Coveting thy neighbor's museum War between the sites?: Frederick, Hagerstown tussle over Civil War medicine museum.

March 13, 1997

IN THE ANNALS of battle strategy, it doesn't rank with Little Round Top. But Hagerstown's recent attempt to wrest a museum of Civil War medicine from nearby Frederick was the kind of incursion that can lead to bad blood between neighbors.

Frederick, which already boasts a delightful downtown, was doubly proud of the fact that a dentist who is a major collector of items related to the treatment and surgery of soliders during the "War Between the States" had chosen it as a base for his artifacts. A vacant storefront in the heart of town began displaying some of the artifacts last summer, with plans to raise money and interest to create a tourist attraction of regional quality.

The project has suffered some fits and starts, but that's not uncommon; the recent struggles in Baltimore of the nationally praised American Visionary Art Museum and the City Life Museums are proof that even far larger attractions often have fragile infancies.

Hagerstown officials learned of problems with Frederick's museum and figured all's fair in love and tourism war. They contacted the non-profit museum board to suggest it pack up and head west to their fair city.

It seemed a striking act of unneighborliness, especially against the backdrop in the metropolitan region of the executive in Baltimore County shooing away suggestions for a minor league hockey arena or more convention business for fear it would hurt Baltimore. In Frederick, it appears that the medicine museum is staying put for now and Western Maryland's largest towns, fortunately, have not declared war on one another.

Hagerstown has otherwise been an exemplary model of an area working to build a hospitality trade.

It has been fashioning itself as an axis for Civil War tourism, well positioned near the underrated, untainted Antietem battlefield and not too far from Gettysburg, Pa., Manassas, Va. and Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Last year, Hagerstown lured the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites to relocate there from Fredericksburg, Va.; it set up a Civil War website, and added a hotel tax to fund these efforts.

The development intiatives of both cities are laudible, but there's no need for the Old Line State to be riven by the Civil War a second time.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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