The Original Founding Fathers
- Randall Burnett
- James Harter
- Frank Miller
- Elvin Unger
- John Fiery
- Walter Hutson
- Geary Porter
- William Worthington
- William Hammersia
- Paul Middlekauff
- Robert Thornsburg
Everyone in Washington County has heard of the Alsatia Club because they sponsor the Mummers’ Parade at Halloween. Some may even have seen the small sign on the stately house along West Washington Street, but few know much about this organization.
In 1911, Hagerstown has few recreational opportunities for young people and a group of young men made a habit of hanging out in D. C. Aughinbaugh’s Pharmacy on the north side of West Washington Street’s first block. Concerned about their occupying seats that could be used by better paying customers to his store, Mr. Aughinbaugh offered them a vacant room on the second floor. On March 13, 1911, a group of eleven of the young men met at the public library and decided to accept the generous offer.
They named the club Alsatia in honor of that district in central London near the Whitefriars monastery, which was notorious from the 15th through the 17th centuries as a place without law, a sanctuary, the refuge of debtors and criminals of all types. They chose the Latin motto, ” Ne Cece Malis, Sed Contra” …”Yield not to adversity, but oppose it,” a high-minded sentiment for a bunch of rowdy boys.
Needing furniture in their club room, the young men persuaded David Horner, proprietor of a West Franklin Street furniture store, to give them credit, another rather audacious move. The club prospered and in four years needed larger quarters. In December 1915 they moved to the second floor of the Colonial Theater Building on South Potomac Street and a year later incorporated their club.
In 1916 they formed the Alsatia Club Basketball Team and a year later organized a bowling league. Oh, That Alsatia Minstrel Show began in 1920 as a fund raiser and continued as a popular event until the depression. Revived in 1938, it ceased for good at the beginning of WW II. Concerned about vandalism around Halloween, the club members organized the parade to better occupy the pranksters. The parade was such a success, that it became an annual event, running continuously from 1921 until the present except for the World War II years.
By 1923, the club had again outgrown its quarters and a committee was appointed to find a centrally located property that could be purchased and converted to a clubhouse. The Alsatians selected 141 West Washington Street, the home and offices of Dr. J. McPherson Scott for their new clubhouse, and purchased the property from his estate for $30,600.
This building stands in a row of handsome two-and-a-half story structures that for many decades served as homes and offices for both lawyers and doctors. In 1823, attorney Otho Lawrence purchased half of lot #90 from George Schryock, “subject to the usual ground rent.” The deed further explains that Otho is to have water rights to the well on George’s half of the lot, adding that: “The exercise of such right is to be subject to the control of said George to prevent the servants of said Otho from any sort of disorder mischief or injury on said George’s property.” It is probable that Otho Lawrence built his home/office shortly after, for the stylistic and construction features of the house indicate a building date in the 1820’s.
The house is brick with its facade laid in Flemish bond and the other walls in 5 to 1 common bond. It has three bays, double internal end chimneys and a gable roof. Windows have six-over-six sashes with brick jack arches. The main entrance, recessed beneath a low, rounded brick arch has sidelights and fluted columns flanking the door. An arched fanlight with curved muntins tops the doorway. Laid out in a side hall, double parlor floor plan, the entrance opens into a broad hall with original wainscot and an elegant hanging staircase that curves graciously to the top floor. First floor ceilings are 18 feet high. At the back of the property, opening onto the alley, is a large brick carriage house.
Samuel and Annie Kerfoot of Chicago, Illinois, heirs of Otho Lawrence, sold the property to attorney Zachariah S. Claggett for $3,600 in 1858. Claggett sold it later that year to George Kealhofer for the same amount. Mary Reynolds bought it for $6000 in 1881 from Kealhofer’s estate and sold it ten years later.
Dr. Scott bought the property in 1891 and probably added the Victorian interior detail: the marble mantel pieces with Romanesque arches, the elaborate balustrade on the staircase with its square newel post set at an angle, the handsome gilt-framed mirror in the front parlor, the gas light fixtures that still hang from the ceilings, and the elaborate openwork grill above the broad arch between the double parlors. He also filled in the alley to the east with a two-story bow-front addition, which became his office.
Alsatia members altered the building to meet their needs, while retaining its defining architectural features. An annex was added at the back of the building in 1956 to serve as a clubroom. In 1972 a stage was added to the club room so that bands that played for dances would be off the dance floor. Extensive renovation took place in 1975 and two years later the barroom was expanded and renovated refitting the bar from the old downtown Elks Club into this new space.
The Alsatians have always considered their club the house of good fellowship and this fellowship includes card games, monthly dinners prepared by members, Easter egg hunts for children, bingo and regular family breakfasts. Early on they had a strong basketball team and their bowling league, begun in 1917, is the oldest in the county. They used to bowl across the street at Rainey’s Bowling Alley but now meet every Friday night at Turner’s Lanes.
But they are more than fellowship and comradery. They are committed to their community and in addition to organizing the annual mummers’ parade, they sponsor a Little League team, a junior basket ball team, participate in the Parent Child Center Telethon and provide a place for their Christmas party with one of their members playing Santa. They rent bleachers to organizations who need them, and donate this service to worthy causes. The club is available to all its members from 6 a,m. until 1 a.m. when the alarm comes on. Each has a key and can take refuge in the comfort of the club whenever they want.
Otho Lawrence’s house continues to serve and the Alsatians have been careful to preserve much of its original fabric while fitting its to their needs. Started to serve the needs of men, the club has admitted its first two women members this year and will soon add two more who will join them in fellowship. Washington County is fortunate to be home of the only Alsatia Club in the world.