Photo By: Meghan Brady-Porter
Photo By: Alysha Noble
Let’s start with the General Background of how Kitzmiller came to be. Hundreds of years ago, Native Americans were the ones to inhabit the valley. Native American trails crisscrossed all throughout Garrett County including this area. The trails made access for seasonal migration easy. The Natives would take advantage of the Potomac River for fishing and open land to plant crops. They were also able to find caves, not only for shelter, but for storing supplies and crops. Evidence shows that Cherokee, Delaware, and Shawnee Tribes all lived in Garrett County. The main tribe in the Kitzmiller Area was known as the Mingo Tribe. According to The Encyclopedia of Native American Indians describes the Mingoes as one of “the most peaceably disposed” tribes, “although, they were quite capable of brave and warlike tendencies when aroused.”
In the late 1700s, Europeans began moving westward from the coastline, which in turn forced the Natives further west as well. The first Europeans came to Kitzmiller valley around 1740. The first settler being Daniel Bray. While we don’t know much about Bray, we do know that in the 1790s, before heading west himself, he sold his tract of land to Revolutionary War Veteran Thomas Wilson II of Altamont. Thomas Wilson III, the son of Thomas Wilson II, settled into this unnamed land in 1801. He ended up building what was known as Wilson Grist Mill in the following year. (More to come on this later). Those who joined Mr. Wilson, supported themselves through farming and stock-raising. Another Entrepreneur, Mr. Ebenezer Kitzmiller, moved to the Kitzmiller area with dreams of starting his own mill. Come to find out Mr. Kitzmiller ended up falling in love with Mr. Wilson’s Daughter Emily, and the two ended up tying the knot and having 13 Children. Kitzmiller then built a woolen mill in 1853. His factory ended up producing wool of such superior quality that the clothing and blankets made from it were prized by woodsmen and lumbermen from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. In 1877 the Government was working on establishing a post office and the town needed a name. Since the citizens respected Ebenezer for his contributions to the community’s well-being, they insisted on naming the town after him. Low and behold they came up with the name “Kitzmillersville” and in 1906, the Town of Kitzmillersville was officially established. Later down the road, the name of the town was shortened to Kitzmiller.
Kitzmiller River Walk is on top the Kitzmiller Flood wall, which follows the North Branch of the Potomac River. This walk offers peaceful, scenic views along with excellent opportunities for recreation, like fishing and swimming. Most residents grew up going to Flat Rock, Green Garage or Dill Hole. These locations are known “to the locals” as the most common swimming holes in the area. While this river is calm and peaceful most of the time, it has caused some major flooding, which is reason the flood wall was established in 1964 by the Army Corp of Engineers, Mayor and Town Council, and the County Commissioners. Have you ever seen the signs that say: “No Motorized Vehicles Authorized” and wonder why? It’s because it would contribute to the breakdown of the flood wall. The breaking down of the flood wall would be a tragedy for our community, like it was on March 31stof 1924. According to Newspaper articles, the flood waters swept away fifteen homes! Two of those houses, struck the bridge that ran across the river forming a dam that caused the entire town to flood. It demolished everything the town had to offer such as: Several Grocers, two dry good stores, barber shops, a pharmacy, two restaurants and department stores. The only building left standing was the Bank. During this flood, a family of 5 was lost due to the swift waters. All phone and cables were washed away, and the town was literally cut off from communication with the outside world. In the days following it was learned that the train tracks were washed away, there was a Mudslide on MD Rt 38 which closed the road to truck traffic. Six inches of snow and the cold only added to the compiling list of issues. Finally, on April 3rd, 1924, an American Red Cross truck reached the town with bread, condensed milk, medicine, and other supplies. Despite being nearly destroyed, the town of Kitzmiller refused to allow this to set them back. Within the following year, there was the installation of an electric light system, paving of the streets, and a parade to celebrate how resilient the town was. To install the flood wall, what once was known as “River Street” had to be removed along with a block of homes, and the movie theater. That’s why the street the Town Hall and Post Office are on is called Centre Street.
