An audit for the Washington County Historical Society, which covered a six-year period, ending Dec. 31, 1943, showed a surplus charge of $2,750 for the gift of the Spong farm to the U.S. Park Service. The Spong farm encompassed the area of Antietam Creek where the Burnside Bridge crossed that body of water.
This important historic site brought an inordinate amount of challenge to the work of WCHS. While it took just one month to acquire the property, it took three years to give it away.
The first order of business beginning in 1938, following the grand scale of the "On Wings of Time" exposition, was the adoption of an amended constitution and by-laws for the organization. The carefully drawn changes were moved by J. Forney Young, seconded by Dr. Victor D. Miller and adopted unanimously by the board of directors. At that point, free membership in the society was extended to everyone in the community who had worked to make the exposition a success.
By April of 1938, the group had cash on hand of $15,933.01, with a few bills to pay: ladder, $4.80; wagon repairs, $10; grass seed, $9; some travel reimbursements totaling $12.38; Globe advertising for $2.40; printing the new legal documents of the society, $19.50, and publication of the audit in The Morning Herald of $42.75.
Discussions began about what was next to do. Acquisition of the old Dunkard Church at what is now Antietam National Battlefield was first on the list, a process that was included in last month's column. However, there were also concerns about preserving Bloody Lane and the Burnside Bridge, both at the battlefield. Additionally, there was a desire to create permanent historical markers for sites identified and marked temporarily for the exposition and to found a Museum of History for the county.
Initially, $200 was allocated to experiment with setting up a "guide service" to hire boys to act as guides at Fort Frederick State Park, Antietam Battlefield, Washington's Monument and other historic sites to be designated later.
An inspiring lecture at one of the meetings by Capt. John K. Beckenbaugh about U.S. battlefield sites prompted a resolution to commit one-third of the balance on hand to purchase lands adjacent to the then perimeters of the preserved battlefield area. According to Beckenbaugh, while Antietam Battlefield had received only one donated acre of land and few dollars, others were receiving thousands of dollars and acres of land as donations from across the country.
In January 1939, an appraised value for the Burnside Bridge farm at $15 per acre was reported to the society. A committee of J. Forney Young, E. Russell Hicks and Charles Harman was appointed to begin negotiations to purchase "a certain farm near the Antietam Battlefield, consisting of 126 acres, not to exceed the sum of $4,000.00 of the Society's funds."
At the February meeting, Young reported that the group had accomplished their mission on the 11th by negotiating with owner Tena B. Spong for the sum of $2,350. The group then decided to negotiate for another strip of land that contained the "Stone Wall" near the Burnside Bridge from owner J. Wesley Dorsey. Dr. Walter H. Shealy was appointed to check on fire insurance to cover the farm and manage it until the transfer to U.S. Park Commission. The original resolution was then rescinded.
Minutes for the society end here and do not resume until January 1941 and then there is another gap until April 1942. The start of World War II and the deaths of several key members of the society are referenced as reasons. Details of the presentation of the Burnside Bridge farm to the park service are missing from this period. Clearly, there were complications and delays in the process causing concern during the acquisition and transfer of the Dunker Church.
Focus on rebuilding the membership rolls, as well as on the projects reported last month is all that is contained going forward. What does exist is a report done by Simms Jamieson, for whom the historical society's library is named, and presented in 1972, about the Dorsey acquisition of 3.506 acres and the Spong acquisition of 125.082 acres. The report contains the three-year effort to give these properties to the federal government to be included in the Antietam Battlefield site.
Registered mail from the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, dated Dec. 2, 1940, acknowledges the proposed transfer, but challenges the deed abstractor's credentials. However, they were willing to keep the original deed provided by the historical society, dated Oct. 18, 1940.
A second acknowledgment dated Jan. 2, 1941, recognizes certificates of the abstractor attorney George D. Hicks of Hagerstown, which had been immediately submitted by return mail. An internal memorandum to the Secretary of the Interior was written on Jan. 18, 1941, to recommend accepting the properties as allowed under Congressional Act, Public 510, 76th Congress, of May 14, 1940. This memorandum included the historical significance of the sites being offered.
"The area of farm land adjoining Antietam Creek in the region of Burnside Bridge, known at the present time as the Spong and Dorsey tracts, is of real historical importance in connection with the Battle of Antietam fought September 17, 1862." The missive goes into great detail about the thrust of the troops in the area and the outcomes of those actions, citing written reports by officers from both Union and Confederate armies.
Then in July 1941 came a five-page list of documents that the historical society needed to provide in order to make the gift of these lands. Again, credentials of the abstractor were brought into question, although that issue had been previously resolved. There was also the age of certification on the abstraction and that each page of that document had not been individually certified.
They also asked for a quit claim from the spouse of a previous owner of the Dorsey tract or a death certificate of that unknown spouse. They also asked for a death certificate for Mr. Dorsey's spouse and certificates that all known heirs of the Dorseys were agreed. They also asked for a death certificate of the deceased joint heir of the Spong property.
Additionally, the society was asked to provide a plat of the property drawn by a certified engineer, with a copy of his certificate attached. They also wanted each of the out-parcels, which had been previously carved out of the original lands, to be described and noted in the abstracts. And, they wanted a certified copy of the incorporation papers of the historical society, together with a certified copy of the resolution authorizing the donations.
They also wanted all persons who might have a claim to right of way, roads, easements, etc., even those not-of-record, to be noted and that attention had been given in the report to potential claims.
The assistant solicitor, who wrote this long list of demands, returned all former documents and closed by admonishing, "Only when the foregoing enclosed warranty deed from the Washington County Historical Society, Incorporated, to the United States, properly stamped, has been recorded, the abstract has been continued and certified to a date subsequent to the recordation of the deed, disclosing that nothing has occurred since the date of the present certificate to affect the title adversely, and showing the vesting of a valid title in the United States of America, the title will be approved and the deed accepted."