Won't you take me to...Funkytown

Funkstown, Maryland
Population: 9831
Region: Western Maryland
Metro Area: Hagerstown


-The Funk Brothers-
Before the Civil War began, when the country was still full of rolling hills and farmland vistas uninterrupted by office buildings and telephone poles, Washington County, Maryland was inhabited by several German families carrying the name Funk.2 However, we are not interested in all of these families just two brothers, Jacob and Henry Funk. These two American born Funks are a slight mystery. Records show that one set of brothers carrying the names Jacob and Henry were born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at the same time that a set of Funk brothers were coming into the area from Virginia. The brothers who came from Virginia eventually returned, that much is certain, but there's no real documentation as to which of these two sets our story is about. Just keep that in mind if anyone ever asks you where the founder of Funkstown came from.

After many years, of growing up perhaps, Jacob Funk became one of the largest landowners in the county.3 In 1754 he and Henry put their money together and purchased 88 acres of land from Frederick Calvert, the sixth and last of the Lords of Baltimore. Calvert's land, Black Oak Ridge, was surrounded on three sides by the east bank of the Antietam Creek.4 It took the brothers over ten years to lay out a town on the property they had dubbed Jerusalem. In 1767 there were fifteen log cabins on the Main Street and a mill on the Antietam Creek. Two years later Jacob built a large stone house on the Main Street.

Jacob Funk was the more aspiring of the two brothers, as evidenced by his decision in 1771 to leave Jerusalem and go east towards the Potomac River to develop a town he would call Hamburg. The land he had spied was not destined to be Hamburg however, but Washington, D.C. In 1791 he left Maryland with fifty other German settlers and set off for Kentucky.

Henry Funk was less of an adventurer, and was more interested in settling in Jerusalem and developing the town. When Jacob left, he moved into the stone house and set up residence.5

Maryland was an area highly populated with German immigrants, so it should be no surprise that the town founded by two Germans would attract mostly German settlers. With them these settlers brought their customs and traditions. They exercised their love of horticulture and cultivated flower gardens with enthusiasm, having competitions to see whose was the best. At Easter they held egg hunts with colored hen eggs and told their children tales of an egg carrying rabbit who had visited the town. At Christmas they put up trees and hung sugar candy and cake from them. Tales were told of a jolly old man wearing a mask, named Bellsnichol or Kriskringle, who came with nuts and cakes for good children and a rawhide whip for bad ones.

The town's history is filled with many stories, both exciting and bizarre. The tale of Mrs. Smith is not an unusual one. She lived on Cemetery Street with her husband and their eight daughters and two sons. One day, while gathering wood on the other side of the creek, she was taken captive by Indians. They did not kill her though, in fact they kept her for so long that her husband began looking for a new bride. Imagine his surprise, and that of Polly Hess, his intended, when one day a weary Mrs. Smith came home. She had managed to escape her captors and, traveling by night, get home safely.

Jerusalem was bustling with business from the mills, but also from the several inns, the wagon yard and local tradesmen. Adam Iseminger was known for his spinning wheels in 1809. Frederick Kerler for the $4 a gallon wine he made and sold from vineyards on his property in town. Situated on a busy wagon road, the town saw many wagoners hauling cargo from Baltimore to Wheeling, West Virginia and then on the National Pike to Indiana. In fact the town prospered until 1832 when the B. & O. Railroad, located a mile west of Jerusalem, took freight business away.

-Antietam Canal-
By the early 1800's there were quite a few mills on the creek around Jerusalem; a paper mill; a sawmill; a powder mill; and, a woolen mill that made blankets. Many disputes had to be settled concerning waters from one mill backing up water to a neighbors wheel. In 1808 John Henry Shafer decided the creek could be used for more than just mills. Shipping freight by boat from Jerusalem twelve miles away to the Potomac River became a vision he wanted to see made real. It took him three years to build two locks and a boat one hundred feel long.

