The History of Caroline County, Maryland, From Its Beginning, 1920, pp. 299-313

Furman's Grove and The Plains

The Founding

        Ridgely did not happen into existence like the typical crossroads settlements which gradually extend along the turning highway until they suddenly discover themselves to be full fledged villages or towns.  Ridgely was fully conceived and definitely planned before one building was erected on its site.
       When the Eastern Shore of Maryland was undergoing a transformation because of the approach of railroads, a body of men from Philadelphia heard the call of the city and under the name of the Maryland and Baltimore Land Association, started forth with the dream of planting a city on the site of our present town, which should unite the Maryland and Delaware Railroad and the Choptank River.  Without the cooperation of Reverend Greenbury W. Ridgely and Mr. Thomas Bell, the Maryland and Baltimore City Land Association could not have carried out its plans.  The general understanding is that Messrs. J.R. Renzor, Thomas O. Hambly and George N. Townsend, the three important men constituting the Association, were friends of Rev. Greenbury W. Ridgely and through his large land interests at this point and their common interests in the construction of the Queenstown and Harrington Railroad, these three men were drawn to this community.  Under the circumstances, it was natural that the Rev. Mr. Ridgely should give them his hearty cooperation in their city building project, and that they should reciprocate by naming the city in his honor.  After the negotiation of the Land Association with Mr. Ridgely and Mr. Bell, in which they secured the use of the Ridgely and Bell farming lands for the promotion of their town and city scheme, they made their survey of Ridgely.  Mr. Sisler, a Philadelphia civil engineer, was employed by them for this special part of the work.  He was assisted by Mr. Theophilus W. Smith, then a young man living at his father's home farm, near the prospective town.  They surveyed not less than two hundred acres lying within and around the town.
        This whole survey resulted in the production of a most interesting map of Ridgely, showing the beautiful streets and avenues planned.  Copies of this were used freely in attracting settlers to the contemplated city.  The dream city, founded May 13, 1867, was born too early in this section of the state to become a reality, and it soon died.   The reason for this was that the financial resources of the Company were not sufficient t enable them to accomplish their great undertaking.  As the summer advanced, signs of this were much in evidence.  Unpaid bills were accumulating and dissatisfaction was heard from lumber dealers, builders, painter, and day laborers.  The city that had been started vanished with only a few buildings and a map left behind to record the unrealized dream.
        After the failure of the Maryland and Baltimore Land Association, the real estate firm of Mancha Brothers united its activities in promising the growth of Ridgely; but for the first decade the most apparent growth lay outside the boundaries of the village.  New settlers bought farms in the surrounding country where land was plentiful and cheap, and thus gradually the agricultural interests outside the hamlet and the commercial interests within, developed Ridgely into the busy railroad center it has increasingly become throughout its fifty years or more of history.  Faith in the railroad was the great factor in holding Ridgely together and in promoting its growth.
        The following are some of the earliest settlers in Ridgely - James K. Saulsbury, a merchant; J. Frank Mancha and Henry S. Mancha, real estate agents, who were instrumental in bringing northern settlers into this community; Sylvester Smith, who established a fruit evaporating industry, and James Swann, Ridgely's first teacher and later Superintendent of Schools of Caroline County.  Other early settlers were Isaac J. Sigler, John A. Sigler, and Thomas W. Jones, Sr.

Rev. Greensbury W. Ridgely


        The Reverend Greenbury W. Ridgely, in whose honor the town of Ridgely was named, was born in Lexington, Kentucky, May 12, 1798.  He attended the Transylvanian University, from which he graduated, with honor.  He then attended the law school of Litchfield, Conn., where he formed a life-long friendship with John M. Clayton, of Delaware.  On Mr. Ridgely's return trip to Lexington he visited families of his uncles, Judge Richard and Henry Ridgely of the Western Shore.  Here he was induced to remain and study law.  After passing a successful examination, he became a member of the bar of this state.  After a brief period of legal practice in partnership with Henry Clay, Mr. Ridgely decided to enter the ministry of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and with this idea he entered the Theological Seminary at Princeton, from which in the course of time he was graduated.
        While rector at Newtown he married Miss Worth, of that place.  His wife died in 1841 and shortly afterward Mr. Ridgely became a rector at Chester, Pennsylvania.  While at this place he gradually extended his ministerial work in building up new churches in the vicinity.  The churches at Marcus Hook and Claymont were the outgrowth of his labors.  In 1853 Mr. Ridgely came to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to live.  He settled in Caroline County where he made large investments in real estate, purchasing from four to five thousand acres of land.  Although he was not assigned to any parish, he constantly held services at places which were destitute of churches.  His last years were spent near our town at the residence of his son, William S. Ridgely.  In August, 1893, Mr. Ridgely suffered a stroke of paralysis from which he rallied; but a second attack shortly afterward caused his death.  He lies buried in the Episcopal churchyard at Hillsboro.  He left three children, none of whom are living today.  His second son, William S. Ridgely, was for many years one of the most prominent citizens of Caroline County.


