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 From Mechanicstown to Thurmont

Anne Cissel

Like most early villages established on the frontiers of Maryland in the mid-18th century, the site of the modern Thurmont reflected the physical and geographic advantages of the area. The powerful Hunting Creek that runs through it would power its mills: the mountain lands were rich in timber for building and bark needed for its infant tanneries. The plentiful iron ores provided the impetus for the success of the Catoctin Furnace, whose output was shipped from the wagon roads intersecting near the village.

The traditional date of the founding of Mechanicstown is given as 1751 in history books; however, more comprehensive, modern research has shown that pioneering German settlers were already on parts of the land in the mid-1740's. At least three of the land grants underlying Thurmont predate the creation of Frederick County from Prince George's County. The land around "Weller's Church" sits on 50 acres of a tract called "Beauty" patented by John Weller in 1744, while in 1738 another Jacob Weller "The Moravian" began to survey lands that would extend along today's Moser Road, from the intersection we now call Jimtown Crossroads.

Most of downtown Thurmont is located on the Lorenz Krieger (Lawrence Creager) farm on 866 acres named "Stoney Corner," surveyed and resurveyed between 1744 and 1764. It was not until 1803 or 1804 that his eldest son John Creager would lay out 50 building lots on his half of the inherited land. By that time, the settlement had prospered with its own iron forges, grist- and sawmills, and a tannery. The presence of barrel-makers, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and other craftsmen prompted the name Mechanicstown for the newly surveyed community.

The coming of the railroad in 1871 assured Mechanicstown's place as a commercial hub. Along with the old tanneries and mills, newer industries such as cigar-making, pottery, coffin works and lumber businesses shipped their goods from a freight depot. The produce of its bountiful farms and orchards fed the cities. In return, some of the city dwellers escaped the heat and smells of summer to enjoy the clean air and mountain scenery of our town. The numerous daily trains brought sportsmen and hikers, but also summer boarders whose families returned year after year.

By 1894, Mechanicstown's progressive merchants, bankers and town leaders had determined that the old name was antiquated and smacked of a by-gone image. The push for a new name to replace Mechanicstown came about suddenly in 1893 from several sources, but primarily from the town's commercial and business leaders who wanted a more "modern," progressive name that reflected the town's new image as a market center and summer retreat. The railroad was all for the idea, since it would relieve the shipping and passenger problems caused by a profusion of the "sound-alike" communities. There was Mechanicsburg and Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, and Mechanicsville, Maryland (now Olney), as well as our Mechanicstown, Maryland.

Newspaper editor Charles E. Cassell promoted the idea in the local paper and the focus of discussion soon became what new name rather than whether a new name. Suggestions were printed in the Catoctin Clarion and a good-natured debate in newspaper columns kept interest alive. Finally, it boiled down to a choice between Charles Shipley's idea of Blue Mountain City and Editor Cassell's idea of Thurmont. On January 4, 1894, a mass meeting was held at the Town Hall where the two competing names were presented. Over 80% of the men voting approved the name change and Blue Mountain City received the most votes. That is when the Post Office stepped in and decided that the proposed name was too long; it approved the name Thurmont.

A Bill was introduced in the General Assemble on January 18th, and the town of Thurmont, Maryland, was soon on the map. No one knows exactly who coined this unique part-German (Thor - Norse god of thunder), part-French (mont - mountain) name.

Thurmont is a fine name-but Blue Mountain City would have been nice, too. Thurmont's slogan "Gateway to the Mountains" reminds us that the same scenic beauty and complimentary atmosphere that attracted people to young Mechanicstown is still evident in modern Thurmont.

To learn more about Thurmont's History, visit Anne Cissel's Thurmont Scrapbook