History of FrostburgFirst
Frostburg has been a Maryland Main Street Program since 2001. We are a National Main Street Accredited Program and achieved “Designated” status as a Maryland Main Street Community. We were selected as a Top 8 semifinalist in the Small Business Revolution on Main Street competition in 2016. Our success with our Main Street Program can be attributed to closely aligning our activities with guidance provided by the FrostburgFirst staff, and, of course the commitment of the FrostburgFirst Board of Directors.
History of Frostburg
Frostburg, Maryland,the second incorporated city in Allegany County, originated as an Appalachian mining town that grew into a mountainous tourist destination. There are businesses and buildings that have been standing for over 100 years lining Main Street. The city is filled with history, art, diversity, and natural beauty that draws new residents, university students, and tourists every year.
The city of Frostburg owes its beginnings to westward expansion and the construction of the National Road in 1806. As the route was being mapped Josiah Frost purchased land from carved out Revolutionary War military lots along the road in 1810 and mapped out a series of town lots. One of his sons, Meshach Frost built a log house on Lot 1 and he and his wife, Catherine, made it their home in June of 1812. This date is considered the founding date of the city of Frostburg.
The Frost home, once on the current site of St. Michael’s Catholic Church, was built upon over the years and eventually became known as Highland Hall and, after stagecoach service was inaugurated in 1818, was a major stop for travelers along the National Road.
Though the settlement, now containing taverns, homes, and skilled laborers, was originally called Mount Pleasant, it was commonly referred to as Frost Town owing to name of its first resident. As there was already a Mount Pleasant further north, the post office designated the community as Frostburg in 1820.
Frost’s HighLand Hall housed and fed many of the National Road workers and relayed mail form East to West. The westward push and the need for regular stops along the new road kept the community alive. Frostburg was the first stagecoach station West of Cumberland and a common stop to change horses or stop at the local tavern. As such, multiple taverns and hotels began to open in the area. At this time much of the stagecoach daily operations relied on slavery.
Following emancipation the formerly enslaved people formed their own community in Frostburg known as Brownsville that contained their own school, church, and stores. This community was eventually displaced by the spread of Frostburg State University but many of the Brownsville descendants still live in the area today. The Brownsville church, the Dickerson AME, still stands in Frostburg today.
Early residents had good reason to move to Frostburg. Coal was discovered in the region as early as 1782 and the completion of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1842 brought settlers into Cumberland (12 miles East of Frostburg) and the Cumberland & Pennsylvania Railroad brought people to Frostburg in 1852. The newly indoctrinated railroad system made it easy to ship large quantities of coal and Frostburg quickly became a commercial center for coal mining and brick making. The high-grade clay in the area made for very desirable fire-clay bricks that were produced in the region from 1864 to now. By the Civil War the area had grown from a small village to a thriving center of economic activity. Even acquiring its own newspaper, The Gazette and Miner’s Record, in 1858. It was the first newspaper in the county outside of Cumberland.
By the late 1800s Frostburg was the center of 25 mining villages, many of which were eventually encompassed in the city limits including Shaft, Midlothian, Klondike, Carlos, and Eckhart. Frostburg was a mining town without a mine. The city served the surrounding mining communities and profited as a result, all the while maintaining a the image a picturesque mountain town.
The mining boom brought a variety of ethnicities to the area; primarily English, Scots, Welsh, and German. The many opportunities in the area helped Frostburg develop into a diverse and close-knit community. The Frostburg area miners broke many stereotypes and were widely considered the “best dressed miners.” The prosperity of the local mines enabled most to own their own homes and farms.
In 1870, Meshach Frost’s son became Frostburg’s first mayor. The city had proved itself an integral entryway to the West and economic hub. The residents prided themselves on their healthful mountain locale 2,200 feet in the mountains and Frostburg became a tourist destination that provided a cool refuge from stifling summer heat in the valleys below. During the colder months of the year, however, the city was not frequented as often as, as one visitor stated, its the town where “winter comes early and lingers late.” Frostburg claimed Cumberland’s title of Mountain City, a moniker still used on many of the local businesses today.
