The story of the building at 200 E. Patrick St. is a story, also, of the advent of trolleys and electricity, a newspaper and a city.
At the turn of the 20th century, an enterprising group of Middletown farmers implemented a trolley to carry their produce into Frederick City. In a bid to pave an easier road over what’d become Braddock Heights, they initiated over a half-decade of transportation by trolley throughout Western Maryland.
The Frederick & Middletown Railway, led by George William Smith, soon gained traction in Frederick County as a viable means for transport. The trolley and tracks were a happy medium — somewhere between the romance of roaring steam locomotives and the horse-drawn buggies that trundled up and down the streets of downtown. Entering the 1910s, more tracks were laid and the F&M Railway expanded, with additional branches added in Hagerstown, Thurmont and Frederick.
The building at 200 E. Patrick was built in 1910 as an all-in-one terminal, waiting room, ticket office and freight depot. Roughly rectangular, the red-brick building has its longest façade on South Carroll Street. The Potomac Edison Company (sound familiar?) had its headquarters there and busied itself with the operation of a 17-mile stretch of trolley line from Frederick to Thurmont. It supplied the local community with electricity as a side business.
The opening of a new stretch of the existing trolley line was an event back then — as the superintendent of the Frederick Railroad Company pulled out of the building at 200 East for an experimental first run, onlookers joined in the happy hubbub. After the successful traversal of a loop that stretched as far as Fourth and Market streets (then a 45-minute trip), the “Toonerville,” as the route and trolley would soon be called, “was hailed by the populace that Frederick had reached the stage of becoming a metropolis.”
The trolleys of those years must’ve been a sight to behold — open-air in the summer, with reed seats. Newspaper articles written after the close of the last line recall the trolleys through rose-tinted glasses — well-dressed women, on their ways to Saturday dances, and friendly motormen were common sightings on the lines at the height of their popularity in the ‘20s. The cars were graffiti-free, and the city and countryside were scenic.
Meanwhile, another burgeoning enterprise was spreading its newsprint wings just blocks away on North Market Street. The façade of The News, founded as Schley and Delaplaine Book and Job Printers in 1880, was plastered with signs advertising “Wrapping Paper” and “Ruling, Binding, & Stereotyping,” among other things. In 1917, the paper would acquire its competitor, The Frederick Post. The consolidated company, which still published both papers separately, moved into a new building at 26 N. Court St. and would remain there until 1968.
As quickly as trolleys had risen to prominence in the ‘20s, they were soon outstripped by automobiles — heavier traffic on local roads meant congested routes and longer trips by trolley. Street cars waned in popularity until they were abandoned in Frederick in 1937. In July of that year, Potomac Edison Company officials symbolically boarded a trolley at 200 East Patrick, drove to Hood College, disembarked and boarded one of the city’s new buses.
The building at 200 East Patrick served as Potomac Edison’s headquarters until 1967. By then, The News and The Frederick Post had collectively amassed a circulation of over 20,000. The growing paper moved into the old trolley terminal in 1968.
Previously, trolleys had driven straight through the heart of the building into the depot behind it. After the building changed hands, the doublewide entrance on Patrick Street became the main entrance of the newspaper’s new headquarters. Above the doorway hung a sign: ”The Frederick Newspapers.”
As an odd throwback to those trolley days, News-Post employees made the acquaintance of the building’s otherworldly tenant, the ghost of a man who was supposedly killed in a trolley accident when the cars ran straight through 200 East Patrick. Boxes and documents were occasionally moved around and sounds emanated from the basement. Footsteps crossed the upstairs floor; doors slammed. The staff called him Franklin.
Valerie Marcin, who started working at the News-Post in 1980, says the friendly spirit lived in a basement safe. “We’d knock on the door and say, ‘We’re coming down! We’re friendly!’” Marcin says.
Longtime employee Sue Guynn, who joined the News-Post in 1987, recalls a building with all the ambiance of a traditional newsroom. “We were kind of packed together,” Guynn says. “Some people had to share desks; we had to share word-processing terminals.”
The space was full to the brim with reporters and press operators who practically worked shoulder-to-shoulder. According to Guynn, the smell of newspaper ink would drift into the newsroom when the presses were fired up.
A main phone line took calls from every corner of the county. And everyone in the newsroom was required to tap into the line. “I called it Russian Roulette,” says Guynn. There was no telling who’d be on the other end. “If it was a funeral home, you’d have to write the obituary.”
The close-knit staff of the News-Post played pranks on one another — taping down a phone, for instance, then calling that number, much to the consternation of its owner in a time before caller ID — remembered birthdays and sent get-well notes to sick colleagues.
