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Local historian encourages you to think about your county and its history

Local historian encourages you to think about your county and its history
By Jennifer LB Leese

Local historian Dennis Frye's hardcover coffee table book brilliantly tells the story of Washington County from the 1800's to the present. This book is called "Historic Washington County: The story of Hagerstown & Washington County". It is the first book to tell the story of the county dating back that far.
Although it's considered a coffee table book, it is not a picture book. It's a book of stories dedicated to the history of business and the people of Washington County, and it is packed with legacy, birthrights, and history.
The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce commissioned the book. Frye recognized chamber director Brien Poffenberger for conception of the book. "Brien Poffenberger, a long-time friend, fellow Leadership Maryland graduate, and a distant cousin (my mother was a Poffenberger) knew of my interest in local history, my business acument, and my publication experience, and Brien believed I'd make a nice fit," said Frye.
"Historic Washington County: The story of Hagerstown & Washington County" came out a few weeks ago.
"I am a native of Washington County and have fought for several decades to promote and preserve its history. My roots in Washington County helped catapult my career as a professional historian, and this book offers me the opportunity to give back to my heritage." Frye is chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Frye feels he developed his skills and education through his father, John Frye, curator of the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library, and enjoys that his book takes on a unique and different approach to the county's history.
"I seldom wrote [my father's stories] down, but absorbed it through intense listening and lots of questions. As a kid, I was amazed at the way my father could spellbound complete strangers with Washington County history.
"For some reason, when trying to get our attention at home, he was not that successful," Frye said. "Dad began leading tours in the county more than 50 years ago. He was among the first who recognized the county's unique heritage and he helped convince board after board of county commissioners of the importance of promoting and preserving our unique stories, structures, and landscapes."
Many local historians had a hand in this book. Doug Bast from the Boonsborough Museum of History was one of them. "Doug's known me since I was crawling on the floor as a baby. He graciously opened every corner of his museum for my research, and we spent countless hours together examining photos, manuscripts, illustrations, and artifacts," said Frye. "We are fortunate to have Doug Bast as a history institution himself.
"No author or researcher creates a book of history by oneself. It requires many contacts in many places who are willing to share their repositories with you. A special challenge in this case was that I was responsible for researching and providing all of the images, and building the story around images. Finding the images, organizing them into a coherent story, ensuring that images represented all areas of the county and covered diverse time periods, and producing them in a high-quality format required more time than writing the book.
Frye said that over 80% of the images are published for the first time. This brings a fresh and illuminating perspective to the county's imagery and history literature was a special goal.
"I did not want to retrace paths followed by others," he said.
The book is inspirational and Frye hopes that past stories will inspire those of today by encouraging people to think about their county and its history. Frye wants readers to know that "this is a story about people--people who invested in our county, cared about our county, and changed our county. In numerous cases, what they created or achieved here changed the world. It truly is a book about legacy.
"It also is a comprehensive story of the contributions of county communities. From Smithsburg to Sharpsburg, Hancock to Hagerstown, Clear Spring to Boonsboro, Williamsport to Keedysville--each community made its own contributions. I wanted to highlight those contributions and discover illustrations that emphasized those stories."
"Historic Washington County: The story of Hagerstown & Washington County" is a well-thought out, informative, beautiful book.
When asked about an experience he'd like to share, Frye said, "My most memorable experience is tragic--my Boston terrier "Gizmo" became ill and passed away while writing the book. The pain from his loss brought out my feelings, and as a result, this book is written with great feeling."
One of Frye's future book projects will focus on the Civil War, which "centrally features Washington County". He hopes to have the book published in 2012 to coincide with the Sesquicentennial of the Maryland Campaign and the Battle of Antietam.
This spring his book "Under Fire: Harpers Ferry in the Civil War" will be released. It includes photographs, illustrations, and commentary relating to Civil War history in South County.
"Historic Washington County: The story of Hagerstown & Washington County" is available now.

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