69 – Hager’s Town Charity School, 1842, Hagerstown, MD

The red brick house at the corner of Washington and Locust Streets in Hagerstown is distinguished by a large stone plaque set into its side wall. Washed with time, this nearly indecipherable memorial lavishes praise on the charity of Martin Hammond …as a benefactor–the friend of the poor and the patron of education. His liberal bequest to this Institution as a friend for the Education of poor children has enshrined his memory in many grateful hearts. A smaller bronze tablet notes that the building has been placed in the National Register of Historic Places. This modest building is the home of the oldest chartered charity in the state of Maryland, and this group has owned this same piece of land since 1831.

In 1815, Miss Isabella Neill visited Philadelphia and took a deep interest in the Ragged Schools that had been established there to educate the destitute. She saw the need for a similar institution in Hagerstown in a time long before Free Schools had become the norm. Upon her return home, she joined with three friends to do this. These single ladies found a schoolroom and began to teach. The community supported the enterprise, and they were soon able to hire a teacher.

In the 1818 session, the Hager’s Town Female Society for the Instruction of Poor Children was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly of Maryland. Their constitution provided for a president, secretary, treasurer and six managers to be elected each year. These were the women who ran the organization. There was also a three-member board of trustees, men who were to ...inspect the books, accounts, and proceedings of the said society and correct the errors that may be committed (if any)… Subscribers contributed to the school, and later, the minimum contribution for membership in the corporation was set at 25 cents a year. With its incorporation papers in hand, the Female Society could now receive gifts, own property and make investments as well as teach.

The Preliminary Declaration of the Female Society’s constitution states that the ladies …have agreed to form themselves into a society for the purpose of giving to children in circumstances of poverty, such an education as may, through the blessing of God, qualify them for usefulness and respectability in life. The second article adds: Children of both sexes, between the ages of five and twelve, will be received in such numbers as the finances of the society will admit. The boys will be taught reading, writing, and the first rules in arithmetic; the girls, reading, writing, the first rules in arithmetic, knitting and plain sewing.

 The year 1831 saw the purchase of the 41 foot by 240 foot lot at the corner of Washington and Locust Streets from the estate of Jacob Bowman for $480. The property to be used for the instruction of poor children and for no other use, intent or purpose whatsoever. There was a two-story log house on the property which the managers rented and which sometimes appeared in the minutes of their monthly meetings as needing repairs or having tenant problems.

One of the founders of the Female Society, Miss Susan Hughes, died in 1832 and left the generous bequest of $300. In 1834 the General Assembly authorized the county commissioners of Washington County to pay the managers of the society $60 annually, and the next year another act changed the name of the society to the Hager’s Town Charity School. On March 10, 1841, yet another act authorized the county commissioners to pay out of present or future surplus school funds a sum not to exceed $400 …to be used in the purchase of a parcel of ground and the erection of a School house thereon in the Town of Hagerstown…provided said School house be built within three years.

That same year, 1841, the generous Mr. Hammond passed away; leaving two-thirds of his estate to the Charity School, a bequest that was to be valued at $1,700, the interest of which was to be applied to the education of the poor. The Charity School’s home was built the following year, and the managers were able to enroll 50 scholars. Records refer to a schoolroom on Antietam Street for some years after this, so this building may have been used as a rental to generate income for the corporation or as a home for the teacher.

The school is a three-bay building laid in Flemish bond on the front elevation, with twelve-over-eight light windows on the first level and twelve-over-twelves on the second. The wing of the building, which extends up Locust Street, was built later in two stages and has several window types, including double-paned sashes with arches at the top. A small portico with simple rails protects the front entrance of the main block of the house. The door enters a central hall with the boardroom on its right. Here is a fireplace with its original mantel and plastered firebox. An enclosed staircase, rising to the second floor, once entered this room; but this door has been removed in order to meet fire codes. The stairs now exit directly outside through a door in the north wall. The woodwork is simple with plain corner blocks, and there are large iron box locks on several of the six-panel doors.