Even today, they recall a woman who stumbled, disoriented, through the front doors; she was followed in short order by her car, which had inexplicably shifted into reverse and backed across the street and into the News-Post building, taking out the double front doors and a window.
Smack in the middle of downtown, reporters in the second-floor newsroom would open windows in the heat of the summer to let in a breeze and the sounds of traffic from the streets below. The paper seemed to have found a long-term home. In 2002, The News and The Frederick Post formally merged to become a familiar beast, The Frederick News-Post.
But the news waits for no person (or building). In 2008, the News-Post moved to more spacious quarters at its current location, the complex at 351 Ballenger Center Drive. The new office is quieter, less frenetic. The presses, housed in the other end of the building, aren’t audible from the newsroom. Even the phones, Guynn notes, are more discreet, the sound of their ringing more muted than the lines of old.
Today, the old trolley terminal and former home of the News-Post stands empty. Some relics from its days as a newspaper still remain — outside, by the loading dock, a whiteboard lists the print schedule for a bygone edition of the News-Post. A mural depicting a rolled up newspaper decorates the side of the building. A front window still bears the trademark script of the News-Post’s calligraphy masthead.
In keeping with its century-long history, however, 200 East Patrick likely won’t be vacant for long. Plans for a downtown Frederick hotel and conference center are in the works. Hopes are high that the state will foot a portion of the project’s $64 million bill in its 2017 fiscal budget.
Until then, the News-Post‘s events arm, FNP Events, and Frederick Playlist are using the space as a pop-up arts haven. The stripped-down walls and concrete floors of the place lend themselves to a scruffy, grungy aesthetic. In the former packaging/distribution department room, in particular, the building’s interim occupants have capitalized on sweeping expanses of wall space and high ceilings. A recent call for volunteer mural artists brought local artists and designers together to work on a collaborative canvas of sorts.
An anthropomorphic tree, the shape of its trunk recalling a woman’s silhouette, decorates the wall near the Seed of Life café, a healthy snack food store that sells kale chips and hummus during events. A few meters away, a floor-to-ceiling flamingo rears its pinkish head. On other walls: a bat, a woman’s head in profile, a cityscape. A sprinkling of flowers and a pig with surprisingly human eyes. The vibe is avant-garde and edgy.
Freelance artist and graphic designer Rebecca Rieser painted a series of mandalas on the walls and ceiling of the corridor connecting the printing press to the building’s front. The circular designs, with their intricate curlicues, have Buddhist and Hindu roots.
“I start with a unified dot or circle,” Rieser explains. From there, she creates “an elaborate design that spreads.” Her artistic philosophy is well matched to the spirit of the building at 200 East Patrick and its ever-changing cast of occupants. “Beauty is fleeting,” Rieser says. Art is the expression of the individual: “it comes out of each person.”
Rieser recently offered her services as face-painter to the Best of the Best Fest, a celebration of area businesses held at 200 East Patrick on Aug. 8. Organized by the News-Post, FNP Events and Frederick Playlist, the event offered live music, freebies and a beer garden. In the evening, the old building played host to a concert from Giraffes? Giraffes! and other bands.
The event was vaguely reminiscent of the July 11 musical showcase that featured local bands Silent Old Mtns. and Seaknuckle.
Both bands regularly practice in the space’s repurposed offices, which have become practice rooms and recording studios. Ryan Nicholson, a member of local band Heavy Lights, is in charge of the building’s newly installed recording studio.
“It’s a welcoming environment,” Nicholson says. “It’s an art space to give loud bands a place to be loud ... we’re not ruining anyone’s day or annoying neighbors.” Nicholson emphasized the building’s potential as a medium-sized venue, somewhere between the intimacy of Café Nola and the plush vastness of the Weinberg Center.
At the moment, Nicholson says, the downtown area doesn’t have a go-to venue for music enthusiasts. A Nola patron might catch an open-mic event over dinner, but music isn’t the express purpose of the local café. “There’s a difference between a music venue and a bar,” he says.
Even as the Frederick arts community has welcomed the new space with open arms, there’s a sense that “there’s a lifespan on it,” according to Nicholson. The building’s price tag means that a permanent art space at 200 East Patrick is, at present, out of the question.
A hotel, an arts space, a newspaper, a trolley station — people and times come and go, and the building at 200 E. Patrick St. has observed and, at various times, housed them all. While the building’s future function remains a question mark, its history is a testament to the downtown area’s rich heritage and capacity for change.