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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 1   View pdf image (33K)
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Allegany County owes its existence to an act of the General Assembly of 1789:

All that part of Washington County which lies to the westward of Sideling Hill
Creek, shall be and is hereby erected into a new county by the name of Allegany

Real need for the new county, which derived its name from the Indian word "Oolikhanna,"
meaning "beautiful stream," did not arise until after the peace with England. Thereafter, a
steady stream of immigrants from the north and east took up land in the western mountains,
some of it bounty paid to officers and men who served with the Maryland troops in the Revo-
lution. The new county included, in addition to the present Allegany County, the very western-
most part of Maryland, which in 1872, or almost one hundred years later, became Garrett
County, the last county to be created in Maryland.

The same act which erected Allegany County also provided that the seat of county gov-
ernment be in the town of Cumberland until the voters should have an opportunity formally
to choose a county town. An effort was made in 1839 to move the seat of justice elsewhere,
to Wills Creek, when one courthouse was building. Another attempt was made to change the
county seat in 1893, on the occasion of the burning of another courthouse, this time to Frost-
burg. But both efforts failed and Cumberland has remained the county seat to this day.2

No provision was made in the creating act for a courthouse, perhaps because of the uncer-
tainty of the county town location, but the same act did require that both the County Court
and the Orphans' Court should meet on the first Monday of April, 1791; and so temporary
quarters for the courts as well as for the other agencies of local government had to be found.
The first courts were held at the home of John Graham. After that, and until the erection
of the first proper courthouse, the business of the courts was transacted in the tavern of
Abraham Faw which was located on the south side of Green Street on Lot No. 10.

First Courthouse at Cumberland

A courthouse was authorized by the General Assembly of 1793.3 It was to be located on
the four lots of ground which Thomas Beall, of Samuel, had prudently set aside for this pur-
pose in 1787, when he surveyed the town by authority of an act of that year.4 Title to the land
was vested in the county, apparently without cost, and £600 current money was authorized
for the courthouse and jail. According to Thomas and Williams the new courthouse was not
occupied until 1799.5 The same authors describe it as follows:

It was two stories high, inclusive of the rough stone basement, which served the pur-
poses of jail and residence for the jailor and his family. The second floor, or upper
story, which was of brick, was taken up by the court room. The structure was de-
cidedly unique in its exterior, while its interior was altogether quaint in its arrange-
ment. The roof was surmounted by a small cupola, in which was suspended a steel
triangle, played on by a steel hatchet or hammer, worked by a cord in the attic. It was
rung each morning at nine o'clock, that the court was in session.''

1Ch. 29, Acts of 1789.

2 There are several good sources for the history of Allegany
County the chief of which are J. Thomas Scharf, History of
Western Maryland, Philadelphia, 1882, Vol. II, pp. 1311-1510,
and James W. Thomas and T. J. C. Williams, History of
Allegany County, 1923. Thomas and Williams is especially com-

plete in the section dealing with the courthouses of the County,
pp. 128-132.
3 Ch. 17.
4 Ch. 27, Acts of 1786.
5 Op. cit., p. 128.
6 Ibid., p. 129.


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The County Courthouses and Records of Maryland -- Part 1: The Courthouses
Volume 545, Page 1   View pdf image (33K)
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