Endless debate revolves around where Western Maryland actually begins

FREDERICK — FREDERICK -- The line may not be as important as the one drawn in the sand, but it may be more difficult to pin down, and the debate over where it lies is sometimes controversial and often amusing.

The boundary in question is: Where does Western Maryland actually begin? The answer is not nearly as clear-cut as it is for the state's Eastern Shore, which geographically and psychologically is defined by the Chesapeake Bay. One man's Western Maryland is another man's Central Maryland, and those who consider themselves westerners feel strongly about where the west begins.


"They ought to make it a law making it illegal to refer to anything being in Western Maryland unless it is in Allegany or Garrett counties," said Sull McCartney of Potomac Engineering in Oakland and a Garrett County resident.

"People from Baltimore and Annapolis don't realize how far it is to Western Maryland," he said. "It gets very annoying when people have meetings there early in the morning and expect you to drive there and back the same day."


The primary question, it seems, is whether all or any part of Frederick County should be considered Western Maryland.

In determining unemployment statistics by region, the state Department of Economic and Employment Development names Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties as Western Maryland. And the state Department of Planning links those three counties together as Western Maryland for its administrative purposes.

But in recent meetings with community leaders about plans to promote the western part of the state this summer, state officials said Frederick County would be included as part of the promotion, despite the grousing of some farther west who don't see anything in common with Frederick.

Paul E. Schurick, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's press secretary, said state Cabinet members had a difficult time in a recent meeting trying to decide where Western Maryland starts. "We arrived at no consensus," he said. Mr. Schurick said Mr. Schaefer preferred to think of Western Maryland as a state of mind, rather than a place in the state.

"The governor does not recognize a single boundary to Western Maryland," he said. "Rather, he recognizes people's attitudes toward considering themselves Western Marylanders."

Frederick County Commissioner Ronald Sundergill used to think lived in Western Maryland, but with the growth of the area, that view is changing.

"I think it used to be more identified with Western Maryland, but now it seems to identify more and more with the metropolitan area of Washington and Montgomery County," he said. Frederick County is part of the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area of Washington, and is a member of that metropolitan area's Council of Governments.

Former U.S. Sen. J. Glenn Beall Jr., who lives in Cumberland, said despite the urbanization of Frederick County, he still thinks of it as Western Maryland. "In my opinion, Western Maryland begins at Frederick County," Mr. Beall said. "I'm inclined to think of Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties as Western Maryland."


Mr. Beall said that before the growth of the state over the last 20 years, the boundary line was not even as far west as Frederick. "When I was in Congress, Western Maryland was everything west of the Beltway," he said.

Others would draw the line through Frederick County. Ken Schwarz, who works for the Maryland Geological Survey and has spent some time in Western Maryland, believes the line is drawn at the mountains just west of the city of Frederick.

"To me, anything west of those mountains is Western Maryland," he said. When he sees the "Welcome to Scenic Western !B Maryland" along Interstate 70 at the Frederick-Washington counties border, Mr. Schwarz said, "I'm already into Western Maryland by the time I hit that sign."

Washington County Commissioner Linda Irvin-Craig agrees with drawing the line at the mountains heading west out of Frederick.

"When I think of Western Maryland, I think in terms of the first mountains immediately west of Frederick city," she said.

Doug Bast, a historian who operates the Boonsboro Museum of History in Washington County, said in earlier times people believed that Western Maryland began at Shenandoah Mountain, now called South Mountain, at the Frederick-Washington counties' border.


He doesn't get offended, though, when people move that boundary.

"It's really insignificant as to whether or not Frederick County is included in Western Maryland," he said. "Actually, I feel closer in association with Frederick County than Allegany or Garrett counties."

Allegany County Commissioner John W. Stotler has a parochial view of where Western Maryland begins -- at his county's border, just west of Hancock. "It starts when it hits the Allegany County line," he said.

And former Cumberland City Councilman Pete Elliott even pushes the boundary farther west, to a community about 12 miles east of Cumberland.

"Flintstone is where it starts," he said, an Allegany County town that not only represents the geographical boundary, but also the mental one. "The mind set is different" from Flintstone west, Mr. Elliott said, more rugged, more individualistic.

But then it all depends on where you're standing. When it's a blizzard in Oakland and it's dry in Cumberland, it may be hard for Garrett County residents to accept Allegany County as Western Maryland.


Don Ruhe, a retired Mack Truck worker and outdoorsman who lives in McHenry in Garrett County, believes that anyone east of Cumberland who thinks he is in Western Maryland is lost.

"My idea of Western Maryland is that it is from Cumberland, west," he said. "Once you get out of the valley in Cumberland, then you're in Western Maryland, where we get far more snowfall than anywhere else in the state and the temperatures are usually 12 to 15 degrees colder than Cumberland."

While some crave recognition as part of the true Western Maryland, others do what they can to distance themselves. The school with the name of Western Maryland College is in Westminster, usually not considered Western Maryland territory.

"We do a lot to tell people that we're not located in the western part of the state," said Chris Hart, assistant director of public information at the college in Carroll County. "It's become a rather PTC amusing pastime up here trying to convince people that we are close to the Baltimore metropolitan area and Washington and not out west."

The school was named 125 years ago after the Western Maryland Railroad, at the time a major economic power in the state. Several months ago, the college published a brochure called "Finding Western Maryland College." One of the first lines in the brochure declares that "it's not in Western Maryland."

But then, what is?