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Reminiscing With Polly Baumgardner Shank

Michael Hillman

As I quickly learned, trying to follow a native Emmitsburgan's family tree is like finding a path through a maze blindfolded, and Polly Baumgardner Shank is no exception.  

Polly was born on December 5, 1914, the 8th and last child of Mary Morrison and Thomas Baumgardner. Mary Morrison was the daughter of a William Morrisorn who was the son of Emmitsburg's wealthiest landholder, David Morrison, who was married to a sister of Robert Morris, the financier of the American War of Independence. Mary's sister Elizabeth married J. Stewart Annon and another sister married Bruce Annon Horner, the son of Oliver Horner, the leader of Emmitsburg's Civil War Calvary.  

On the Baumgardner Side of the family, Thomas' brother John, married a Grace Martin, a granddaughter of Mathias and Anna Troxell Martin who were compatriots of Emmitsburg’s founder Samuel Emmitt.

Polly spent her early years playing on her mothers ancestral family farm just to the east of Keysville-Grimes Road intersection. When she turned five, her parents moved to the 'upper' farm, or as it was once known, 'the Baumgardner Farm'. 

The silos of the farm stood on the ground now occupied by Silo Hill, thus it name. Polly's home, which from all accounts was quite impressive, stood were the Jubilee Market now stands. The suspicious fire, which consumed the house and cleared the way for the building of the market, is still a sore point with many old time residents who fought valiantly to preserve what they considered a historic structure.

Polly's reminiscences about the past evoke a dream like picture of quintessential small town America. As soon as she was able, she rose before sunrise and joined in with her brothers and sisters as they hand milked the families 26 cows. Once the milk was cooled, it was brought to the creamery, (now Quality Tire). From their, it made ways to Boyle's grocery (now the Main Street Deli). In addition to owning the grocery, Mr. Boyle also owned a farm just to the north of town, upon which lies the Emmit Ridge development.

After completing her morning barn chores, Polly would rush home, and quickly wash and ready herself for school. A avid studier, Polly prided herself on always having done her home work. Even today, she still has vivid memories of the one time she failed to do so, and the embarrassment of being called to the front of the room to explain herself.

School was from nine to four, and because of the small class sizes, two grades frequently occupied the same room and teacher. Up until forth grade, Polly attended school in the building now occupied by ABC Printing on South Seton Ave.. Following which she and her classmates joined the upper classes in old high school. After school Polly would rush home with her brothers and sisters and join in the afternoon milking. The evenings were family time, and like other children her age, was spent doing homework.

During the summer, Polly's parents moved their dairy herd out to a farm near the Tom's Creek Methodists Church. While the summer brought a vacation from schoolwork, it was replaced with added farm chores. Polly's eyes glisten as she recants how she and her sister Jane used to retrieve a hidden ball when things slowed down, and sneak off a play with it. "We used to bounce it off the wall picking a particular brick and seeing who could hit it. We would throw the ball for hours, making up all sorts of games until such time as Anna, one of my older sister, would find us and give us more work to do."

Polly's parents were able farmers, and as such, they could afford some of the luxuries of life, like a telephone. "I can remember picking up the telephone and calling into the switchboard and asking to be connected to such and such. The operators always knew who was in or out of town. If the operator received a call asking to be connected to 'Hillcreast-X', she knew it was an out of towner. The word would spread quickly, and others on the party line would pick up their receivers and listen in. Of course," Polly added with a smile, "I never did that."

Christmas has always been a special time for kids in a small town, and Polly and Emmitsburg was no exception. Emmitsburg had its own tradition called 'Kris Kringling," which as far as I can tell, was a hybrid of trick or treating, mischief night, and Christmas caroling. After dressing in costumes, the children would sneak up to neighbor's house armed with nose makers of every shape and size. When all were positioned, a signal was given and a clatter would arise sure to wake the dead. The targets of the attack, usually aunts and uncles, would invite the perpetrators in, where the identity of the children would be guessed, and everyone enjoying hot cider and all sorts of sweet treats.

Following graduation, many of Polly's classmate began working at the old sewing mill, the present day Antique Mall, Polly however, chose to work in Leone McNair's Green Parrot Tea Room, one of Emmitsburg's more charming restaurants. At the Green parrot diners were treated to elegant meals while they watched horse being watered in the fountain that once graced the town square. Originally located were the liquor store now stands, the Green Parrot moved twice, first to the bank building, and finally to the building which now hold's Harrington's.

In 1934 Polly marred Weldon Shank, the man of her dreams. The son and grandson of millers, in 1936, Weldon took over his grandfather's mill located just to the west of the town on old Rt. 26, now Rt. 140. 

Liberty Mill, a.k.a., Jingle's Mill, or Shank's Mill, was built in the early 1800's, and was the last of its kind. Powered by a giant water wheel it ground grain between two large stones, just as the first mills of the early settlers had done. Like the old Troxell Mill and Maxell Mills before it, it served as a place were community members from far and wide could gather and spin yarns. Over the ensuing years. Polly helped her husband run the mill, while simultaneously raising a family of nine.

Development however soon began to take its toll on the Shank's business. Especially Carroll Valley, where bountiful farms that had supplied the mill with grain, where turned into plush golf courses. In 1985, Hurricane Angus washed out the mill's raceway, driving the final nail into the mill's coffin. Since then, Polly and her husband have been enjoying the fruits of their labors and the gleeful shrieks of laughter from their bountiful progeny. 

Editors Note: On 5/15 Polly passed away, read Remembering Polly Shank

Read other stories by Michael Hillman

Do you know of an individual who helped shape Emmitsburg?
If so, send their story to us at: history@emmitsburg.net

Editors note:

Untold in the article above, is the critical role the Baumgardner family played in the history of 'Fort Henry', a name associated in local folklore with a mythical revolutionary war fort, but in reality, was the homestead of some of the bravest men and noble women that any town could ever hope to have.

Much like The History of Stony Branch, 'The History of Fort Henry' will tell the story of the land east of Flat Run, including Emitt Gardens and Silo Hill, to Harney Road, and north to North Seton Ave.  Land that Henry Williams called 'Fort Henry'. 

The story will led you thru time, beginning with the earliest settlers and ending with the mysterious fire that is still talked about today, and along the way, we'll tell the stories of the families, such as the Baumbardners, that called 'Fort Henry' home.

Along the way, take advantage of the many hyperlink detours, each one of which will allow to explore & discover your own way through Emmitsburg's rich history. 

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