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From Thriving Town To Sleepy Town


John Hinebaugh, whose roots go back more than two centuries in this tiny western Garrett County community, has spent years diligently collecting bits and pieces of the hamlet's past. Faded photographs and dusty relics adorn the walls of Friend's General Store, which has been in his family since 1769.

A lot of the town's history he learned firsthand.

"I got my education as a kid sitting in this store listening to the old-timers talk," says the 74-year-old retired Defense Department official. Mr. Hinebaugh was born and raised in this Appalachian town near the Youghiogheny River, just a few miles west of Deep Creek Lake and east of the West Virginia line.

"The old-timers back then would talk about their ancestors and how they first came up here more than 200 years ago and found a Shangri-La," says Mr. Hinebaugh, who returned to Sang Run full time when he retired in the mid-1980s. He's spent the years since refurbishing the old store, along with the 1872 Sang Run Election House that stands just down the road.

"Back then [during his youth]," he continues, "there was plenty of game for the table, all the timber you needed, coal sticking out of the ground and an abundance of furs and ginseng to trade. It was like a paradise. And now, with Garrett State Forest all around us, all that original natural beauty has pretty much come back."

Friend's Store, the old Election House, a little community park, a church and a few houses scattered along the crooked country road and nestled back in the woods . . . That's about all there is to Sang Run nowadays.

The community is named for the little stream that runs through it and empties into the nearby Youghiogheny River at a spot where the earliest known explorers to the area encountered a herd of buffalo. These early pioneers named the creek, and later their settlement, for the abundance of ginseng ("sang" in local parlance) that once grew along its banks.

Today one has to go deep into the mountains to find ginseng, but Mr. Hinebaugh still collects the valuable herbal root, like his great-great-great-grandfather did before him.

It may be awhile before all the ginseng disappears from around Sang Run, but all the little ridge-side farms that were once the backbone of Sang Run's economy are long gone. Nowadays Friend's Store is the only retail business, and Mr. Hinebaugh opens up only when he feels like it.

A century ago Sang Run was a thriving lumber town with three stores, its own post office and school. There was even a narrow-gauge railway that ran down from Friendsville to the north. But the Baltimore & Ohio railroad gradually took business away to the larger town of Oakland, the county seat, a dozen or so miles to the south. Sang Run's post office, which opened in 1839, closed in 1972. "If somebody dies here now, they die in McHenry, not Sang Rung," Richard Browning says with a chuckle.

Despite the lessening of Sang Run's commercial importance over the years, many residents would not live elsewhere. A surprising number of the townspeople -- such as Mr. Hinebaugh, and his neighbor Richard Browning -- are direct descendants of the area's earliest settlers. And for them, the sleepy back-roads community is still a Shangri-La of sorts.

"I can sit on my porch in the evening and I've got two buck deer who come right in the yard to eat apples," says Mr. Browning, a 72-year-old retired Marine fighter pilot. A veteran of "three shooting wars," Mr. Browning was raised in Sang Run. He traces his lineage directly to the famed 19th-century hunter Meshach Browning, whose widely read memoir, "Forty-Four Years in the Life of a Hunter," paints a vivid picture of the rugged wilderness that western Garrett County once was.

"I've lived all over the world," Mr. Browning says with a smile, "but I haven't found any place better than this."

Sang Run's charm -- its somnambulant summer days and the sheer, isolated beauty of its winters -- is also what tends to draw newer residents like Ann Booth, 25. Ms. Booth, a student at Frostburg State University, was raised in suburban Alexandria, Va. But she happens to be the granddaughter, many times removed, of Paul Hoye, who did the first survey of the Sang Run area in 1774.

Today, Ms. Booth owns 400 acres that have been in her family since Hoye got his original land grant from the king of England. Three years ago, she traded in the amenities of suburbia for the more idyllic pace of Sang Run.

"I just love the natural beauty, the richness, the history," says Ms. Booth. "I definitely plan to stay in Sang Run."

Bob Browning, Richard Browning's son, is another transplant. Like a lot of locals, the younger Browning draws his livelihood from nearby Deep Creek Lake. One of his enterprises is the Evening Star, an excursion boat that plies the lake.

Yet when the day is done, Mr. Browning always looks forward to coming home to Sang Run. "You've got some good restaurants and even some night life up at the lake," he says with a grin. "But then you come back down here to Sang Run, that's when you can get a little peace of mind."

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