On the morning of December 29, 2019, two historic structures at heart of Burkittsville were severely damaged in a fire that left four families displaced who lived in apartments on the property. As firefighters from eight companies across Frederick and Washington Counties, Maryland, and Loudoun County, Virginia, battled the blaze, town residents gathered to help the families and first responders. St. Paul's Lutheran Church opened its doors to house the displaced families and to provide breakfast to them and the firefighters. Donations of clothing and household goods poured in over the afternoon. As the smoke finally settled over the town, a sense of gratitude for the safety of the families and first responders was also met with a sense of loss for a historic property that had been a place of daily activity for Burkittsville residents for over 150 years.
History of 8 East Main Street
The historic log store at 8 East Main Street and the adjoining residence at 10 East Main Street were a place of daily interaction for Burkittsville residents for over 150 years. The property housed a tailor's shop and at least five general stores, but to many people today, this building was recognized as Burkittsville's post office. In addition to the rich history of commerce that has taken place on this property, 8 East Main Street also embodies the work of many to preserve the identity of Burkittsville amid decades of often-turbulent evolution experienced here as in so many small, rural communities across America. The post office is more than a place to send and receive mail, it is a vital institutional vestige of this small town that has endured many changes and challenges over the past half century.
Henry Burkitt divided and sold 24 lots from his "Friends Goodwill" farm between 1807 and his death in 1836, forming much of the eastern half of the present-day village of Burkittsville. The westernmost lot on the south side of Main Street in his plat for the town was designated "Lot 6," now designated as 8 East Main Street. In 1839 when Burkitt's estate was arbitrated by the equity court, Lot 6 is listed as having been sold to David Arnold at a cost of $250.00. When compared with other lots in the town, the price indicates that a structure already existed on the property at the time of its sale.
One clue to the early existence of this structure is found in the traditional origins of St. Paul's Church. According to at least two written accounts of the church's history, the Rev. Martin Stockman preached the first Lutheran services in Burkittsville beginning in 1815, first in a wagon shop owned by Ezra Karn (located in the vicinity of 204 East Main Street), and later in a storeroom "now occupied by Mr. T.J. Maught." Thomas J. Maught owned the property at 8 East Main Street in 1860 when the census records his household and lists his occupation as a "merchant." This small fragment from the history of St. Paul's indicates that there was a structure on the property at 8 East Main Street at least as early as the 1820s, which is conducive to the log construction of the buildings standing on this site today. The 1860 census also records another intriguing tie between the church and this property. Among those members listed in the Maught's household is the Rev. George Nixdorff, pastor of St. Paul's from 1858 to 1865 who oversaw the construction of the present church in 1859. (St. Paul's Lutheran Church did not erect its parsonage at 4 East Main Street until the mid-1870s).
Apart from these fragments, it is difficult to trace the early history of 8 East Main Street before the eve of the Civil War. The property was owned by Thomas and Sivila Maught in 1858 when the Isaac Bond Map of Frederick County was published. Two years later, the 1860 census records Thomas and Sivila as merchants and also lists among their household a store clerk, Adam Dixon. The property was valued at $5,000.00, real estate and contents, indicating that a thriving business was already present at the time. In 1861, Thomas Maught was appointed as postmaster of Burkittsville. His time in this position overlapped the Civil War and he would have handled many letters over the winter of 1862/63 from wounded soldiers staying in the town's field hospitals writing to their families at home. His appointment concluded in 1864 and two years later in 1866, the Maught's sold the store to Peter Willard and relocated to Frederick, operating a grocery store on North Market Street until the late-1880s. Though the Maught name is not found in Burkittsville today, the family was among the earliest permanent settlers in the community, originating from John Maught, who came to the colonies as a Hessian soldier during the Revolutionary War.
