61 – Valencia, circa 1925, Hagerstown, MD

There it sits, on Potomac Avenue, a froth of pink stucco, shaped parapets, tile roofs and bells–a relic of the Spanish Mission heritage we never had. Perhaps because of its incongruity, there is a special charm about Valencia.

Until 1925, girls attended high school at the Broadway School, boys went to Surrey School across from City Park, and the common gathering place for these young people was Spielmans on North Potomac Street. That year the new coed Hagerstown High School was built on the east side of Potomac Avenue. Shortly after, Valencia was built across the street to serve as a soda shop for the students who attended school there. The inside was an open triangle, with the south wall following the angle of Laurel Street. A long counter was built on the north side of the room. The kitchen filled the narrow rear of the building, with skylights brightening the interior. There were entrances on Potomac Avenue and in the tower at the corner. All the windows were arched, and there was a small office built above the main store area in a sort of mezzanine.

In 1896, at the age of eighteen, Herbert L. Kneisley came to Hagerstown from Woodstock, Virginia. He took a position in the drug store of J. W. Cook and Brother, which operated in Hotel Hamilton. Two years later, at the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Kneisley enlisted in the old Douglas Guards, later transferring to the Medical Department of the U.S. Army. He then served two years in the Philippines. Upon his return, Kneisley entered the University of Maryland, where he earned a medical  degree in 1905. After practicing medicine for a year in Westminster, he returned to Hagerstown in 1907 to practice medicine and to purchase Dr. H. C. Herman’s drug store on South Potomac Street. Described as …one of Hagerstown’s most aggressive men… in several newspaper articles, Dr. Kneisley acquired other drug stores and real estate, went into the medical publishing business and retired from the practice of medicine in 1919 to devote himself entirely to his business interests.

On October 30, 1926, Dr. Kneisley purchased the odd triangular lot at the corner of Potomac and Laurel. The deed included the following restrictions which had been placed on the property several years earlier:

1. No building shall be erected on said realty which is not set back at least a distance of 25 feet from the inside sidewalk line.

2. No house shall be erected on said realty costing less than $2,500.00.

3. No old building shall be removed from any other location and set upon said realty as a dwelling.

4. No intoxicating liquors shall be sold on said realty.

These restrictions disappeared in 1929 when Dr. Kneisley and his wife transferred this and four other properties to Mary Elizabeth Bester, Daisy Kneisley’s sister, who promptly transferred them back to the Kneisleys the same day.

With his experience owning drug stores, the lot on Potomac Avenue was a good choice for another such venture. A photograph dated 1927 shows Dr. Kneisley in front of his Spanish creation. He had fallen in love with these architectural forms in his travels and introduced them to Hagerstown both in his home, 1003 The Terrace, as well as on Potomac Avenue. Not knowing what to call the new store, he held a contest to name it. Ruth Hankey Murphy won the prize, ten dollars, for her choice: Valencia. By coincidence, her brother James Hankey was the manager of the store for a time while his father rented it. Hankey Ice Cream was served there.

Dr. Kneisley died in 1929, and in 1932 his wife deeded the building to their daughter Mary Bowman. George Callas leased the building and ran it as a sandwich and ice cream shop. His sons Mike, Pete, Greg and Bill all worked there as did their sister Marie. After the sandwich shop, Valencia became a grocery store, and in 1971 Connie and Art Richards purchased the building from Mrs. Bowman. For many years, Connie ran a beauty shop there, and in 1984 Connie and Art renovated the building to become offices for their travel agency.

The original windows are still there as are the hanging light fixtures and the skylights. The exterior has been restored and the stucco is freshly painted. The bells still hang in the parapet walls as well as in the tower where students from Hagerstown High used to climb to toll them in celebration of football victories. New oak floors have been laid and the old dirt-floored basement excavated to provide conference space as well as a furnace room. A new wall, also pierced by arches, was built across the interior to better divide the space into offices; a second level was placed over part of the space to provide another office, which is accessed by an elegant spiral staircase. There is still a small kitchen area at the back of the building, and the old iron door that opened to the incinerator still punctuates the end of the triangular building.

Louise Beachley, a 1924 graduate of the Broadway School and later a teacher at Williamsport and at Hagerstown High School, remembers Mr. Callas letting the boys who furtively smoked at The Val hide in the basement when Principal Zentmyer came looking for them. A generation later, Connie Richards can remember sitting in the Valencia as a high school student, keeping a watchful eye out for the guidance counselor, Atlee Kepler, so that she could dash out the other door before he arrived. Kids don’t hang out at The Val anymore, but many remember the old days, and the Richards have done a masterful job reusing the building.

This article appeared in the Herald-Mail Sunday, October 2, 1994 as the 61st in the series.