Of the various types of businesses someone might start, goldfish farming probably wouldn’t be on too many lists today. But, during the 20th Century Frederick County led the nation in goldfish production for a time, and Thurmont’s own Hunting Creek Fisheries was a leader among the competition.
Fred Tresselt stumbled into a life with fish while in college – he discovered a hatchery on campus at Cornell. After graduation in 1919 he worked as a biologist at the New Jersey State Fish Hatchery. In 1922 Tresselt came to Frederick County to visit a friend living in Sabillasville, and he discovered the local goldfish industry, which provided fish to much of the East Coast. The next year he bought land near Catoctin Furnace with money borrowed from his parents and started his own company. Laborers hand-dug the first fish ponds using shovels and a horse-drawn scoop.
Fish farmers packed goldfish in tin cans for shipping by railroad or buyers came directly to the ponds with special trucks equipped with fish cans. Hunting Creek Fisheries mostly sold wholesale but for a time in the 1940s there also was a small retail shop that created opportunity for walk-up sales on weekends, too. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt and his guests, Winston Churchill and General George Marshall, stopped at the fish store to have a look at the operations on their way to Shangri-la (now called Camp David).
Although Frederick County fish farmers produced about 80% of the goldfish in the United States during the 1920s, commercial competition eventually caused many local operations to close by the 1950s. Fred’s son, Ernie, joined the business in 1950 after serving in the military and then earning Bachelor and Master degrees in biology. He became a partner with his father in 1962 and took over in the 1970s after his father retired. Despite the difficulty other fish farmers endured, Hunting Creek Fisheries eventually grew to more than 125 acres and 100 fish ponds on sites near the Catoctin Furnace and Lewistown. Ernie retired in 1992. Ernie’s daughter took over then and now her son – the fourth generation of the family – owns the company.