Mt. Airy ready for weeklong display of town's historic roots

Ten years ago, merchants along Mount Airy's historic Main Street hoping to drum up more business looked for something different.

"What it was decided to do was to learn about the history of our community," said Ellie Bonde, chairwoman of the promotion committee for Mount Airy Main Street Association. "Where we are in Maryland, it was affected by every war or major event in our country's history. We are in an historic area."

History 101 Mount Airy started with one event — a walking tour.

It has evolved into an eight-day experience that features guest speakers, a scavenger hunt, a youth service day and a visit from Benjamin Franklin.

"We partner with different groups," said Dick Swanson, vice-president of the Main Street Association. "We use their venues to put together the program."

This year, the program begins Sept. 7 and runs through Sept. 14 in the town.

"I know I've learned so much," said Bonde, who tries to attend all the events she schedules. "We are a community because of the railroad. The Civil War happened right here where I'm standing.

As part of the ongoing celebration for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, for example, the program has featured numerous Civil War highlights the last few years. This year, a speaker will talk about Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who supposably traveled through Mount Airy on his way to Gettysburg.

But the weeklong program's main focus is the town itself. For several years, the program has featured locals who remember Mount Airy as it was many years ago, back when its population was only 800 residents.

"We talk in general about the good ol' days and what the town looked like and the games we played," said Oscar Baker, 91, who leads the discussion with Helen Simpson, 96. "There are so many new people today. It is great to see their reaction to photos and where they were taken.

"I do enjoy it," Baker said of the discussion. "It's really nice."

The week's events will be held at different sites, including the Mount Airy Branch of the Carroll County Public Library, the town hall and Pine Grove Chapel, which is normally not open to the public.

The chapel, which was built in 1846 as a Presbyterian church, housed Union troops from New Jersey during the Civil War to guard the railroad tracks.

"This area was very pro-Southern," Bonde said. "Locals were trying to intercede and cause problems."

A scavenger hunt encourages people to walk around town and look at buildings.

"It's intended to be a family activity," Bonde said. "It encourages people to go inside or at least look at the building and find its cornerstone."

Bonde, who has a flower shop on Main Street, hopes the hunt will show participants all the things available in the town.

"I rely on people to come buy flowers," Bonde said. "We want people to know we are here. It is a way of promoting Main Street and the different stores and restaurants."

Each event draws from 15 to 40 people, according to Bonde. All events are free and open to everyone

"I like the fact a lot of people bring their children to listen to the questions kids come up with," Swanson said. "It's fun and interesting. It's kind of folksy."

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