The large brick building with modest Italianate detailing at 48 E Patrick St. today serves as the home for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
Inside, visitors can learn about the harrowing conditions soldiers and medical personnel experienced. At a time when medical staff had little training and the importance of sanitation and hygiene were not fully realized, the war caused great suffering, but also resulted in revolutionary innovations.
The museum’s building is an appropriate repository for its unique collection and galleries because its own history in deeply rooted in the funerary business. The site is also known for its association with the Civil War when the city was inundated with sick and injured soldiers.
In 1832, James and Anne Whitehill purchased the property and established a furniture and undertaking business. Newspaper advertisements and census records indicate that Whitehall was also a dealer of iron and lumber. According to Alyssa Watson, who serves as the reservation coordinator for the museum, Whitehill was one of the original trustees of Mt. Olivet Cemetery and provided many caskets and markers to the Union General Hospital located at the former Hessian Barracks during the Civil War.
Frederick received many sick and injured soldiers after the battles of South Mountain, Antietam, Gettysburg and Monocacy. In 1862, a notorious embalming surgeon, Dr. Richard Burr, set up an embalming station on the property, where he charged admission to a curious public. Burr is also known for pre-selling embalming services to soldiers before battles and ransoming the bodies of fallen soldiers he embalmed until families paid exorbitant prices for his services. These types of unethical endeavors lead to laws and stricter standards to regulate embalming services and the care of deceased soldiers.
After the Civil War, the property was owned by Clarence C. Carty, who sold furniture and ran an undertaker’s business. In the 1890s, the original store, with residence above, was demolished and replaced with a three-story building. By this time, the store was one of the largest furniture dealers in Maryland. In 1924, the small, adjoining shop located to the east was also removed, and Carty’s store was extended to its present form.
Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show how the large building was divided into different spaces. The front served as the furniture shop and showroom, while the rear of the building was constantly evolving with mixed uses, including a funeral and undertaking business, repair shop, wagon shed and later a garage.
The Hardt & Keefer Planning Mill and Lumber Yard was located behind the property. This separate business was operated by Clarence Carty’s father-in-law. In addition to providing lumber for construction, they milled lumber to line the inside of graves for burial.
For many years, the Carty family lived above their business, which was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, after the business expanded, they moved to the adjoining two-story brick home located at 54 E. Patrick Street. This building was originally built by Margaret Hardman in 1764 and is one of the oldest in Frederick.
When Clarence Carty died in 1911, his two sons spilt the businesses, with Charles Carty taking over the furniture store and Harry Carty conducting the undertaker parlor. Although funerary services eventually stopped, the furniture store was eventually passed down to the next generation, which successfully operated it until 1975.
In 2000, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine moved into the facility. Although the attraction has been temporarily closed to the public during the pandemic, visitors are now welcome through appointments.
Christina Martinkosky is the Historic Preservation Planner in the City of Frederick’s Planning Department.