The managers met each month; but it was not until 1844, nearly 30 years after the ladies had undertaken their enterprise, that they began to record these meetings in a bound book with lined pages. The first entry, written in exquisite script, is the Society’s Constitution followed by the act of incorporation, and the acts of 1835 and 1841. There ensues almost 30 years of the history of the school. Meeting dates are noted, attendees recorded, but there are only the briefest minutes. Often there is just the comment, …No business of importance was done. But these records and the record of gifts give a hint of the effort and devotion that went into the Charity School.

Feb 10th, 1850…with great regret received the resignation of Miss Yeakle who had long and faithfully discharged her duty as Teacher in that school.

January 6 1851 The Treasurer’s books were examined, the School found to be in a flourishing condition, resolved that the present tenants remain the ensuing year.

First Monday in May…It was resolved that the building be painted, that the outside work, and the portico repaired and painted.

October 6, 1851 …it was resolved that some of the scholars should be turned out to make room for others who were more needy.

For four months, the ladies mulled the sale of one of the houses. Finally on ..December 6, 1852…resolved to sell the upper house for four hundred dollars, half the sum in cash and the other with interest.

Managers were elected to replace ladies who died or who left the area. Many meetings were not held because of the …inclemency of the weather…, and nearly every year the school was pronounced to be in flourishing condition.

September 5, 1853…it was resolved by the managers present that the amount of Jonathan Kershner’s note, consisting of 112 dollars and 40 cts be invested in Washington County Bank stock. Several scholars were dismissed.

1853 November 2nd …that not being able to procure Washington County Bank Stock as was resolved at the meeting held in September they have taken Hagerstown Bank stock for the note mentioned.

February 6th 1854…it was resolved unanimously that Mrs. Clark’s salary should be raised to the sum of 200 dollars the same formerly given to teachers, also to rent the house (now occupied by said Mrs. Clark) for 50 dollars instead of 45 and the upper house occupied by Youngs 40 dollars instead of 36 dollars, and each of the other occupants pay 16 dollars. Each of these figures was the cost for the year.

February 25th, 1856, There was a special meeting called in the Charity school room for the purpose of examining the buildings attached to the main one, to ascertain whether it would be more expedient to dispose of them, or repair, it was resolved by the managers…to have them repaired for the present year…Our beloved and devoted Treasurer Miss Isabella met with us for the last time, how sad and mournful the thought.

Monday, July 14th 1856…After expressing great sorrow for the death of Miss Isabella Neill, their late Treasurer, who was connected with the management of this school, from its commencement, and to whose unremitting care and deep interest in its affairs and direction the school is so largely indebted for its prosperity and usefulness, the managers proceeded to business.

September 27th, 1858…Young one of the tenants on the property attached to the Charity School was notified to leave on, or before the 1st day of April next 1859–in default of paying his rent…All other matters of business duly attended to–renting the rooms attached to the institute and reelecting the officers and managers.

April 7, 1860…Resolved that…it is expedient to sell that portion of the School house lot on which the two story log building stands, the property requiring many repairs, and the School often sustaining losses in rents from bad tenants…this Board agree and consent to a sale of one hundred and ten feet front on North Locust Street from the alley, to Mrs. Barbara Hershey for three hundred and fifty dollars; two hundred dollars to be paid in Cash, and one hundred and fifty dollars in one year with interest.

Over seven years after they had decided to sell, the managers finally found a buyer but for $50 less than they had hoped.

The Civil War passed without note in the minutes, despite the town’s being threatened by both Union and Confederate forces and having to be ransomed once. In 1865, at the annual meeting, $146.24 was reported in the treasury; and it was Resolved that the salary of the Teacher be increased $40–making it $240 for the coming year.

January 8th, 1866…The attention of the Trustees and Managers was called, to the expediency of some day having this school changed into an “Orphan Asylum” in consideration of the accumulating receipts and the many public schools, affording the children ample opportunities of education. The subject was only presented for consideration–hoping the day is not far distant when it may be acted on.

Jan. 1st, 1867…Ordered that the salary of Miss Eliza Keller, Teacher, be the sum of Two Hundred and Fifty dollars for the ensuing year.

April 5th 1868…The rents were collected, and repairs examined…The school seemed in good order, the children well clothed, and all looked well and happy. There being no business requiring attention, the managers adjourned.

