Where The Independent Spirit Soars

POSTMARK: LIBERTYTOWN

May 23, 1993|By Mike Klingaman

Libertytown is aptly named. People in this historic Frederick County village are an independent lot, as likely to buck tradition as follow it.

Libertytown has marched to its own drummer for more than 200 years, since its birth in the wake of the American Revolution. Conflict only strengthens the resolve of townsfolk. During the Civil War, Confederate troops raided the general store and marched down Main Street, pitching candy to ladies at their bedroom windows. The women responded by dumping the contents of their chamber pots on the rebels' heads.

Residents are quick to defend the town. Sometimes the enemy is progress. Old-timers recall the time in 1928 when Maggie Simpson held a road crew at bay all day by sitting in their path in a rocking chair, knitting.

You want characters? Libertytown has them. Howard Thomas, a barber, feared dying young, so he made his own tombstone and coffin and kept them in his shop. Alas, he died at 83. The slab, with a hand pointing downward, reads, "Returned to Mother Earth."

Another large stone memorial, erected in 1912, is dedicated to victims of the Titanic disaster, although no one associated with Libertytown was aboard the ship that sank. Folks were simply moved to honor the dead.

Conventionality is the exception, not the rule in Libertytown (the 425 residents call it Liberty, for short). One of the country's first schools for girls opened here in 1825, in a picturesque sandstone structure on the edge of town. The school is now a private home, as are most of the 19th-century shop buildings that line both sides of Main Street (Liberty Road). Families live in one-time ice cream parlors, taverns and pharmacies.

For nearly two centuries, there has been a general store at the intersection of Routes 26 and 75, beneath Liberty's lone stoplight. Folks could also gas up there until recently when the store had its pumps removed.

History isn't razed here, it's recycled. This preserves much of Liberty's storied past, from the old slave quarters and two-seat outhouse in Ada Poole's back yard to the beehive oven in Dot Radany's 18th-century kitchen.

The oldest house may belong to 84-year-old Thomas Sappington, whose ancestral Federal-style home, circa 1784, was built of brick brought from England as ballast in sailing ships.

As a carriage stop between Baltimore and Frederick, Liberty thrived in the 1800s. A century ago, the town had more than 20 businesses, including three general stores, two hotels, a newspaper and several blacksmith shops, tailors, grocers and milliners. But the railroads and turnpikes passed Liberty by. Gradually the shops closed, and families moved in.

"I'll bet there haven't been but six houses built on Main Street in my lifetime," says Stewart Cashour, 73. A Realtor, he resides in the house in which he was born.

"It's been a nice town to live in," says Mr. Cashour. "I wouldn't mind livin' my life over again here, except for the traffic."

Huge trucks, as many as 100 an hour, rattle down Main Street to elude the weigh scales on Interstate 70, which is eight miles south. If the locals aren't dodging 18-wheelers, they're sidestepping speeding cars.

"You can hardly get across the street anymore," says Louise Tregoning, who has lived around Liberty for 69 years.

A more subtle change is affecting the town. The old guard is dying, opening Liberty up to newcomers.

"We're making a changeover," says Wayne Stevens, 38. "There are younger people moving in, some with children. You can still let your kids walk up and down the sidewalks here."

Liberty is also a town where, on warm summer nights, neighbors congregate in places like Anne Morisey's porch, next to the post office, and chat until dark.

"You'll find very few fences between lots in Liberty," says Mr. Stevens. "People just like to gather here."

The Lowdown on Libertytown

* There is a replica of the Grotto at Lourdes (France) built into the rocky slope behind St. Peter's Catholic Church. It was built in 1914.

* The intersection of Routes 26 and 75 was the worst for accidents in Frederick County until the town got a stoplight two years ago.

* Slave auctions were held where the town's bank now stands. Libertytown was part of the largest slave-holding district in the county following the Revolutionary War.

* Libertytown was surveyed in 1739 and originally known as Duke's Woods. It was renamed in 1782.

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