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Emmitsburg Historical Society

 The Search For the History of Windy Meadow Farm

Michael Hillman

A few years after purchasing our farm, I have found myself playing detective in what has increasingly become a fascinating and engrossing trek through the history of the lands along Sixes Bridge, Dern, and Four Points Roads, which form the drainage basin for a creek called Stony Branch. The more I began to uncover about the history of the land, the more I began to wonder about the people that once lived on the vast family farms which occupied much of the land south and east of Emmitsburg. The more I discovered, through literary research, interviews, and hacks through the countryside, the more I realized how much history of this valley has gone untold and, in many cases, unrecorded.

It all started off as a simple story. It was Christmas Eve and I was enjoying a warm fire in my study, which at one time, years ago, served as a summer kitchen. For the prior few weeks, I had been working on a mantle piece, which was intended to be the finishing touch to a yearlong restoration effort. Made out of old fence boards, the mantle was meant to symbolize that everything, no matter how old, could still serve a purpose.

That evening, as I sat and admired the reflection of the flames off of the old books in the bookcases, I decided that a story on the history of the room would be interesting to do. The story quickly grew to encompass all the restoration work that Audrey and I had done on the house over the past few years. As I was writing, it occurred to me that I knew more about the history of the Bridge over Tom's Creek, or for that matter, the Roman Empire, then I knew about my own house.

According to bits and pieces of stories I have heard, the house was once the tenant house for the old Bollinger family farm and it was built some time around the turn of the century. Curiosity soon got the better of me and the day after Christmas I found myself in the records room of the county court house looking up past deeds on the property. With a lot of help from Bonny Fuss, I was able to trace the ownership of the farm back through five previous owners, to the 1940's. There, much to my surprise, I discovered a deed of transfer showing that the farm had not always been one lot, but was made up of three small lots, each with its own distinct history.

As I went a further back in history, I discovered that the names I have become so familiar with, i.e., the Wivells, the Valentines, the Zurgables, were never mentioned. Instead the records spoke of unknown families bearing such names as the Zacharias, the Weltys, the Stansburys, and the Maxwells. Unlike present deeds that contain only facts related to degrees, feet and acres, deeds written in the 17th and 18th century provide a glimpse into the past, often referring to the circumstances surrounding the property transfer and almost always to the names of neighboring farms and their owners.

As I soon discovered, at the turn of the 18th century, the plateau which our farm occupies and the valley it overlooks were divided into four major farms: to the west was Alta Vista, to the north, Diggs' Lot, to the east, Delight, and to the south, Single Delight. Surrounding these farms were older farms from which they had been broken off, farms with names such as Brotherly Love, Whiskey Bottle, Benjamin Good Luck, and Buck's Forest.

While the original deeds noted the dimensions of each of these farms, their exact placement in the valley eluded me. Like all mysteries however, seemingly insignificant comments turn out to be major clues, as was the case when my neighbor, Rick Yinger, remarked while looking at an outline of 'Single Delight' that it looked remarkably like a diagram on his deed. Sure enough, his deed contained a plot of his farm, superimposed over the 1940 boundaries of 'Single Delight'. Much to my surprise, and relief, the boundaries of 'Single Delight' had not changed much since its founding in 1762.

Later, Joe Wivell Jr., while looking over an 1809 diagram of 'Whiskey Bottle', remarked that it looked remarkably like a section of his fatherís present day farm. Sure enough, when the old deed were superimposed over a diagram of the present day Wivell farm, most of the original 17 century boundary lines matched up perfectly, and unchanged. Much like working a jigsaw puzzle, I was able to plot out the exact locations of the other original farms.

When the warm weather of early January descended upon us, I availed myself of the pleasant weather, mounted my horse and began to survey the land. Riding the original boarders, I often found myself wondering what the original farmers had seen and what made them decide to settle in this valley. From the vantage point of a horseís back, like the first settlers, I was able to get a perspective of the valley that one can never grasp while driving in a car. Knowing that in the 1700ís, boundaries of land were based primarily upon the direction water flowed after a rain, the rationale for the boarders of the original farms soon became apparent.

An unexpected, but pleasurable benefit of this effort has been the discovery of little known or long forgotten items of curiosity. For example, I discovered that the little creek I have driven over for the past seven years has a name - 'Beaver Creek' - and that it emptied into 'Stony Branch' a another creek which had been, up until this time, nameless to me. I also discovered that on one side of our house once stood the local one room public school, which Emmitsburg resident Mary Krom attended, and on the other side once stood a yellow house, torn down in 1929, whose children were Mary's playmates.

My research also took me outside the confines of the valley and I discovered stories about Confederates passing through Emmitsburg (which was not a bastion of Union Support), on their way to Gettysburg. Much to my surprise, I discovered that Emmitsburg was where General Mead had planned to fight Lee and that by fate alone Emmitsburg escaped the onslaught Gettysburg received.

The deeper I got into this story, the stronger I found the pull to write at least part of the history. I say part, because the history of Emmitsburg is fairly well documented from its beginning to about 1906 in a book titled 'The History Of Emmitsburg' by Helman. However, little of our rich history has been written since then and, though it has not yet been lost, it resides only in the memories of our fellow neighbors. I developed a sense of urgency in my efforts to record the history of the land and its people when I learned of Bob Sailor's death. I had the great honor of interviewing Bob just before Christmas and the wealth of knowledge he freely gave to me has kept me occupied since then. I regret deeply that I only scratched and recorded the surface of the memories of probably the greatest man Emmitsburg ever sired.

I have no idea how many months it will take to accurately and effectively retell this valley's history. But as was repeatedly stressed in the recent community considerations over the fate of Four Points Bridge, history is an important link in our sense of community. Many, however, like myself, whose careers have taken them far from their roots, have few local connections from which we can easily garner the rich unwritten stories about our adopted hometown. Others, unfortunately, have simply discounted too greatly the value of memories and historical artifacts, thereby unintentionally exposing them to the dust bin of history.

If this history is to come alive however, I will need the help of everyone with tales of the past. No memory is unimportant so, if you are willing to share yours, please contact the newspaper and an interview will be arranged. Also, since I am concentrating my efforts on the lands and families located southeast of Emmitsburg, collaboration with individuals living in Emmitsburg and to the west or north will greatly enhance the scope, quality and appeal of the resulting stories. If you are interested in helping, please contact the Dispatch.

As this edition goes to print, I find that in spite of extensive research, I have been able to uncover only a limited amount of information on such key families and individuals as the Stansburys - both Nicholas and Noah - William and Mary A. M. Welt, Albert and Mary L. (Welt) Valentine, the Forney's, the Whitman's, the Moser's, the Maxwell's, the Marshall's and the Chaliceís. Any story or lead on them, no matter how insignificant it may seem, will be welcomed. Also any information or maps related to Buck Forest, Frisk Dam, or Diggs' Lot would also be appreciated. If all goes well, it is my intention to begin the series in the April edition.

Read other stories by Michael Hillman