legacy.

Prove that you genuinely have concern for the people of Garrett County that those in Annapolis clearly don’t.

You have the power and means to get this county through this crisis until times improve. Short-term inaction will surely result in long-term harm to our children and teachers.

Time is running out.

Katelyn O’Brien

Swanton

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New 9-1-1 Dispatch Tool Now In Use

The Garrett County Department of Public Safety implemented a new computer software program this week called ProQA to better serve 9-1-1 callers with medical emergencies. With the help of this automated system, which evaluates incoming information according to logical rules built on expert medical knowledge, callers will be asked specific questions about their situations.


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“This will result in more appropriate response and treatment of the patient,” said Communications Chief Steve Smith. See story for details. Pictured, left to right, in the county’s dispatch room at the courthouse in Oakland are dispatcher Kenny Collins and Smith. Photo by John McEwen.

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No more property tax hikes in Garrett County

Cumberland Times-News

— It was with dismay that I read that Garrett County commissioners are discussing raising property taxes to handle the budget shortfall projected for next year.

In these dire times when the economy is bad and prices are rising, residents of Garrett County are already stretched thin and cannot afford a property tax increase.

Also, there is a proposed closure of Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools because of the short fall in the school budget which is disheartening for the Garrett County residents.

The two operating wind projects on Backbone Mountain are paying about $1.7 million per year in taxes to the coffers of Garrett County for the over 20 years. Additional wind development projects are proposed in Garrett County that could bring $2 to $3 million a year in addition tax revenues for the next 20 plus years.

Besides, these wind projects will bring much needed construction jobs and the developers will be pumping millions into the local economy. You can ask the Oakland area hotels and motels, gas stations, restaurants, fast foods and ice cream shops on Route 219 besides the concrete and stone suppliers, and construction equipment rentals.

These businesses can tell you what it was like during the Backbone mountain wind project construction in 2009 to 2011. We need to thank the previous commissioners that they had the foresight of supporting the development and construction of these two wind projects.

Instead of embracing wind development, the new Garrett County Commissioners are being brain washed by few nay-sayers in the name of aesthetics and are proposing unreasonable setbacks and height restrictions for the wind mills in the name of “Land Management Ordinance” and “Sensitive Areas Ordinance” which in actually amounts to county-wide zoning.

Everyone knows that, except for Deep Creak Lake and few other areas, any kind of zoning in the county will be vehemently opposed by majority of Garrett County property owners. All we have to do is to look towards our neighboring Allegany County, which adopted exactly the same ridiculous setbacks and height restrictions couple of years ago practically killing all wind development.

Now Allegany County is facing a budget shortfall of $3 million and facing cutbacks in services to the residents. Newly elected officials in Allegany County are realizing the loss and have recently negotiated a deal with the Somerset wind project across the border in Pennsylvania giving them transmission access which will bring in $14.5 million to the county and to the property owners over the next 10 years.

After the recent outcome of the Maryland General Assembly, where both Senate and House bills, seeking authority by Garrett County to enforce these setbacks and height restrictions for wind energy projects, failed in Annapolis.

Common sense begs to ask the questions: How can the legislature be expected to approve such bills that basically goes against the state law requiring 20 percent energy from renewable resources by year 2020?

I wonder if the county’s business experts ever bother to conduct any economic analysis to figure out the potential revenue losses by proposing these restrictions to kill potential wind development.

I believe in renewable energy. While the experts are studying the natural gas fracturing option for groundwater contamination from pumping chemicals in the ground, let us move forward with wind development in Garrett County.

Wind energy has none of the harmful emissions, is a clean and safe source of energy and wind turbines are generally quiet in operations.

For this reason, the American Lung Association uses windmills in their advertisement for clean energy. Wind development will help us avoid school closings, avoid reduced services and budget shortfalls. Let’s be smart and pro-business and support clean energy.

Robert Spangler

Frostburg

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