Douglass C. Reed
Hagerstown Commercial Core Historic District
Hagerstown, Washington County
The Hagerstown Commercial Core Historic District consists approximately of a 1 1/2 by 2 block rectangle which includes the major retail center of town. The center of the district is the public square which is formed by the junction of Potomac and Washington Streets, the two major traffic arteries in the city. The district extends one half block east of the public square, north to Franklin Street, west to Summit-Jonathan Streets, and east to Antietam Street. It is made up almost entirely of commercial buildings constructed or remodeled for retail purposes during the last 20 years of the 19th century and the first 20 years of the 20th century. This 40 year period represents the peak of Hagerstown's prosperity. Exceptions to the commercial character of the district but integral to it are two prominently located government structures, the Washington County Courthouse built in 1874, and the City Hall. The Courthouse is prominently located at the corner of Summit Avenue and West Washington Street. The City Hall at the corner of East Franklin and North Potomac Streets was built in 1939 on the site of an early 19th century city hall. It is also in a key location. These two public buildings helped to establish the direction of commercial growth along Washington and Potomac Streets primarily and the Franklin and Summit-Jonathan Streets secondarily. Most of the buildings within the district retain the architectural characteristics of the period of their significance and provide a showcase of late 19th and early 20th century commercial styles.
The Hagerstown Commercial Core Historic District is significant for its portrayal of the economic growth and development of the city, and for its architecture as a showcase of late 19th and early 20th century commercial styles. Hagerstown has been since the 18th century a commercial center for not only Washington County, of which it is the county seat, but of a larger tri-state area which includes southern Franklin County, Pennsylvania and the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. During the late 19th century, Hagerstown became a leading manufacturing city in Maryland with the production among other goods of furniture and organs. It also became a rail center. These industries resulted in a great population growth and a commercial boom period that occurred between 1880 and 1920. This economic boom is reflected in the almost total redevelopment and transformation of the downtown commercial area during that period. Large hotels catering to rail and automobile travelers were built and commercial establishments were either remodeled or built new to reflect the prosperity. Several architectural styles seemed to predominate, although not to the exclusion of other styles. The favored architectural expression was the Italianate style, followed chronologically by Beaux Arts or neo classical modes and finally by the simple rectilinear commercial vernacular of the early 20th century. Pivotal buildings in the district are the Washington County Courthouse and the Hagerstown City Hall which helped to establish the direction of commercial growth along West Washington and North Potomac Streets.