Can a cannon start a boom? Tourism: A Carroll banker hopes placing a replica of a Civil War cannon at the edge of Taneytown will entice tourists to stop and shop.

July 16, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

TANEYTOWN — Cars and minivans packed with Civil War buffs, re-enactors and tourists stream daily through this town, past Spanky's 1950s-style diner, the local taxidermist's office and the Country Mouse craft shop.

They rarely stop. Their destination, after all, is 20 miles down the road -- Gettysburg, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

Taneytown, by comparison, is a historical footnote. In 1863, Union Gen. George G. Meade, planning for a major battle with Gen. Robert E. Lee along Big Pipe Creek, pitched his tent just outside town. But when Union and Confederate forces accidentally clashed in Gettysburg, Meade rushed north. And history did, too.

One Taneytown businessman, however, plans to fight for the hearts of the Gettysburg tourists. His weapon? A half-scale reproduction of a Civil War cannon -- made of wood.

Edward D. Leister, country banker and self-appointed promoter of town pride, believes that one piece of artillery, strategically placed at Taneytown's gateway, has the power to put this town of 4,000 on the map.

"I think it would make people slow down and look around," he said. "People pass by our town as fast as they can go through."

If enough people hit the brakes, Leister figures, the cannon just might spark the rebirth of Taneytown's struggling downtown, a hodgepodge of antique shops, furniture stores and mom-and-pop restaurants.

"I'm a dreamer," Leister said. "I'm trying to bring our town into the limelight."

That's a place Taneytown has really never been.

Established in 1754, Taneytown is the oldest town in Carroll County. In 244 years, it has had brushes with great events and people, but never won a major place in history.

In 1791, for instance, George and Martha Washington stayed two days at the Adam Goode Tavern on Frederick Street. Martha mended socks. George ordered mush and milk.

The town claims Francis Scott Key, author of the national anthem, as its favorite son. Yet that is a historical stretch. The Key family estate was 5 miles away at Terra Rubra.

When the Civil War broke out, Taneytown sent 75 men to fight for the Union. In the days leading up to the battle of Gettysburg, General Meade used the Lutheran Church as a signal tower and thousands of troops -- and dozens of cannon -- passed along Taneytown's streets.

But there is no history of cannon fire or bloodshed.

"No, there was no battle, but the troops went through Taneytown," said Mayor W. Robert Flickinger, who supports Leister's proposal. "They stayed here overnight. Just because there was no fighting, it was still in the Civil War."

Leister hopes to place the cannon in a roundabout at the intersection of Antrim Boulevard and Routes 140 and 832. The project will be funded entirely through donations, so Leister is looking to keep costs down.

A replica cannon would cost $10,000 to $12,000, but Leister has proposed buying a half-scale model with 30-inch wheels and a 60-inch barrel, made entirely of wood.

Such compromises may require Taneytown to take a historical leap of faith.

But residents appear willing to jump.

Sue Myers, 33, born and raised in Taneytown, supports the idea of a cannon as long as the town provides information to tourists about the role it played in the Civil War.

"If you didn't pass through here, you didn't get there," she said.

"It gives me goose bumps thinking about it. They came through here to the biggest battle of the Civil War."

Three stories above Taneytown's East Baltimore Street on a recent morning, Leister, a portly man in a pinstripe suit, brooded on his town's struggles to make a name for itself.

"We're no different than any other small town," he said. "Our Main Street died 10 years ago. This is the only way to compete with the shopping centers."

Leister's defense of small-town life is understandable. He has not strayed far from his hometown of Pleasant Valley, just down the road from Taneytown.

The senior vice president for Taneytown Bank & Trust Co. still keeps the books for his aunt's general store and has had his hair cut by the same barber for 56 years. Leister is 57.

Leister lives in Westminster, but he has adopted Taneytown as his hometown.

Not all Taneytown natives share his enthusiasm, he said.

"I think the people who always lived here don't see all that's here," he said.

He hopes to present his cannon proposal to Taneytown officials this summer. It will probably not be the first they've heard of it.

"I've been talking about this for years," he said. "People think I'm crazy."

Three years ago, that was the word on Leister, too. He and members of the town's economic development committee proposed a daylong town festival called Celebrate Taneytown.

"People laughed at me," he recalled.

The first year it drew a few thousand visitors. Last year, 7,000 people showed up. On Aug. 22, Leister hopes to see the town's population swell by nearly 10,000.

The day will begin with a pancake breakfast, a magician and an Abraham Lincoln impersonator.

For the afternoon, Leister has scheduled a full battle of 500 Civil War re-enactors in a cornfield outside town. Cavalry will thunder through town, and the blasts of 12 cannon, borrowed for the day, will perhaps be heard as far away as Gettysburg.

It is the kind of battle, Leister promises, that will bring traffic to a halt.

Pub Date: 7/16/98

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