        One of the leading men in this section of Caroline County at the time of the founding of Ridgely in 1867, was Mr. Thomas BellMr. Bell was a large land owner with an attractive home near the proposed city; therefore it was natural that he should play an important part in the city's inauguration.  Since his land joined the extensive holdings of Mr. Ridgely, he agreed to unite with him in selling enough property to enable the Land Association to carry forward its city scheme.  By this agreement it fell to Mr. Bell to give the right of way at this point for the Maryland and Delaware Railroad, in its extension from Greensboro to Oxford.  It also fell to his lot to provide sites for the railroad station and hotel built by the Land Association.  Thus, in a very real sense, Mr. Bell started the town on its way.  But the item of greatest interest that has to do with his share in the founding of Ridgely, is that he suggested, in the sale of lots, that if any ardent spirits were ever made or sold upon the premises, the owner of the lot should forfeit it will all its improvements to the parties from whom it was purchased; thus the town of Ridgely has been blessed throughout its years in being numbered among the ranks of the "dry."


        The early conditions of Ridgely, as far as schools and churches were concerned, were poor, the settlers having to go to Boonsboro for both.  The first school of Ridgely was built in 1872 and was called "Sedge Field Academy."  This was a one-roomed school of which Mr. Swann was the first teacher.  It is said that this was the first school in the county to have desks built with reference to the size of the pupils.  This one-roomed building is now a part of a dwelling on Second Street.  Church services were held in the school house until 1877, when the Methodist Church at Boonsboro was taken down and rebuilt on the site of the present Methodist Church, the land being given by
Mr. Ridgely.


        As time passed and Ridgely grew in population, more churches were added and better buildings planned.  The second church in Ridgely was St. Paul's Reformed Church built in 1880,
Mr. Hannebury having been its founder and first minister.  Later this church was remodeled.  In 1895 the present Methodist Church was built, the former house of worship having been moved back on Maple Avenue to become a dwelling.  Then came the Catholic Church in 1896, the Brethren in 1898, the Baptist in 1909 and the Dunkard the same year.


        Just as many churches were added, so school conditions improved with population.  The little one-roomed school was found inadequate; hence in 1888 the present Primary School was started.  It, at first, had but two rooms, gradually three more were added.  In 1910 this became a high school.  After much careful consideration in keeping with the advancement along industrial and commercial lines, a delegation of representative citizens of Ridgely met the County School Board at Denton during April 1910, for the purpose of discussing plans relative to the establishment of an agricultural high school in their community.  Courses in agriculture, chemistry, animal husbandry, and manual training having been added to the school curriculum, and many pupils having come in from the surrounding country to avail themselves of the privilege of them and of a high school training, it was pointed out how necessary it was to have a well equipped modern building in which to teach these practical subjects.  Due to the untiring efforts of such men as W. W. Seward, Hon. T. A. Smith and others, the money necessary for such a building was pledged and a tract of land was secured which would provide a convenient and suitable site for the school as well as furnish types of soil for a successful demonstration farm.  It was hoped that the State would eventually become interested in starting an Eastern Shore Experimental Station here.  The school building was completed July 1912 and formally opened with appropriate exercises September 12, 1912.


        At the request of the Caroline County School Board there was introduced into the Legislature in the session of 1914 a bill to transfer fifty acres of the land purchased for the Ridgely Agricultural High School to the Maryland Agricultural College; this passed and the State reimbursed the Caroline County Board for the amount which the farm had cost them.  The farm has been used largely to supplement the investigations being conducted at the Maryland State College so as to check up results and make them applicable to Eastern Shore soil and climatic conditions.


