Monday, October 3, 2011

"Just wide enough for two wagons:" Robert L. Lagemann's Investigation of the Hagerstown Pike

Illustration 1.
Lagemann Photo Number 10. Taken June 1, 1903.
The glare emanating from the church comes from the glossy
photo reflection in the original. The War Department plaque 
mentioned in Illustration 3, Photo 11 (below) is clearly visible 
to the right of the door. I will post a better image 
in the coming weeks.
Every now and again a visitor will ask this question: "How wide was the Hagerstown Pike in 1862? Was it as wide as it is now?" A century later, Park Historian Robert L. Lagemann attempted to answer that question. In a 37 page report titled "The Environs of the Dunkard Church: Antietam National Battlefield Site"[1] Langemann appears to have interviewed or corresponded with Joseph H. Hildebrand, Hagerstown Resident Maintenance Engineer for the Maryland State Roads Commission about the Pike as it may have been on September 17, 1862. Not only does the finished report give us information on the width of the Pike but it also describes the lowering of the road elevation of the Pike in front (or due East) of the Dunkard Church. The finished report is in the Antietam National Battlefield Library. Here are excerpts  from his report.

"The primary road in the the Hagerstown Pike. In 1951 the road and right-of-way were widened, shifting the center line less than one foot to the east, on the section of road frontage immediately adjacent to the church site. The road surface here was lowered about three-and-a-half feet. The peak of the road is now about eight feet below the ground line at the northeast corner of the foundation wall. Prior to this highway rehabilitation in 1951, the road peaked at an elevation about five feet below the foundation ground line.

Illustration 2. Dunkard Church, October 2, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Jim Rosebrock.
The road is now twelve feet wide on each side of the center line. According to an estimate made by Mr. Joseph H. Hildebrand, Hagerstown Resident Maintenance Engineer for the Maryland Roads Commission, the old Hagerstown Pike was eighteen feet wide, total, before it became the property of the public roads system. [Lagemann adds a footnote here: "To Mr. Joseph H. Hildebrand's knowledge there are no records in his office nor local 'tradition' to indicate the road had undergone change in this section from 1862 until well after 1903."] ...

"In 1951 the paved surface of the highway was widened three feet on each side, thereby increasing the width of the original Pike (which had been paved but not widened subsequent to its acquisition by the Highway Commission) from eighteen to twenty-four feet. The road level area remains approximately the same width it was in 1862, but the road surface proper is now one-third wider. This area was obtained not by cutting back the bank, but by paving part of the lane adjacent to the road proper which in the horse-drawn vehicle era was used as a 'parking lane.'"

"Plans for this highway rehabilitation were made in 1950. Most of the work was accomplished in 1951. And it was completed in 1952. Records and drawings pertaining to this work are on file at the Maryland State Roads Commission office..."

Langemann pasted two black and white glossy photos to his report--Photo 10 and Photo 11.

Illustration 3.
Lagemann Photo Number 11. The Dunkard
Church ca. 1880s. Lagemann noted that "the gable
and roof of the house appearing to the left of the church 
indicate that one at least of the present [1962] periphery
buildings had already been constructed.
No structure was present there in 1862."
Click on the photo to enlarge.
"Photo No. 11. This was probably taken in the 1880's; before the War Department plaque was fastened to the front wall of the Dunkard Church, and after the West Woods had been cut down. A portion of the post-and-rail fence may be examined in the center left. In 1862 such a fence made a corner here as does the one pictured. The paling and board fencing across the road had been added after the Civil War. The junction of the Smoketown Road and the Hagerstown Pike appear here very much as they probably did in 1862. The Smoketown Road is dirt; the Pike is 'hard' surfaced by a version of the early, dry macadmising. The 'road' part of the Pike is just wide enough for two wagons. ..."

Compare Photos 10 and especially 11 with Illustration 2--a modern day image taken from nearly the same angle. The three and a half foot drop in the road is clearly visible as a bank in Illustration 2. In Illustration 3, the drop in elevation is very gradual with a gentle slope leading down to the Hagerstown Pike.


[1] Robert J. Lagemann, "The Environs of the Dunkard Church: Antietam National Battlefield Site: Prepared by Robert L. Lagemann, Park Historian, March 12, 1962, 37 pages." Typescript, Antietam National Battlefield Library.