The city began to spread and boasted speciality shops, over forty grocery and general stores, and two hotels by the 1870s. The Frostburg Fire Department was established in 1878 with over 50 members. The department still exists today and maintains over 140 years of local history and fire records.
The turn of the century brought about new technologies and developments. The National Road was redesignated as Route 40 and was one of the major thoroughfares across the country. Trolley service began in 1902 when electric rails were run in from Cumberland. The Frostburg Depot, built in 1891, was one of the major freight changeovers for the Cumberland & Pennsylvania line. The Tunnel Hotel, built next to it, housed numerous employees and visors and is now the site of the Thrasher Carriage Museum.
The decadent victorian and Italianate homes that still decorate the historical district showcase the prosperity Frostburg experienced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the homes were two-story double frame houses accommodating two families. One of Frostburg’s earliest homes, the McCullough family home is still standing and is the current home of the Elks Lodge. The Elks sponsors many local events including the annual soapbox derby race on the 4th of July. The race runs down Main St from the central business district to Bowery St. This hill has been used for years for bicycle races, sledding, and various other events.
In 1900 Frostburg maintained a population 5,300, had gas and electric plants, two opera houses, three banks, and numerous churches and saloons. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Frostburg United Methodist Church, and St. Michael’s Catholic Church are all still standing in the central business district. St. Michael’s took the place of Frost’s Highland Hall after the parish was established in 1852. In an honor to the cities founders, Meshach and his wife are buried in the churchyard. In 1891 a group of nuns added St. Michael’s School to the grounds. The wood building did not last long and the early 1900s brought about the construction of a brick building to house the school. It remained an elementary school until the last few years when the Frostburg Museum moved into the space.
The people of Frostburg never wanted for entertainment. As a main travel road, many theatres and taverns arose to showcase the musicians and troupes passing through. The Frostburg Opera House, built in 1871, stood at the corner of Depot St. and Main St. The four-story building dominated the street and showcased theatre, music performances, an outdoor performance space, and later, motion pictures. In 1891 a cyclone passed through Frostburg damaging many of the buildings on Main St, including the opera house. The opera house survived until 1936 when it was decimated by a fire and demolished.
The Dreamland opened as a nickelodeon in 1904 and became The Palace Theatre in 1911. The Palace changed movies every week and kept young and old entertained through war times and economic hardship. The Palace is still a hub of the community showing classic films, jazz concerts, touring musicians, and small theatre productions.
Frostburg’s modern day Lyric Theatre began life as Moat’s Opera House. A moving picture house in 1907, it was purchased by the Palace owners and its name changed to Lyric Opera House. The site showcased many live theatre productions for years, as well as local retailers such as Stanton’s Hardware, and has been been revitalized as site for Frostburg State University events and community theatre.
One of the most unique structures on Main Street, the Citizens National Bank, was constructed in 1910. It was host to numerous banks, a theatrical arts school, and currently houses a law firm. Another notable turn of the century structure was our modern post office. Built in 1912 on the corner of Water and Main Streets. The old post office became the headquarters of The American Legion following World War II and remains so today.
The dawn of the 1920s showed Frostburg as a booming city filled with shady streets, victorian homes, solid brick buildings, and a thriving business district. Though prohibition stalled the growth of saloons and taverns the retail shops were growing and the trolley system was replaced by buses making for easier travel.
Dominating the street was the Gunter Hotel. A staggering five-story, balcony bedecked wonder built in 1897. The $100,000 business venture originally opened as the Hotel Gladstone but was purchased and remodeled by the Gunter family in 1925. The hotel housed 100 rooms, a barbershop, a cafe, a bar, and more. Under the Gunters electric lighting was added, along with a 175 seat dining room. During this period the hotel built a jail cell in the basement to house prisoners being transported to Washington D.C. by federal agents. The basement also held a speakeasy and cockfighting arena during Prohibition. These features are viewed as tourist sites today, and the hotel still contains 12 rooms and the Toasted Goat Winery and Bar.