Just after the Civil War in 1866, Peter Willard took over the operation of the business at 8 East Main Street from the Maught's. However, he died four years after purchasing the property in 1870, leaving his wife Elizabeth with the business. She is labeled as the owner of the property in 1873 on the Titus Atlas of Frederick County. Peter and Elizabeth's grandson, Arthur Lee Willard (1870-1935) rose to the rank of Admiral in the U.S. Navy, serving with distinction in the Spanish-American War and World War I, receiving the Navy Cross and French Legion of Honor among other honors. He garnered national fame after he led a landing party into Cardenas, Cuba, on May 11, 1898, becoming the first person to plant an American flag on Cuban soil during the Spanish-American War.
Elizabeth Willard died in 1877 and her heirs sold the property the next year to the Slifer Family. Milton Border Slifer was born in Burkittsville in 1847 to the Rev. Emanuel Slifer, pastor of the Broad Run German Baptist Church (today known as Pleasant View Church of the Brethren) and his wife, Sarah Biser Slifer, the sister of town physician Dr. Tilghman Biser. The Slifers lived in the house on the town square at 1 East Main Street (next door to the South Mountain Heritage Society). Milton was educated in Burkittsville and apprenticed with his father who operated his tailor shop in the small brick building standing between the family's house and the neighboring Resurrection Reformed Church. Milton was fifteen years old when the Battle of South Mountain took place on September 14, 1862. For the next four months, he was likely a frequent witness to wounded and dying soldiers housed in the field hospitals setup inside the Reformed and Lutheran Churches as well as the schoolhouse all located next door to his home. When Milton purchased the property at 8 East Main Street from the heirs of Peter and Elizabeth Willard in 1878, he assumed the general merchandise business they had started and added his own tailoring services to the enterprise. Milton and his wife, Eliza had at least four children before his death in 1905.
Irvin Conard Magaha was born in 1879 in Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia. His family moved to Burkittsville by 1905 when he opened his first general store in the old Thomas Hightman Store (303 East Main Street). In 1914, Magaha was appointed Burkittsville's twentieth postmaster. At the same time, he purchased 8 East Main Street from the heirs of Milton Slifer and relocated his business to the center of town. Irvin and his wife, Katie, operated the store and post office for thirty-two years until 1946 when they sold the property and business to Samuel Luther Brown, Sr., and his wife, Helen. In addition to the groceries, hardware, feed, and coal that Magaha had carried in the store, Brown added two gas pumps out front along Main Street. Samuel Brown also became the postmaster in 1946, a post which he held until retiring in 1969, after which he was succeeded by his daughter, Betty. In 1968, George Karn, Jr. assumed the management of the general store and operated it for the next eight years. On July 10, 1976, Karn's Store closed its doors, ending over a century of general stores operating on the property. Two years later, the building was renovated to serve the sole purpose as the town's post office, which to that point had only occupied a small corner of the building.
History of the Burkittsville Post Office
On December 18, 1824, Joshua Harley was appointed as the first postmaster of the newly-established "Harley's Post Office." A veteran of the American Revolutionary War, Harley settled on the west side of the intersection of two ancient trails which form today's Main Street and Route 17. When Harley first came to this area, there were just a few homesteads scattered along the "Conococheague Trail" (today's Main Street), including his closest neighbor, Henry Burkitt, to the east. Harley established himself as the first merchant in the growing community, building a store near the intersection around the year 1821, an advancement which set in motion the creation of the post office three years later. Harley remained postmaster long enough to see the community that was initially named for him become "Burkittsville" when the post office was officially renamed on January 7, 1828. Harley retired the commission on May 21, 1829, two years before his death. From the time of its creation until the eve of the Civil War, the post office is believed to have remained in its original location at Harley's Store, sold by the family in 1851 to Broad Run-born entrepreneur Manasses J. Grove (future founder of the M.J. Grove Lime Company). When Grove sold his business to the Horine Family in 1859, the post office likely moved across the street to the Willard Store, which was sold to John Hightman in 1864 at which time he was appointed postmaster.