        On account of Ridgely's many industries the population greatly increased.  The Armour Plant, one of the largest strawberry preserving factories in the world, was located here because it seemed the most favorable region from which to secure large yields of this fruit.  However, many carloads are also purchased and shipped in from other states to be preserved here.  This plant employs a thousand people during the strawberry season, the majority of whom are foreigners.  The company has settlements of its own where foreign help is housed.  Everything about the settlement and building is kept in a thoroughly approved sanitary condition.
        Swing & Company's Factory is one of the leading canning enterprises of the kind in the county.  This factory packs tomatoes exclusively, using the yield from three or four hundred acres of ground.  In connection with this, Swing & Co. have a basket factory which has gained a reputation throughout Maryland and New Jersey.  Millions of baskets, crates, and strawberry cups are manufactured, thus giving permanent employment to many.
        The Saulsbury Brothers also own and operate a large canning factory here, putting up tomatoes, corn, and peas.  A large acreage of these crops is put in each year to supply this factory.  Foreign as well as local help is employed.


        The Summit Poultry Farm of Holsinger & Son covers sixteen acres, being one of the largest in the East.  It has a hatching capacity of 17,000 eggs and as many as 7,000 day old chicks are shipped daily to different parts of the United States.  Eggs and chicks of frying size are also shipped.


        During Ridgely's later years many improvements have been made, chief among which are:
            A water works system having a capacity of 65,000 gallons;
            A town sewerage system with a sewerage disposal plant.
            A fire department well equipped with a power house and pumping station.
            A library with a splendid collection of books.

Compiled from the History of Miss Emma Grant Saulsbury and others by the Teachers and Pupils of the Ridgely School.


        Furman 's Grove, better known as Jumptown, was one of the earliest settled portions of the county. When the county was formed, the Tuckahoe had been dammed and a mill near the present Crouse Mill, was then in operation.  This was considerably before 1800.
        The Bradleys were prominent residents ill this section in those long ago times and in fact influential in the county.  Their burying ground is on the Starkey farm across from the school.  On some of the rough stones may be deciphered the names or initials of some of these early people.
        Bradleysburg was quite a thriving hamlet at this time doubtless. This name evidently continued after the settlement ceased to be, for a county map made in 1875 by J. B. Isler locates this place.
        Following the Bradley family in the neighborhood came the Jumps, one of the earliest and best known of whom was Abraham Jump, also a prominent citizen in the county in his time.  He is buried near the Brickyard below Ridgely. Josiah Jump was at one time clerk of the Circuit Court for Caroline County.
        Later on a family by the name of Starkey acquired nearly all the land in this section.
        Several families of German people came from Baltimore and Pennsylvania and settled not far from where Jumptown church now stands.  The houses were built in the meadow near the east side of the branch on what is now Mr. M. C. Smith’s farm.  The settlement was named Germantown on account of the nationality of its settlers. The houses were all made of logs thatched with mud.  One house was built partly in the bank of the stream.
        The names of some of the settlers of Germantown were: J. R. Lynch, Otto Gephart, Old Christina, John Reinhart, known as Dutch John, and a family of Kierschs.
The industries of the German people were basket, cigar, syrup, and cider making.  The tobacco for the cigars was not grown here. It was shipped here from the south.  The tobacco factory was owned by Otto Gephart.  It was a part of his home.  The whole family helped make the cigars.  They were then peddled around the country.
        Willows for the basket making were grown on several acres of land in the meadows. When they were the right height these were cut and stripped of their bark.   Then they were sent away to be sold. An old woman, usually called "Old Christina," made very beautiful baskets out of some lighter material. It was probably a sort of straw.
        The original church in this section was built at a very early period, judging from some old records. Started as a Methodist church and continued as such for several generations, at one time the Holiness society worshipped within its walls, then again the Methodist took charge and now for several years the Baptist denomination has been in control, the minister living in Ridgely.   The present name of Jumptown has clung to the church because of the aid and support once given by Abraham Jump and his family.
        A school was early established in this section also, though the earliest official record of same was made in 1865 at which time trustees were appointed by the County School Board.
        About 1888 the name of this school was changed to Furman's Grove for a Mr. Furman who donated land for a site.  A new building was later erected.        Contributed by the School.