If you traveled to Funkstown today and asked to see the Antietam Canal you'd likely get blank stares. This is because the plan never worked. Shafer loaded his boat with one hundred barrels of flour and sent it on its maiden journey. It made it through the two locks, unfortunately it made it no further than that capsizing at the second dam and spilling flour into the creek. Where the locks had been built a sawmill and cement mill were constructed by Shafer, hiding his failure.

-An Irish Rebellion-
In 1823 Jerusalem was teeming with Irish laborers who had come from Cork County Ireland to work on the road and the bridges6 over the Antietam Creek. They were living in the eastern end of town. On St. Patricks Day some locals made a Paddy, an effigy to St. Patrick, and hung it on a lamp post in the Irish end of town. Offended and outraged, the laborers marched through the town looking for the culprits, causing a riot. A company of soldiers from Hagerstown had to come and help end it.

It wasn't until 1840 that the town was officially changed to Funkstown, although it had been called that by locals as early as 1754. Funkstown is one of nine towns in Washington County to have been incorporated in the 1800's. The others are:When a town was incorporated it built a townhall in which a mayor8 and council would meet and carry on the business of the town. These towns are also represented on the county flag by a star. Why incorporate a town? Well, when a town was large enough it had the usual problems and disputes so laws, often in the form of charters or constitutions, had to be made. Elections would decide who would make up the town government and people would have a chance to be heard about issues concerning the town. The town government worried about the water supply, sewage disposal, dealt with questions about streets and sidewalks, organized a police force put up street lights and had a vested interest in the fire company. Basically, if it concerned the town it concerned the town council.

-The Battle of Funkstown-
Washington County citizens saw lots of action during the Civil War with skirmishes happening all over the county. As General Lee was retreating through Williamsport, after the Battle of Gettysburg, he found himself unable to cross a flooded Potomac River. He ordered his troups to dig trenches along the river; to protect this activity from the Union Army he sent General James Ewell Brown Stuart, known as "Jeb," to hold Funkstown and seal off the National Pike.

On the morning of July 10, 1863 General John Buford, along with General Stuart, led Federal troops to meet the Union army in battle. The Battle of Funkstown lasted all day with 479 soldiers killed or wounded by nightfall. The Chaney House, named for the doctor living there at the time, was utilized as a military hospital to treat the massive numbers of wounded. Operating tables were set up in the yard under some trees, and a number of amputations occurred there. As soon as someone's wounds were dressed they were carried into the house and laid somewhere on the floor, often in rows. Funkstown citizens ministered to the wounded, watching as many died from their injuries.

-In Memory of Fallen Soldiers-
On July 23, 1921 a memorial, just off Baltimore Street, was dedicated to those who died during World War I. Every year a Memorial Day parade was held in Funkstown, until 1949. After World War II, interest in the parade declined drastically.

-Present Day-

Today the town is much the same as it was while having made the usual technological advances. It's a small close-knit community where everyone knows everyone else's business. On the main street, now known as Baltimore Street, the log cabins are still scattered about. Although the original log cabins were burned down, those now standing are close replicas that have been restored over the years, retaining the historical elegance of the originals. These buildings are used as homes, businesses and museums now. The mill the Funk brothers built is gone and now stands the present day Fire hall, where bingo is held weekly and once a year the Chip n Dale dancers make a fundraising appearance. The Chaney House, where soldiers were mended after the Battle of Funkstown, is now known as Ruth's Antique Shop. In fact, one of the biggest draws of tourism to Funkstown is the plentiful Antique shops scattered about.

Tourism is a major trade in Funkstown. Being near the Antietam Battlefield it draws many tourists with its historical aspects. Much like the rest of the area, there are annual reenactments of the Battle of Funkstown. Every citizen in town can take part in it, if they so choose. The soldiers dress up in full costume, start shooting their muskets at dawn, and pause shortly for lunch before continuing the battle into the evening hours. It is during the lunch break that the rest of the town gets to participate. The citizens know that the soldiers will be tired and hungry and have been told that if they would like to help, to have fruit or bread available to give out. The reenactment is as true to history as possible, and in those days the soldiers would have gone door to door asking for help from anyone still in town. So the actors will knock on doors as they walk all over the town in search of food. The request for only fruit and bread is also an attempt to remain true to history.