Dr. Melvin Brown. To many, it is just a name, but for those that know, Dr. Melvin Brown was the one who gave life to our Botanical Garden in Kitzmiller. Dr. Brown was born and raised in Mineral County, WV. He served as a professor at Frostburg State University Teaching Biology and Botany. He co-authored a booked called “Woody Plants of Maryland and Herbaceous Plants of Maryland,” with fellow Botanist Russel B. Brown. Dr. Brown started studying 7.7 acres around Kitzmiller High School, eventually bringing his students from Frostburg down to identify these plants, shrubs, and trees. During this time, the students suggested that they start labeling the species of trees. It was then realized many of the species of plants were derived of their development by briers and undergrowth. The students and volunteers of the community began cleaning up what was now being called, “The Park.” After everything was cleared, The State Forestry Service of Maryland was contacted to obtain additional specimens that would be well suited to the climate of the area. Some of the following trees were included in this: Balsam Fir, Red Spruce, White Pine, Larch, and Red Pine. None of these being native to our valley region other than the Hemlock. After the installation of the new species of trees, picnic tables, fireplaces, bird houses and feeders, walkways were added to the area to entice the community to use the facilities as pleased. Over the years, the town has taken over the responsibilities the park requires. Within the last few years, we have allowed families to “Adopt a Flowerbed” in remembrance to their loved ones. You will see a few of these if you walk the path through-out the park. You will also find what is called the “Fitness Trail” which was installed by a grant that the Garrett County Health Department helped obtain. If you follow the signs throughout the park, it shows different exercises that you can complete as you walk. In the years to come, you will see an upgrade to the pond (and fingers-crossed) the bathrooms.
Did you know that Kitzmiller school was originally built in 1922? It first served as a High School. “The High School was in a new building and the students were enthusiastic about their school. They received congratulations from Albert Ritchie, Governor of Maryland, a Maryland Senator, their congressman, the Chief Mining Engineer of Maryland, and the Sheriff of Garrett County.” The building has changed so much over the many years of being here. They didn’t have their first yearbook until 1926, which a copy can be found in the library. Diane Kisner, the current Librarian, has done a phenomenal job at preserving the history of our town. The Ruth-Enlow Library is still open and fully participates as part of our beloved community. The many faces of students, teachers, and visitors that have passed through these halls are endless. The Board of Education decided that Kitzmiller no longer needed a high school, and were reportedly going to close the doors to the high school students and send them 20 miles to Oakland, MD. There was a huge conflict with the superintendent of Garrett County Schools, R. Bowen Hardesty, after he refused to show up to the graduation of the Kitzmiller Class of 1952. The following school year, the state agreed to pay tuition, for books, and transportation for these local High School students to attend Elk Garden, WV as a temporary compromise. While Kitzmiller School remained open for elementary school students. The population of the school started to dwindle, and eventually the Garrett County Board of Education officially voted to “shut the school down” in 2013. Since then, most of the students that would attend Kitzmiller, go to Broadford Elementary. The County now owns the building and the Town of Kitzmiller uses it as a “Community Hall.” It is now where hot meals are served, and people can even rent the space for events. The town and other community organizations usually uses it for events like Homecoming, the Fall Social, Breakfast with the Easter Bunny, the annual Veteran’s Day Dinner, and Old-Fashioned Christmas. The Headstart Program currently inhabits half of the downstairs, and the Kitzmiller After-School program uses another portion. It has recently become home to the Helping Hands Thrift Shop ran by Nancy Brady, and other volunteers. All profits made at the thrift shop get spent for our community! In the future, the town is looking at floor plans for the upstairs to be able to provide more opportunity to our community.
This building was originally built in the 1800s in Elk Garden, WV. In 1904, they decided that instead of erecting a new church in Kitzmiller they would relocate the one you see standing here today. They cut the building into sections and moved them down Elk Garden Hill by horse-drawn wagons. Imagine not having a paved road to move an entire building. About 15 years ago, the church held its last service and the congregation disbanded. The trustees then decided to donate the building to the town. It now serves as the Kitzmiller Coal Heritage Museum ran by Dale Lipscomb. If you are interested in viewing the artifacts in the museum, please call the town hall to schedule an appointment!
