Highway To History

POSTMARK: WOODSBORO

August 30, 1992|By IKE KLINGAMAN

Welcome to Woodsboro, the town that time forgot. Here, one hour west of Baltimore, one can get a haircut for $5, a pancake breakfast for 30 cents and an unsullied view of some of the prettiest farmland in Frederick County.

Here, on the cusp of the Route 270 corridor, stand the vestiges of a bygone era: a quaint 19th century hotel, several sprawling Victorian homes and a number of historic log dwellings long since cloaked in aluminum siding.

Woodsboro doesn't bulldoze traditions, it simply boards them up. The interior of the town's old theater looks exactly as it did when the place closed in 1953. The doors were locked after the last performance. With its old-fashioned stage and antique seats, the movie house now looks more like a movie set.

Townsfolk cling to their small-town ways. In Woodsboro, customers help wipe the crumbs off lunchroom counters. Old friends meet in the one-chair barber shop on Main Street. And if Mayor Charles Crum isn't in his office, he may be driving an elderly resident to the doctor.

Mr. Crum, 63, says Woodsboro (pop. 565) has its share of excitement. There's the annual town carnival, and country dancing at the firehouse on Saturday night. "Lots of exciting things happen here," he says. "Why, we just put in a new sewage system 12 years ago."

Each Tuesday, old-timers gather at the Woodsboro Livestock Sale and Flea Market as they have for 43 years, to dicker over the price of everything from calves to cantaloupes to cowboy boots. Some folks come just to chat or eat in the ramshackle lunchroom at the auction barn, where manager Irene "Beanie" Fox sells homemade pies and ladles ice-cold lemonade from a large white bucket.

But times are changing in Woodsboro. Butcherings are no longer social events. A housing development is slated for the north end of town. And the sign in the window of the old blacksmith shop says "VCR repairs."

Bad omens, all.

Traffic is brisk along Route 194, which bisects the town just as it did 206 years ago when Woodsboro was founded on rich bottom land in the Monocacy Valley. Then, the road was but an Indian trail.

"If this highway could talk, it would unfold history," says Dahl Drenning, a schoolteacher whose ancestor, Joseph Wood, laid out the village in 1786. Wood's 18th century brick mansion, a replica of the historic Wythe House in Williamsburg, Va., has been restored to its original splendor by the California couple who bought it recently.

Both George Washington and Ben Franklin passed through Woodsboro en route to Philadelphia. (Washington ate but didn't sleep here.) Colonial troops marched down Main Street on their way to the battle of Yorktown, Va.

One-third of the Union Army swept through Woodsboro toward a place called Gettysburg. So did Confederate Gen. Jeb Stuart, whose cavalry stole a number of the locals' horses. (Woodsboro leaned to the North during the Civil War. Nowadays, though, there is a place called the Johnny Reb Farm, so named for the owners, John and Rebecca.)

Like most old towns, Woodsboro has its favorite haunt: the graveyard at Grace Rocky Hill Church, site of the Tombstone That Sheds Blood. That's what a dying woman warned her husband would happen if he ever remarried. He did it anyway, and nearly 200 years later there are still mysterious red splotches on the smooth white headstone of Mrs. Fox.

You want legends? Woodsboro has produced two big-league baseball players. Archie "Lumbago" Stimmel won five games for the Cincinnati Reds before retiring to his hometown in 1902 to run a penny candy store. Ted Beard spent five years at Pittsburgh (1948-52), where he became the second man ever to hit a ball out of old Forbes Field. (Babe Ruth was the first.)

Woodsboro had its own sandlot team once: The old ball field is now buried beneath the Towne Restaurant. Score one for progress. But you won't hear a peep from these folks, as long as the Towne keeps dishing up slippery pot pies (crustless) and chocolate chip muffins.

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