Maryland SCV fights to save Alms House

From the December 31’st,2008 Herald-Mail newspaper:

To the editor:
Entering the catacombs of Hagerstown, Maryland’s Alms House, the dark narrow hallways lead to many rooms. Each of the rooms is unique, with different colors of garishly painted walls. 

Many rooms contain a fireplace, reminding you that this was once the only source of heat. Some mantles are gone either by theft or were removed as a result of one of the continuous changes that have occurred from the building’s beginnings in its 1790 circa origination to the last normal inhabitants of the 1980s. 

During the trek among the various rooms and several floors, care is acutely necessary to preclude stepping into, or tripping over mounds of debris and bird droppings. Nowhere is anything that would lead one to believe there were once “better times.” 

And yet, there is a solidness about this building that suggests it had once served as a haven for the community’s downtrodden, or even a shelter for those American soldiers physically maimed and soaked in misery. 

Where then does it imply that if physically removed and replaced by modern architecture, its story could be conveniently forgotten? Would its destruction be an appropriate sign of progress? 

We, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, are a true heritage society. History, regardless of its take by modern society, is an account of the price we’ve paid to get to today. Memories and human endeavors are indeed the story of historical renderings. 

We believe the Alms House should be preserved. This ancient house that once concerned itself with the pain and suffering of poor fellow citizens and unsound deceased or wounded soldiers, now needs to be “saved.” 

In circa 1870-1875, many bodies that were at rest for 10 or more years from our country’s great Civil War were exhumed from the Alms House property and sent to more appropriate grounds and applicable surroundings. 

The names of many of these warriors have been saved through the determined research of Virginia Magruder of Hagerstown. Her successful mining of the records of Hagerstown’s newspaper, The Herald-Mail, has revealed that soldiers from all over America, from Alabama to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and New York to Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas once lay beneath the grounds of the Alms House.

The Union soldiers were sent to Antietam’s National Cemetery in the quiet town of Sharpsburg. Here they now lie in silent rest in perfect rows of white marble stones. Their Confederate adversaries, the Southern soldiers, would be identified if possible, and reinterred in a separate section of Hagers-town’s Rose Hill Cemetery. They are still here today, resting in perpetual repose. 

So now, what of Hagerstown’s Alms House? Has it outlived its use and served its purpose? Should it be flattened in the interest of progress? Better yet, why shouldn’t it be preserved as a testament to its more useful days and serve as a statement to future generations?

A present City Council member, Penny May Nigh, is avidly attempting to get other elected officials working to save the Alms House, so it may once again serve its community for future generations.

Gerald J. Bayer
Past Division Commander
State of Maryland
Sons of Confederate Veterans


One response

  1. Virginia Magruder, why does that name sound so remarkably familiar? Ah, yes, from my younger years as a young pup teacher of American history at North Hagerstown High School I remember a tough old bird who taught English there by that name. Seriously, Virginia, I have read the above article and have to ask you a question or two. My great great grandmother was a guest (???) at the Hagerstown Alms house when it was replaced by the Bellevue Almshouse on the north end of Hagerstown around 1880. Her name was Catherine McCartin. She died in 1881 and, I assume, she was sent to the new facility before her death. I assume her body was exhumed and sent to Rose Hill and reburied in an unmarked mass grave. Do you have any information specifically about her or her family? She was born in Ireland as was her husband, Edward McCartin. I do not know when he died, but their daughter, Ann A. McCartin married my great grandfather, George Harvey Mundey. I am still researching when and where she died. It was nice to see you in the old Washington County Library a year or two ago. I hope you remember me. Thanks, Gary Smith (

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