In an previous post, we talked about the railroad coming to Mechanicstown (now Thurmont) in January 1871 and transforming the town. A second transformative event occurred just two months later: the Catoctin Clarion issued its first edition on March 4th of that year. It may be hard to imagine a community with no news given the television and radio networks, phone apps, and Internet services available today. Before 1871, in the middle of nowhere, Mechanicstown had word of mouth. Travelers brought stories as they passed through; ministers brought news when they cycled through to lead services; and residents who went off to other parts of the state for whatever reason came back with updates. Intermittent mail could include announcements or perhaps a newspaper from somewhere else, like Baltimore, that was days or weeks old.
There was a short-lived newspaper in town that appeared before the Civil War, which was called the Family Visitor. But, its publisher favored the Confederacy in an area overwhelmingly loyal to the Union, and it never gained a constituency for its ideas. To the contrary, the Clarion immediately became the voice of the community. William Need started the paper but sold it in 1875 because of health problems. The long-time publisher and editor was Charles Cassell, who bought it with a partner in 1879 and remained at the helm until 1905; his partner left after just three years. Cassell’s sons bought it again in 1921 and owned it until it ceased publication in 1942.
Through all the years, the weekly paper literally brimmed with positive attention for the town and its residents. As you might expect in a very small community, the paper knew its readers by name and gave them shout-outs for putting a new room on a house or offering ripe peaches to their neighbors. For 70 years the Clarion served up four pages of national items, Frederick County stories, dispatches from Emmitsburg and other nearby towns, election results, marriage and death announcements, Thurmont baseball results, who was visiting what relative or fell and broke an arm, and who’s horse died or wheat was ready for harvest. It also immediately became a powerful portal for business advertising. Year by year, you can see the commercial sector evolve through news of a new bakery, ads by insurance companies and dry goods stores, and entreaties by barbers, dentists, lawyers, and lumber companies to patronize their establishments. The ads tell you the story of the town in motion. In the context of telling the history of Thurmont, the Clarion was the original source.
Ironically, the railroad and newspaper became partners of a sort in the 1890s when the Western Maryland Railroad announced it would change the name of its station in Mechanicstown because of nearby stations in Mechanicsburg and Mechanicsville, which caused confusion for passengers and shippers. The Clarion enlisted its readers in a competition to re-name the town, too, then subsequently offered its own entry: Thurmont. The initial favorite was Blue Mountain City, but the Post Office Department wouldn’t accept the name because a “Blue Mountain” office already existed in the State. After a few rounds of votes, Thurmont prevailed. In March 1894 the change became official.