Yes, George slept here, but not that George


August 15, 1999|By Mike Burns

GEORGE Washington slept here! Many older East Coast inns once made that proud boast in signs and advertising to attract tourists to spend the night with a piece of American history. A number of the hostelries had dubious claim to such connection with the Father of Our Country.

Hotels that had not been built until the 20th century even used the historical lure, explaining that they sat on land that formerly held an 18th-century tavern where Washington might have slept. A few engaged in outright falsehood.

And some derived their claim from evidence that Washington had once passed through their towns, as general or as president.

Few had the interest or energy to contest such promotion. Besides, the establishment could still lay claim to being on the "Washington Trail" or some such historic route to squelch the skeptics.

The American Civil War has been more carefully studied by an army of historians, who seem to be able to document most every event, even down to the libations drunk by the principal figures. There's less margin for deliberate commercial distortion.

So let it be known that Carroll County is not attempting to stretch the truth of history when it underlines its role in that great conflict as the place where generals and conscripts of both sides passed through and, most assuredly, slept.

In fact, aside from a few bullets fired in Westminster and a minor skirmish between Union and Confederate troops (known, rather grandly, as Corbit's Charge), no recognized military battle was waged inside the boundaries of Carroll County.

Civil War sharing

That's why Carroll has linked with Frederick and Washington counties on a joint campaign to capture the increasingly lucrative Civil War tourism market, aided by a $100,000 state grant.

Frederick and Washington have major battlefields, such as Antietam, and the inspiring stories of Barbara Frietschie and Clara Barton.

Though it could rightfully be called "the highway to Gettysburg," Carroll County saw little military action.

As a result, Carroll County's efforts at tourist promotion of its role in the Civil War have met with very limited success.

Carroll's tourist office produces a driving-tour brochure of local points of Civil War interest, mainly trails and staging areas used by tens of thousands of troops on their way to battle in other places. But the pamphlet of 25 historic sites is not widely publicized or distributed; it wouldn't normally come into the hands of Civil War history tourists.

That's where the joint promotion of Civil War heritage with the two western counties is vital. Each county's tourism office and historical landmarks will provide visitor information on sites and attractions in the other two jurisdictions.

That should stimulate a lot more tourist interest in Carroll County. People who write ahead for tourist information on, say, the battle of South Mountain or Sharpsburg may well decide to route their trip through Carroll County. Or those returning from historic sites in the west may choose to follow the trail of Civil War soldiers along Carroll roads, instead of jumping on the interstate.

It's the kind of regional tourism promotion that has long been needed in Carroll. The state's Heritage Preservation and Tourism Areas Program, which began two years ago, was instrumental in forging the alliance. It will pay for half the $200,000 cost of a Civil War tourism marketing plan for the three counties, which will jointly pay for the other half.

A joint tourist pamphlet on the tri-county attractions is atop the list of suggested regional promotion efforts.

When the plan is approved by the state and local authorities, Carroll would become eligible for state grants and loans for historic preservation and for possible income tax credits for private rehabilitation of heritage properties. Final approval of the plan could take a year.

Not that Carroll hasn't already profited, albeit indirectly, from the boom in Civil War tourism. Travelers to and from the great battlefields of Gettysburg and Antietam pass through here each year, buying food, fuel and lodging.

Better-informed tourists

But they are mostly unaware of Carroll's own Civil War history, and of other non-war attractions in the county, such as the preserved 19th century village of Uniontown or the Farm Museum in Westminster. Or even 18th-century Union Mills Homestead, which housed soldiers on both sides of the bloody war. The hope is that better-informed tourists will stay longer and buy more in Carroll.

During the war, Maj. Gen. George Meade briefly set up headquarters near Taneytown. There was no engagement with the enemy and so he moved north across the Pennsylvania line for a critical encounter with the forces of Robert E. Lee.

But "George slept here" has never been a tourist magnet for Carroll innkeepers.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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