The Gunter wasn’t the only place to stay in Frostburg, as the St. Cloud Hotel was down the street on the corner of Depot and Main. The St. Cloud was built in 1887 and boasted 22 hotel rooms, a 100 seat dining room, and an indoor bathroom. By early 1960s hotel had disappeared and became St. Cloud’s buick Dealership. Presently the spot is the location of the St. Cloud Ale House. The close-knit community of Frostburg allows names to live through two centuries even as economic needs change.
One of the largest retail establishments the city ever hosted was the Hitchins Brothers Store. It was considered an upper-class department store offering everything needed for the modern home. In 1925 a fire destroyed the interior and damaged the neighboring Palace Theatre. Another historical landmark is the Nickel building, erected in 1897. The four story structure once contained a bowling alley and furniture store. In recent decades it housed the French restaurant the Au Petit and is now up for sale encouraging new businesses to come to Frostburg.
Moving up Main Street more historical buildings line the streets, filled today with thriving local hotspots. The Hafer building was once occupied by the Hafer funeral homes and furniture sales but is now the site of Mountain City Traditional Arts. The Hafer family still operates funeral homes in the area. The current site of Main Street Books is known as the Durst building and was also a furniture and funeral business. The Durst’s also ran an ambulance service until 1975. The original Shea building sadly burnt, and was replaced by the Prichard building, next to the Durst Building, and housed a hardware store from 1919-1990s. City Place, along Water St, was originally a Chevrolet dealership in 1962. It has become a major community meeting place utilized for the majority of the Frostburg street festivals and Main Street-wide events like the Arts Walk, Small Business Saturday, Storybook Holiday, and Pirates Ahoy.
The list of notable businesses cannot be complete without mentioning the Engle Butcher Shop. It was the most popular spot for sandwiches and spiced bologna in the mid-century and its bologna recipe is still kept alive locally today. The bologna is considered one of the notable foods of Frostburg. Speaking of food, the Princess Restaurant has been a staple of Frostburg for almost a century. It has been in the Pappas family for years. Notably, President Harry S. Truman and his wife visited for lunch in 1953. Tourists today can still enjoy a meal in the “Truman booth”
A major part of the history Frostburg must include the history of Frostburg State University. Most of the economic upturns of Frostburg occurred while “coal was king.” Following the decline in mining Frostburg quickly rebuilt its economy around the University. The school was founded in 1902 as Normal School No.2. Intended to educate teachers, the school consisted of one building (Old Main) that contained 22 classrooms, the most extensive library in the county, and 57 students in its first class.
Throughout the next few decades the school rapidly expanded, adding more buildings and dormitories until becoming Frostburg State College in 1931 offering a three year teaching program. By 1934 it was a four year school and added more majors throughout the 50s and 60s. The constant influx of students assisted in keeping Main Street businesses alive during economic downturns in the mid-century. The 1970s saw the addition of a dining hall and the Ort Library. By 1976 Frostburg was a college town. The university boasted 3000 students and employed 500 community members. It continued to grow, becoming our modern university in 1987. Today the university employs over 1,060 people, has enrolled over 5,000 students in undergrad and graduate programs, and is a centerpiece of event life and diversity in the region.
Today, Frostburg is home to 9,000 people and its population grows and shrinks with every new semester’s influx of university students. The Depot still brings hundreds of tourists to the city every year. The names of founders and historical business owners are still here in our school yearbooks and list of current business owners. New residents come to the city every year desirous of a small town feel with a thriving and unique cultural experience. What started as entryway to the West has become a destination in its own right and its appeal can only be explained with the Frostburg city mantra, it’s just cooler here.
City of Frostburg Archives.
Dean, David, Gordon Kershaw, Harry Stegmaier, and John Wiseman. Allegany County: A
History. Parsons: Mclain Printing Company, 1976.
Frostburg Museum Archives.
Robertson, Tom. Images of America: Frostburg. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2002.