        The family connection of Mrs. Bourne, the former owner of the above named estate, was perhaps among the most noted of the Maryland aristocrats.  Her father, Isaac Purnell, was a typical southern gentleman and married a daughter of Benjamin Sylvester, a large land holder in ante-bellum times.  The Purnell family was very wealthy and maintained all the social customs of the old Dominion aristocracy.  Slaves, about 75 in number, were housed in a row of small shanties near the mansion.  The master of the plantation was very liberal to the poor, but he had many eccentricities; among which was a dignity and reserve maintained towards his commonplace neighbors.  When driving about the country his coachman and footman were dressed in livery, and four coal black horses in silver mounted harness were attached to the family coach.  The late Mrs. Bourne, when Miss Mary Purnell, inherited "The Plains" at the death of her grandfather, Mr. Sylvester.  The heiress was twice married; her first husband was Allan ThorndykeMr. Bourne, her last husband, was very wealthy and at his death the widow inherited several millions of dollars to add to her already large possessions.  Mrs. Bourne died at Newport in 1881 leaving property estimated at ten million dollars to her children and grandchildren.  For many years prior to her demise Mrs. Bourne made an occasional visit to her estate in this county, though never residing here for any length of time.  Much of her  time was probably spent in Europe.  She expended probably one-fourth of a million dollars on "The Plains" estate and her various possessions in all amounted to several thousand acres of the county's choicest land.
        Social life surely had a golden era at this Eden of the Eastern Shore, of which many unique anecdotes are extant.  One in particular is as amusing as it is unique.  A certain member of this ancestral family was passionately fond of sleighing.  A longing for this sport seized him at an inopportune season of the year--July.  Then, as now, artificial means were resorted to, as this incident goes on to prove.  A supply of salt was procured to cover the mile-lane drive.  Let us hope that our impulsive sportsman enjoyed the jingle of the sleigh bells, since he could not the snow breeze, which would be a boon in such a scorching month.  To question the veracity of this anecdote would bring one back again to "Mother Goose" and "Fairy Tale" days.  However, it goes to prove that money was not wanting at the Bourne Manor during those days when Maryland's proverbial hospitality had been amicably partaken of at The Plains.
        In the course of events Providence ordained other scenes to be enacted on this same eventful stage in which society once held so prominent a part.  In the year 1887 a community of ascetic women, known as Benedictine Sisters, purchased this "Paradise of the Plains" from Allan Thorndyke Rice, ci-devant editor of the North American Review.  The property consists of five hundred and fifty acres of arable and two hundred acres of timber land.  It is situated in the heart of the farming region of the Eastern Peninsula.  The elaborate buildings were erected by Mrs. M.M. Bourne, grandmother of Mr. Rice, and cost over one  hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars.  The building material was of the finest.  Modern critics say that it could not be purchased in our day at any cost.  The workmanship, too, has stood the wear and tear of time, for the buildings seem as substantial now as if they were of modern construction.
        The Convent and Academy, St. Gertrude's were incorporated in the year 1896, under the laws of the State of Maryland.  The Mother House of this community is located in Newark, New Jersey, where a large branch house is established, with two others in Wilmington, Delaware.
        Aims of St. Gertrude's Academy.  Harmonious education, while providing sound mental and moral training, must not endanger the growth of the body.  Of all places a boarding school in the country is a place to assist the development of the body.  The country air is stimulating and has health giving properties that are lacking in most city schools, whose environments are usually limited.
        Catholic pupils are given a course of instruction in their religion, but no undue influence is exercised over  the minds of non-Catholics.  For maintenance of order, all are obliged to conform to the external religious  exercises of the institution.
        Studies.  The Academy has four departments: Primary, Grammar, Commercial and Academic.  The branches taught in these departments embrace all that is necessary for a thorough and practical education.  These courses afford all the advantages of a modern high school.  The children's department comprises seven years; namely, four primary grades,  one year each, and the Junior, Grammar and Preparatory classes, one year each.
        Art.  Art is now recognized as one of the essentials of a refined education.  Hence, special attention, under a competent teacher, is given to this study.  Music and drawing are also made a specialty.
        Domestic Service.  "Cooking is an art; a noble science."  Lectures and experimental lessons in cooking and baking are given to the students who are interested in home economy.
        Domestic Art.  Every style is taught--both plain and ornamental--from cutting out and making of a simple wearing apparel, to the designing and embroidering an elaborate shirt waist, center piece, etc.

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