The turn of the twentieth century ushered a period of turbulence into the history of the post office, both in Burkittsville and across the nation. 1901 marked the widespread introduction of Rural Free Delivery, a system of delivery routes which for the first time allowed people to retrieve and send mail at their residences as opposed to traveling to the nearest post office. Though the idea had been passed into law by the U.S. Congress in 1893, many storekeepers and private mail carriers opposed its implementation due, prolonging its rollout by nearly a decade. When Frederick County's routes were announced in the fall of 1901, several post offices were deemed obsolete and closed, including Burkittsville. The town's post office was suspended on November 14, 1901 and for the next three years, mail was delivered to town by the Gapland post office located two and a half miles west across South Mountain. Area residents complained bitterly of the decreased access to mail service and the postal service restored Burkittsville's post office on January 30, 1905, reinstating John W. Hilleary as postmaster (a position he had served in from 1897 until 1901).
Less than a decade after Burkittsville's post office was reinstated, the office relocated again, moving from Huffer's Store at 1 West Main Street to 8 East Main Street with the appointment of Irvin Conard Magaha as postmaster in 1914. A century later in 2014, Burkittsville's last postmaster, Audrey Stadnick, left the commission, followed by two briefly-appointed officers-in-charge appointed that year. On October 14, 2014, the post office at Burkittsville was placed under the administration of the Brunswick postmaster. The post office remained in operation at 8 East Main Street until fire ravaged the historic structure on December 29, 2019. Restoration of service occurred on January 2, 2020, when the Burkittsville Post Office began operating from a temporary trailer behind St. Paul's Lutheran Church. For the next two and a half years, post services were conducted from the temporary trailer by the dedicated work of Kenneth Boone. In the summer of 2022, the reconstructed post office opened its doors at 8 East Main Street, returning the service to the location it has occupied for over a century.
There have been twenty-five postmasters of Burkittsville between 1824 and 2014 and six officers-in-charge. The longest serving postmaster, Irvin Conard Magaha, held the position for 32 years (1914-1946). Six of the postmasters and officers-in-charge have been women, including Betty Brown (1969-1992) and Audrey Stadnick (2000-2014). Two families, the Hightmans and the Browns, have held the position of postmaster over two generations.
Postmasters and Officers-in-Charge of the Burkittsville Post Office
Joshua Harley* - Appointed January 7, 1828
John Fink, Jr. - Appointed May 22, 1829
Adam Custard - Appointed March 10, 1830
Ezra Willard - Appointed June 14, 1845
Thomas Biser - Appointed July 5, 1849
Joseph L. Sigler - Appointed January 22, 1852
Ezra Slifer - Appointed February 17, 1852
John Bechtol - Appointed May 28, 1852
George W. Howe - Appointed May 24, 1853
Ezra Willard - Appointed September 30, 1854
Manasses J. Grove - Appointed December 29, 1856
Grafton Hammond - Appointed December 23, 1859
Thomas J. Maught - Appointed April 20, 1861
John Hightman - Appointed August 18, 1864
Martin L. Hightman - Appointed November 17, 1875
William C. Karn - Appointed August 13, 1885
David E. Hilleary - Appointed June 6, 1889
William Graham - Appointed December 11, 1893
John W. Hilleary* - Appointed November 12, 1897, Re-Appointed January 30, 1905
Irvin C. Magaha - Appointed April 30, 1914
Samuel L. Brown - OIC February 28, 1946, Appointed July 1, 1947
Betty L. Brown - OIC June 27, 1969, Appointed July 31, 1971
Wanda M. Poffenberger - OIC September 30, 1992
Mark E. Bradstreet - Appointed January 23, 1993
Tinna Hartle - OIC August 6, 1993
Larry A. Ott - Appointed November 27, 1993
Angela Hackley - OIC February 2, 2000
Audrey E. Stadnick - Appointed May 20, 2000
Thomas Miss - OIC May 2, 2014
Jennifer Kramer - OIC September 4, 2014
OIC - Officer-in-Charge
(*) Harley was appointed postmaster of Harley's Post Office on December 18, 1824.