As often happens in investigating local history, one comes across layers of stories. That happened to me as I’ve been researching the history of John Trout along Park Mills Road near Urbana. Luckily for me, I met Bob Fout, professional genealogist and local historian who offered to give me a colonial tour of the area near where John Trout lived.
One doesn’t turn down an invitation by Bob Fout to take a personal tour. Just dress accordingly!
Bob Fout stands at the intersection of Genealogy Way and Indiana Jones Boulevard. He likes to collect history facts, but he prefers being out in the field finding them. He’s a history adventurer, and unafraid of nature or man-made obstacles. Just the kind of person you want to tour with to see history that has been lost. Touring with Bob is no fickle-hearted endeavor.
If you just followed the sign as it indicates for 3 ½ miles on Park Mills Road you would find….nothing. Come to find out, there’s not much left to see – unless you’re with Bob Fout of course!
In colonial America, England was trying to inhibit the young Republic from manufacturing what it needed. English policies discouraged skilled tradesmen from migrating to America, but after the Revolutionary War in 1783 conditions favored new enterprises.
Around 1784 John Frederick Amelung emigrated from Bremen, Germany with 68 people to start his glass making business. He had been working with his brother managing a glasshouse in Germany under the Duke of Brunswick. He brought with him several craftsmen and support people to establish the town of New Bremen, now along Mt. Ephraim Road. These tradesmen were indentured for three years to pay for their passage in labor. Amelung provided housing and some small salary for their care. The site was considered ideal due to the plentiful supply of lumber as well as water from Bennett Creek – both resources important to the making of glass.
Despite the Maryland Historical Society sign, a glass factory existed in Frederick County beginning around 1778 run by Conrad Foltz and partners, also from Germany.
Two key events occurred between 1784 and 1785: Amelung arrived in Frederick County and Conrad Foltz died. Amelung purchased land along Bennett Creek and the Monocacy River, which included the old Foltz property and glass making factory. He moved in and started producing glass at this already established factory while he was building his own factory over the hill.
If you drive along Monocacy Bottom Road during the winter you can still make out what may be part of the Foltz furnace. According to Fout, this stone wall was well-hidden until 1972 when Hurricane Agnes blew through the county with enough force and flooding to clear away the brambles that clung to the aging foundation.
New Bremen, the village Amelung settled, had at one time houses lining both sides of Mt. Ephraim Road from Park Mills Road past Stewarts Hill Road – about 2 miles long. Amelung eventually amassed about 3,000 acres for his enterprise, and it is reported to have employed between 400-500 people at its height of operations. Amelung developed a reputation for producing some of the finest engraved glass in America at the time.
There is one house still standing today – hidden on a steep hill behind the brambly bushes and overgrown poison ivy vines. (Here is another good reason to go in the winter!)
The siding likely isn’t original, but the log beams and the stone foundation appear like they might be. The house has been re-wired with electricity at some point, although it is now collapsing inward due to age and neglect. According to Fout, it is typical German construction – 2 stories with the second floor being all one room. New Bremen villagers lived in similar style houses – in fact, at least 30 had been built to accommodate Amelung’s village.
Amelung mansion still stands, and interestingly enough it is named Mount Vina by Amelung himself. Think Mount Vernon, Monticello, Montpelier…….
At its height, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison were all aware of Amelung’s estate and Glass Manufactory, so it appears he was no stranger to hob-knobbing with the political movers and shakers of the day. It is thought that one or all three of them may have visited his mansion, but no proof of that has been found. It is known that he visited George Washington at Mount Vernon, and being inspired, Amelung helped organize the Fleecy Dale Masonic Lodge, named after the Fleecy Dale Woolen Mill nearby.
Seeing the site today one can get a sense of Amelung’s intended empire as he forged a new life in America. The New Bremen Glass Manufactory sprawled a quarter mile down the hill from his estate, along Bennett Creek.
Unfortunately, his empire was not to last for long.