May 4th…The gate between the yard and that of Mr. Hensel is permitted to be open as long as no complaints are made by the tenant of any trouble or trespass by children or chickens.

First Tuesday in September 1870…The importance of the female children being instructed in sewing was fully discussed and Miss Keller was requested to devote one afternoon a week to this very important part of the girls education…The sum of $10 was appropriated to purchase sewing materials and articles to be made up by the children for their use.

Jan. 23, 1871…The Christmas Festival, was one of the most agreeable and pleasant they have ever had. Generous hearts provided an ample feast; a beautiful Tree, loaded with gifts was provided and the children were made very happy.

December 4th…. ..Passed an order to supply a poor little girl with a pair of shoes. A donation of calicoe from Mrs. Loose, decided that dresses should be given to needy children and their parents requested to make them up for them.

Jan 8th, 1872…The Trustees respectfully report, that…they have invested the sum of Three hundred dollars in three Washington Co Bonds, with semi-annual Coupons of 3 per cent; each bond of the denomination of $100. They also report, that there is now in the Treasury, the sum of $77.25 and the Dividends of the Bank of Commerce, and Western Bank of Baltimore, for July 1871 and Jan. 1872 yet outstanding, but drawn for; when these shall have been received, the Treasury will have about $132 to begin the present year with. They further report, that the investments of the school, in stocks and Bonds are $3,555, all good and paying from 6 to 14 percent, receivable semi annually. To this revenue the rents and subscriptions are to be added; making an annual revenue of about $450. Resolutions were then passed that $7 be expended for the purchase of yarn and sewing materials for the use of the school.

The book ends, …And it was thought proper that a new book be purchased for the secretary’s use, and that this statement be placed in it. This is therefore the last record in the book, which now is closed.

 In 1907, the Charity School responded to changing times and became The Hagerstown Day Nursery. The back building has been raised, some doors made, windows put in, a bathroom added, the whole house calsomined, papered and painted in order to be thoroughly fresh, clean and sanitary. The doors and windows are screened and the floors covered with linoleum. Thus prepared, the Day Nursery entered on its new mission but continued to meet the needs of poor children and their families as it does to this day. The book For Donations gives an idea of the breadth of support the nursery had in the community and of the endless talent the managers had for making use of anything.

In 1912 the Day Nursery received among other things, …17 pt jars fruit, 4 loaves Bread, 5 glasses jelly, 1 box stockings, beans, cabbage, tomatoes, apples, meat, lettuce, sweet potatoes, 1/2 lb butter, cucumbers, 1 peck dried corn, $1.00 toward the hauling of sand, fish noodles, cheese, turnips, parsley, 4 dresses, 5 pairs bloomers, 5 drawers, 2 undershirts, 4 waists, 2 aprons, beef, chicken, walnuts, a bunch of celery and chocolate… In 1913, 50 cents was donated …from a friend,… a writing desk came for the boys, and …a dust pan and brush, cakes, three eggs, coal bucket, and three sacks… also made the list. …One dishpan, two buckets, three cooking pans, one skillet, and a large mop for school room floor… arrived in 1914 as did …a tablecloth for the kitchen and a dz tea spoons for use of children, 1 box of soap, and a strong barrel for ashes. One person gave $1 for a ton of coal. All gifts, small or large, were duly recorded, and used; even the …Nest of Cream Chocklet Eggs from Mrs. Suter.

Still blessed with volunteers and staff who serve for decades, the oldest charity in Maryland continues. Upstairs, across the entire front wing of the house, is the main playroom of the Day Nursery, full of light and paneled in narrow beaded boards. Twenty children, from three to five, come every day to be nourished and cared for here. The dining room displays several awards for their breakfast and lunch programs. The children are taught with puzzles, books, learning games, art and music by experts in early childhood development. There is a lovely fenced yard with large trees, a picnic table and toys that the nursery uses as much as weather will permit.

Money is still in short supply, but these earnest and dedicated managers continue, as did their earlier counterparts, to make do with what they are given. The Hagerstown Day Nursery is still found to be in a flourishing condition under the able leadership of President Judy Stine and her board of twelve.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, June 4,1995 as the 69th in the series.