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Welcome Sweet Spring

Linda Sandagger

More than a century ago, when Thurmont was still called Mechanicstown, William Need began his weekly newspaper, the Catoctin Clarion. With that first issue on March 4, 1871, our area gained a loud clear voice that reveled in its natural beauty, and encouraged its progress and industry. Mr. Need strongly believed dedication to one's work would bring success and that springtime could renew the spirit. In the first edition, he relayed this story, "Divine Mechanism", to instruct and enlighten his readers: "Old Christian Weller, one of the best and earliest mechanics of this village, who impressed his mechanical genius upon this town ... often used to say he was taught many a useful lesson by the constant toil of the industrious ant ."

According to the story, Mr. Weller would walk up the mountain to the Chimney Rock area in spring-time, find an old log to sit on and observe the ants at work. When he returned to his blacksmith shop the following morning, he found that the hardworking ants "had given him seemed he could turn out a better horseshoe or make a better edge tool, an axe, an adze or drawing knife, and temper it with more power and durability.

As a blacksmith, Mr. C. Weller was known to stand at the head of the mechanical art, and this town takes its name in a great measure from his genius and skill..."

To the blacksmith went the important job of shoeing horses. A poorly made horseshoe could lame animals relied upon for daily life. A good blacksmith took seriously the crafting of tools; the axes that cut timber for buildings and barns and cleared the huge trees so that fields of food could be grown for people and animals. He took seriously the tempering of the metal. If not done properly, the tool would weaken and break with user causing serious injuries or even deaths.

This story about the blacksmith gaining strength from the mountain and its hardworking ants, personified the Victorian reverence for the natural world. They learned valuable lessons by observing the ways of nature. When we imagine the immense amount of labor that was needed to live and thrive in that day, the "industrious ant" does seem to be a suitable model.

This tale, told in our early newspaper, was a story known in our town in 1871, and the chances are good that if Editor Need had not printed it, we might never have known of it. It is likely a tale from the oral culture, before the written word was commonly available to all. In this "folk culture", much news and general information was passed from one generation to the next by "word of mouth" and storytelling.

We would be lost without the dates and facts of documented history. But this too is history, and it is valuable because it tells us how people thought, how they felt, how they met the challenges of their day. The challenges have changed but the human heart remains much the same. It still responds to beauty, needs to find courage from time to time, and it is hoped, still wants to do the right thing.

Personal renewal in springtime is as important now as it was a century or two ago, and after a long, cold winter, beauty and warmth is just as welcome. Few blacksmiths walk among us today but all of us look forward to the fresh hope that the season brings. We too love the beauty of our area. Though "this village" has changed since the first publication of the Catoctin Clarion, we still find much to inspire us in springtime now, as Editor William Need did a hundred and twenty-eight years ago.

"The country begins to look decidedly pleasant. The grass is green, the foliage is green, the mountain begins to look green; and for a time...youth and beauty will shine forth. Now is the time to enjoy nature - out then into the woods and fields - and listen to the whirring of the pheasants and the shrill notes of the soaring lark." (Clarion, April 1871)