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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 153   View pdf image (33K)
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WASHINGTON COUNTY

The delegates to the First Maryland Constitutional Convention, which met in Annapolis
late in 1774-1776, found it necessary to assume executive as well as legislative functions since
there was no constitutional executive and the General Assembly had not met since the spring
of 1774. It recognized as a critical problem the enormous size of Frederick County which at
that time included the area now comprising Frederick, Washington, Montgomery, Allegany,
Garrett and part of Carroll Counties.

As a first step in breaking up this administratively unwieldy unit it ordered the creation
of two new counties, Montgomery and Washington.1 This resolution of the Convention set the
boundaries and named the counties. In the case of Washington County, it also appointed a
commission empowered to purchase up to four acres of land for the public buildings at a place
to be determined by the will of the inhabitants of the new county. Funds up to "thirteen
hundred pounds of common money" for the buildings were to be provided for in the annual
levies, and this money was to be turned over to the commissioners who were also authorized
to contract for the buildings. On September 11, it was resolved that the qualifications for
voters to decide on the county seat be the same as those required to vote for representatives
to the Convention.2 Finally, it was provided that in addition to the regular polling place at
Hagerstown, the election would be held for two days at Skipton beginning November 6 in
order to accommodate the inhabitants of the western part of the county.3

First Courthouse at Hagerstown

Although no evidence has survived in the records of the county which would prove the
case, it seems fairly certain that after Hagerstown—or Elizabeth Town as it was then called—
had been formally chosen as the county seat, work began immediately on the courthouse. It
was a small building of which the first floor was used as a market. The second floor was used
as a courtroom and for the miscellaneous governmental functions of the county. We do not
know exactly when it was completed but it was certainly not done in January 1785—perhaps
not even in use—for in that year the General Assembly granted to Justices of the county
authority to levy an additional £1,000 to finish the courthouse and jail. It was the contention
of the petitioners that such a levy was justified because of the devaluation of money since the
first authorization had been granted in 1776. The General Assembly, which was long-suffering
in such matters, accepted this reasoning.'

No contemporary description of this first Washington County courthouse has survived,
but we know what it looked like because of the existence of lithographs of the period. It
consisted of one large court chamber on the second floor and an open space below used for a
market and later, apparently, as a thoroughfare. Within a few years it had become uncom-
fortably crowded, and by 1808 the Orphans' Court and the Register of Wills found it necessary
to find other quarters. An Act of the General Assembly passed in December 1808 authorized
the Justices of the Levy Court to levy a sufficient sum each year to pay the rental of such
quarters and also provided that an additional $160 be collected to pay for rent past due.5

1 Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Mary-
land held at The City of Annapolis in 1774, 1775 & 1776, Balti-
more and Annapolis, 1836, pp. 242-45 ; Proceedings of Sep-
tember 6, 1776.

153

2 Ibid.. p. 253.
3 Ibid., p. 282.
4 Ch. 30, Acts of 1784. Passed January 15, 1785.
5Ch. 40, Acts of 1808.



 

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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 153   View pdf image (33K)
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