Reenactments aren't the only things held annually in Funkstown, however. Every year there is an Old Tyme Christmas Open House held the first Friday in December. The residents set out luminaries on their porches and sidewalks; some putting the candles and sand in the readily available white paper bags handed out, others putting the candles in mason jars that sparkle and offer a more classic glow. The lovely night vision is not all that is offered at this event; there are also carriage rides through town; refreshments and entertainment at the townhall; and, Santa is around to visit with children. Prizes are alloted to the top three or four homes in Funkstown with the best Christmas decorations. This doesn't mean that loading up your house like the Griswalds, with hundreds of lights and plastic Santa's, will win you the small check and brief mention in the paper. The homes that most often win are decorated in a classic look with candles in their windows, and greenery tastefully draped on porch banisters.

Another draw of tourism in Funkstown is the Cinderella Grave in the cemetery. People come from all over to see the grave of 19 year old Cinderella Morgan who died in 1852.

Funkstown is about friendly people and quaint living. It's a very small town that usually goes overlooked by neighboring towns. Often people drive through it without even noticing they left Hagerstown. It has one elementary school, one townhall, one fire hall, one church, several bars, one strip club, a post office, one general store, several antique shops, a florist9, a scattering of artists shops and other small stores and an American Legion. We're a small town but we have big hearts. Whenever a new family moves to Funkstown, they aren't greeted with pulled curtains and crinkled shades. Instead they find themselves welcomed with warm smiles, friendly phone calls, and home cooked hellos.

1This population statistic is via the 2000 census, citizens may have moved to or from Funkstown and may have been born or died in the 3 years since.

2Funk is the anglicized version of the German name Funck. Most Germans, and for that matter immigrants from any country, altered their family name when they came to American shores. This was done, not in an attempt to deny their heritage, but to fit in with those already here better. They thought that if they sounded more American they would have an easier time finding work, being accepted into neighborhoods and making friends.

My own ancestors did the same, which made it easier to track down relatives when writing out the family tree. Every Warrenfeltz in America is related in some way; we all descended from the same German immigrant, Jacob Werenfels. Unfortunately not many people have this bit of luck when tracking down their genealogies.

3You should probably know that back then Washington County had yet to be formed. The area was known as Frederick County until 1776 when it was divided up and Washington County was formed. Actually when the division happened Funkstown was in the running with Hagerstown to be the county seat. Unfortunately Jonathon Hager beat Henry Funk to Annapolis and convinced the Maryland convention to choose his town, which at the time was known as Elizabethtown.

4The creek forms a horseshoe of water and on one side it turns and flows back the way it came, forming a little peninsula. This peninsula is known today as Johnson's Island, after the man who lived there in 1901.

5The stone house is the oldest permanent building in town, and during the Civil War was known as South's Hotel.

6The three bridges crossing the Antietam Creek in Jerusalem were designed by James Lloyd. The bridges still stand today and are historical landmarks. The Funkstown Turnpike Bridge was widened in the 1900's so it's original stonework is only visible on one side. However the Old National Bridge still remains a one-laned bridge exiting Funkstown from the main street and is, for the most part, still constructed as it originally was.

7It was quite common then, as it is now, for there to be multiple towns with the same name.

8Since most of the county was inhabited by Germans, the mayor was often called a burgess in those days.

9My cousin Denny runs the flower shop, Rooster Vane, if you find yourself in need of a lovely arrangement and you're in town, just tell him you were sent by family.

Lyrics from Funkytown by Lipps Inc.
The Story of Washington County, by Mary Michael. Library of Congress, 1993. ISBN: None
Images of America: Washington County by Mary H. Rubin. Arcadia Publishing, 2001. ISBN: 0-7385-1418-7
Funkstown: "Unofficial" Antique Capitol of County, http://www.marylandmemories.org/proof/funkstown.html

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