The Image to the left is of Thomas Wilson III. Remember I told you that we would come back to him? Mr. Wilson ended up erecting the Grist mill at the end of Second Street and West Main Street. This grist mill would serve to provide grain to both Garrett and Allegany Counties. He was born on April 25, 1777. Originally from Frederick MD, his father purchased the tract of land we currently call Kitzmiller. In 1801, Thomas married his wife, Susan. In 1802, Wilson built the grist mill to produce grain for his family and the few “neighbors” around him. Thomas and Susan ended up having 16 children, one of which was Emily. There’s not much on Wilson that you can find on the internet, however the great Diane Kisner at the Library has a book on the Wilson Family if you are interested in learning more about them.
“The Big White Building across from the Post Office” is how we had to describe this building to our friends and their parents when directing them for birthday parties. This building was built in 1946 by funding and labor from the citizens of Kitzmiller. This building has served as the home to Kitzmiller Lions Club for decades and used to serve Senior Citizen Hot Meals upstairs. Downstairs, you will see where the Town Office is located. It houses the office of the Mayor and Town Clerk and is the gathering place for Town Meetings. These meetings are on the 4th Monday of every month at 7PM, and anyone is welcome to attend. A few years ago (and I’m meaning more like 15 years ago) when Kitzmiller had a float in the Autumn Glory parade, I remember endless nights of listening to the song “16 Tons” while the painting of the float was being prepared and the erection of the float was done by members of the community. As of now, the upstairs of the community building is hardly rented out due the inability to provide a handicap acceptable entrance. Remember the late Diane Paugh? She lived next door to the community building and served as town clerk for 32 years before retiring. God Bless her and her family for always being such a huge part of this community.
The stone building right next to the community building served as a craft store, barber shop, business offices, and currently a vacation home. It is mostly remembered as Dr. Ralph Calandrella’s office, “Doc Cal” for short. After moving here from Connecticut in 1935, Doc Cal held the position of company doctor for several of the local coal companies. During this time, many miners lived “off the beaten path” and Doc would walk many miles or ride a mule to see his patients that were in need. As payment, he was known to accept chickens, beef, potatoes, or other food
goods. Eventually Doc retired in the 1970s and settled well into retirement. That didn’t stop him from seeing patients though. I found an article and in it, Leanna Davis stated, “Doc Cal would still see patients in his home from time to time.”
This building was known as the Company Store. Originally owned by Johnstown Coal and Coke Company, this building has passed through many hands of ownership throughout the years. At the turn of the 20th Century, many restoration projects throughout the town were started. We ended up getting a grant from the State Highway Administration to restore most of the building. There was also grant money given from the Maryland Historical Society. It now houses the Coal Bucket Restaurant and the Visitors Center. Stop in and meet the Owner of the Restaurant, Barb McKenney, who takes real pride in the history of our community.
Former Mayor, Lawrence Elliott (1970-1972) served as the Bank Manager for over 20 years. This site is currently owned by Garrett County Community Action. It has been known as a lot of things throughout the history of our small community, a bank, a post office, The Miner’s Vault most recently.
Located at 249 E. Main St, Kitzmiller Volunteer Fire Department was organized in June of 1932. Unlike most communities, fortunately, it didn’t take a tragic fire for them to decide we needed a fire department. Their first piece of equipment was a 1928 Brockway Pumper. John A Shore was the first president and Milton E. Pritts was the first Chief. The 1928 apparatus was replaced by a 1941 Chevrolet, 350 Gallons per minute pumper. Eventually these originals were all replaced. As of October 1st, 2021, Kitzmiller Volunteer Fire Department owns and operates 9 different apparatuses to help assist in providing protection of life, property, and environment against fire. There are currently 21 Firefighters, 5 Emergency Medical Technicians, 1 Emergency Medical Responder, 7 Swift Water Technicians and 3 Divers. K.V.F.D. is now a certified Red Cross Emergency Shelter and has a landing pad to make easier access for medical aviation transport. We are grateful that we have them close! Their meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month and an in-house training night is held on the second Tuesday of each month.
- Apparently in the 1920s, this was the thing to do to obtain “your dream home.” The warehouse where these kits were put together was in Chicago, Illinois. This is just one example of the beautiful Home Kits that they sold between 1904 and 1940.
- Like Sears and Roebuck, this house was also purchased through a catalog. The Catalog was founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in Chicago, Illinois, in 1872.