Your Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick County Md./Southern Adams County Pa., how it all began . . .

Michael Hillman

While fooling around back in 1997, I entered "Emmitsburg, Maryland" into the search bar of my favorite Internet search engine. Being an historic little town, which proudly traces its roots back to 1786, I was sure my browser’s window would quickly fill with interesting and heretofore unknown information about it.

Instead, I was directed to web sites whose relationship to Emmitsburg left me scratching my head. Sites such as: "Paula's Passion Pit of Pain & Pleasure" in Baltimore, out-of-state real estate firms, used car companies, and one-size-fits-all "commercial" community portal sites that contained only links to the Hagerstown weather forecast. When a page did actually deal with Emmitsburg, it was usually three or four years old, crudely designed and, in short, an eyesore.

As I clicked through page after page of dead links and irrelevant material, it became clear to me our town's name had been hijacked. On the Internet, Emmitsburg looked like a long-decayed, rust belt town rather than a thriving historic community.

The Internet: the 21st century equivalent to the 19th century railroad

In the 1880's, Emmitsburg was one of the largest cities in Western Maryland, the hub of a thriving farming community. However, like other small cities, the decision not to route a major east-west railroad through the town marked the beginning of what would become a long, slow, painful decline. Without access to efficient mass transportation, local industries closed and farms failed. Without meaningful work, the best and brightest of its youth moved onto greener pastures.

Today, however, the tide is changing. Located within easy commuting distance of both Baltimore and Washington, Emmitsburg has the potential for becoming a Mecca for Internet savvy, white-collar professionals. For this to occur, however, the way Emmitsburg was presented on the Internet had to change. One hundred years ago we moved too slowly and, as a result, lost the railroad. We could ill afford to make the same mistake twice.

Piece by piece: the founding of

In February 2000, driven by the desire to reshape Emmitsburg’s Internet presence, the Emmitsburg Historical Society began work on an Internet site they hoped would help facilitate the collection of historical information from genealogy and history buffs across the country.

Recognizing that material collected by the Historical Society could be used by the Emmitsburg Dispatch to help educate the Emmitsburg public on the rich history of the town, the Historical Society agreed to host an on-line edition of the newspaper as well as to share archival information.

The two web sites, while similar in design, served two different communities and, as such, a web address focused only on one of them would be a disservice to the other. The answer to this dilemma came in the shape of the Emmitsburg Council of Churches.

In 1999, the Council had published a visitor's guide to Emmitsburg containing information on things to do in Emmitsburg, its businesses, churches, and civic groups. The Council’s material formed a natural bridge between the Historical Society’s and Dispatch’s web sites and opened the door for other groups.

Shortly after the creation of this third web site, the two founding organizations were joined by other organizations. Today, consists of twenty-two sites with more than 8700 web pages and draws more than 9000 visitors a day! - That's "visitors" - not "hits"!!!

It’s an 'integrated portal,' not a web site

The purpose of is to provide Internet users an easily located one-stop spot to access anything and everything they would ever want to know about our charming town. To accomplish this, seamlessly integrates information contained in all of its individual web sites.

A web site, by its very nature, focuses on a specific topic, much as a business does. But to truly experience Emmitsburg, one does not simply go to one store or talk to one person, but visits many stories and talks to many people.

Unlike many portals, which are simply web pages with links to external sites, the founders of set out to create a site that will allow visitors to experience Emmitsburg as if they were being escorted by five knowledgeable town residents. This virtual tour is accomplished by intensively interlinking articles and web pages with hyper links, thereby allowing users to follow any topic or path they choose.

With more than 4000 pages and growing, the path one takes to experience Emmitsburg online can be as individual and unique as one’s time and interests allow.

The benefit of being part of an integrated portal

You hear it everywhere today. It’s the opening comment or the closing comment for every chance meeting: "Check out my web site at www." Well the truth is, yes, you could log into the Emmitsburg Veterinary Hospital if you knew their address, the same with the Emmitsburg Antique Mall. And yes, its fun to have your own site, but the down side is that you're out there all alone. Strength is in numbers. As any firefighter will tell you, when you work as a team you win. Individuals might accomplish something, but not as much as a team will.

Since moving here eleven years ago I have been frustrated with trying to figure out what's happening in Emmitsburg. If you are a member of the Lions Club, you know what they are doing, but, if you’re not, chances are you haven't a clue. The same is true with the Ambulance Company, the VFW, and the Moose Lodge, etc. Each is its own individual community of interest with no apparent communication mechanism outside of its circle of interest.

While each of these organizations has good intentions, lacking any central clearinghouse to coordinate their activities, their impact is not as great as it could be if they could join forces. As a member of a portal, however, a visitor to one part of the site is exposed to the presence of the whole group. The greater the exposure, the greater the chance that people will visit any particular site. This is known as "exposure multiplication."

A perfect example of exposure multiplication is the "Upcoming Events" section. A visitor looking for activities in Emmitsburg can log into it and discover what all of our organizations have to offer. If they had been required to find each site, who knows which site they may have missed. To make it even more user-friendly, instead of going to a new home page, viewers instead are taken to a page inside the organization’s site that contains all the details on the event. The more we can offer visitors, the more they will come back.

Site statistics

The beauty of the Internet, as well as its darker side, is that visitors leave a trail for one to follow. With today’s current technology, we can tell what interested each visitor, what pages and sites they visited and for how long.

In April 2000, averaged 25 visitors a day to the site. In the first two weeks of January 2003, averaged 1100 visitors a day, a fifty fold increase in just under three years! To put it in different terms, 1100 visitors a day translate into 401,500 visitors a year!

Of those 1,100 visitors, roughly a quarter came to read the history articles, another quarter came to writings of our local priests and ministers, another quarter log in to read entries in the gardening and humor sections, and the remainder were looking for information on the town government or businesses and services in local area.

Where do we go from here?

If visitors find it hard to quickly find what they want, they'll rarely come back. is designed to allow visitors to explore all of Emmitsburg and all it has to offer. But, while we’ve made great strides in the past few months, we still have a long way to go. If we are to accomplish a truly integrated presence for Emmitsburg on the net, organizations, businesses and, yes, people will have to step back from identifying with only their site and, instead, embrace a more corporate or community vision of Emmitsburg.

While the addition of future community organizations and businesses over the next few months will continue to insure greater content supply, and the inclusion of a virtual tour will cement the integration of the site, we need the rest of Emmitsburg community to join the fight.

What can you do? If you’re not a member, join us. If you’ve never toured the full site, do so. Tell us what you think. If you like what you see, spread the word whenever and wherever you can. It’s your web site. Support it, and it will support you and your community.


The Internet is today's Wild West and the rules of the game are changing almost every day. Yesterday’s unknowns are today’s billionaires. Why shouldn't Emmitsburg be a leader in how a small town presents itself on the Internet?