Writer's work captures the essence of town's past through recollections Hampstead author relied on older residents' stories

November 29, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Undeterred by knee and hip ailments in the last year, Hampstead author Joan Prall has managed to capture the town's history through the eyes of dozens of elderly residents, self-publishing her third book, "Hampstead -- Its Heart and History."

Prall, 67, said her inspiration to write came from college friends who told her, "Someday, you ought to write a book."

Prall laughed at the thought when she attended Beaver College in Pennsylvania. After moving to Carroll County 32 years ago, she was content to free-lance as a feature writer for the Carroll Record, a Taneytown weekly that ceased publication in January 1977.

She has worked for the Evening Sun in Hanover, Pa., and the Carroll County Times, where she enjoyed writing theater reviews and meeting hundreds of famous, and not-so-famous, people, "most of which have had interesting stories to share," she said.

Meeting such "legends" as Jessica Tandy, Carol Channing and Celeste Holm while reviewing productions at the Mechanic Theatre in Baltimore is among the memories she said she will cherish.

Her goal of writing a book was achieved in 1985 with the publication of "Mills and Memories," a historical look at water-powered grist mills in rural Carroll County.

Prall learned how expensive and complicated publishing a book could be -- even if it was a stapling of business-letter-sized pages with an illustrated cover and black-and-white photographs.

"I figured, why not do it myself," said Prall, who designed the pages and did the typing for the limited edition.

"Mills and Memories" is out of print, but Prall is considering reprinting a revised edition with information she has received on additional mills.

Her second venture, in 1990, was "School Bells and Slates," a look at many of the one- and two-room schoolhouses in Carroll County through the eyes of elderly teachers and students.

Publication was easier but expensive, she said.

"Hampstead -- Its Heart and History" is a more expansive endeavor. Begun a year ago, it cites more than 30 sources from the county's library and historical society, as well as the memories of more than 80 elderly residents.

"I wanted to interview some of these people before it was too late," said Prall, noting that Robert Anderson, John Rote, Corinthia Hill, Bessie Snyder and Viola Brooks -- all featured in the book -- have died since Sept. 1.

In the book's preface, state Del. Joseph M. Getty wrote that only a few, including Dr. Arthur G. Tracey and Elizabeth Tipton, have attempted to document the history of Carroll County.

Tracey's "ground-breaking research" reviewed the original patents and surveys of Central Maryland, and Tipton recorded reminiscences and written histories of local churches and other institutions, Getty noted.

"Hampstead -- Its Heart and History" visits myriad venues with chapters on farms and farming, schools, churches and cemeteries, medical professionals, the volunteer fire company, businesses, camps, civic clubs and organizations, personalities and her pet project, the railroad and train station.

Prall said she will donate $1 from the sale of each $12.50 copy of "Hampstead -- Its Heart and History" to the restoration of the town's train station.

Railroad station

Excitement creeps into her voice as she talks about improvements completed at the station off Gill Avenue. It was built in 1912, housing the first train freight office west of Emory Grove in Baltimore County.

As Prall notes in the 12th chapter, the railroad tracks "for the original Baltimore and Hanover company were laid between 1877 and 1879, linking Baltimore via Emory Grove through Hampstead to Lineboro." There the "line connected with the Bachman Valley Railroad to Hanover and eventually to Gettysburg."

The station's roof has been patched, and installing a slate roof is planned, she said.

Hampstead anecdotes

Prall's accounts of Hampstead's past contain many anecdotes, such as when Abraham Lincoln was on his way to deliver his Gettysburg Address in 1863.

Prall noted that at the end of Lincoln's journey, the president handed a silver watch to conductor John Edkert, saying, "Here's something for you. Take it. May God be with you."

Prall's book is available at Locust Books, the Carroll County Historical Society, Matthews Tires, Big A Auto Parts, True Value Hardware and Family Pharmacy of Hampstead.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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