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How many candles?
Residents disagree on Emmitsburg’s birthdate

Ingrid Mezo

Emmitsburg Area Historical Society president Mike Hillman points out features of a 1797 map of Emmitsburg in his home near the town
(Photo by Bill Ryan/The Gazette)

(6/22) About 20 people attended an Emmitsburg town meeting on Monday to argue about the town’s founding date and what information should be displayed on the town flag.
The flag now includes the town’s incorporation date of 1825 and a founding date of 1757.

Emmitsburg resident Bill Steo made an eight-minute presentation arguing that since the town flag includes a founding date of 1757, the town should start planning for a 250th anniversary celebration to be held in 2007, and provided three ‘‘proofs” of why the town’s founding date is 1757.

Emmitsburg Area Historical Society president Michael Hillman and others from the society also came to the meeting and said all facts point to a true founding date of 1785.

The society covers the areas just south of Gettysburg from the Monocacy to Blue Ridge Summit just north of Thurmont, which encompassed the original Tom’s Creek Hundred, area from which most of the original settlers of Emmitsburg were drawn, Hillman said.

Steo and other town residents, many of whom had been present at a bicentennial celebration in 1957, argued that the historical society was using the wrong definition of the word ‘‘town.” They said that town residents, not members of the historical society, should have the final say in the town’s founding date.

Town resident and Catoctin High School teacher Talia Bookman was one of 10 people who spoke in support of the historical society’s view of 1785 as the true founding date. Many of the historical society’s members and supporters are former town residents or are descendants of the town’s original settlers. ‘‘Information can change through time, otherwise the Earth would still be flat right now,” Bookman said.

During his presentation, Steo said, ‘‘No one can have knowledge of the founding date that can be anything more than an opinion.”

He spoke of nomadic peoples wandering and establishing towns through the act of determining a border. The reason they did this, Steo said, was to keep others out, let residents know the limitations of their property and to distinguish one community from another.

‘‘Emmitsburg’s long tradition supports the view I’m making,” Steo said. ‘‘If the tradition isn’t true, why has it been preserved so long?”

Steo made a request to town officials to allow him to make a presentation on the founding date during a town meeting.

Following public comment on the presentation, town officials did not say when, or if, they would make a decision on whether to change the town flag.

Thurmont Commissioner Clifford Sweeney said he sided with Steo and other town residents on the 1757 founding date. About 10 town residents spoke on behalf of the 1757 founding date.

Hillman entered two historical artifacts as evidence into the town’s record.

One was an original dollar, and the other was a brochure from a production company that the historical society says went around the country in the 1950s convincing towns to throw bicentennial celebrations.

‘‘Yes, [in 1757] there were people living in northern Frederick County called Tom’s Creek 100, but there was no one living on the land bought by Samuel Emmit,” Hillman said.

Former town commissioner Ted Brennan also spoke in support of 1785 as the true founding date.

‘‘There were Native Americans living on the land before that, so why don’t we celebrate the 10,000th anniversary of the town’s founding date?” he asked. ‘‘The authority is not in the town, history is the only authority.”

Town resident Larry Little read from a written statement in support of 1757 as the founding date. He spoke of remembering the bicentennial celebration in 1957, the way men and women dressed in clothing from the 1800s, having a parade, and contests including a beard-growing contest among the men.

‘‘The bicentennial celebration taught me many things, [including how to be part of a community],” Little said.

‘‘If you don’t like it, if you don’t want to live here in Emmitsburg, move away.”

Emmitsburg resident Elizabeth Garner, 81, said she also remembers the town’s bicentennial celebration.

‘‘I was 33 years old in 1957,” she said. ‘‘Up to that date, historically, the founding date was understood to be 1785. I really wish the Town of Emmitsburg would not be party to a lie.

‘‘Rather, [the founding date] should be 1785.”

Read other news stories related to the Emmitsburg Town Government