DNR resurrecting McHenry’s Friends Store

McHENRY — Friends Store, at one time a gathering place for fur trappers and ginseng dealers, is once more becoming the centerpiece of the small Sang Run community, little by little.

John Hinebaugh, owner of the store, a home and 81 acres a few miles west of McHenry on Sang Run Road, bequeathed the package to heirs with the caveat that once they died or tired of the holdings it would belong to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“We have had it for three years,” said Caroline Blizzard of the Discovery Center at Deep Creek Lake State Park.

Three years is a short time to resurrect an establishment that has existed for a couple of centuries, but Blizzard, resident Ranger Jim Dunn and many others in the agency are trying.

The store opened this year from Memorial Day into October. A similar store season is planned for 2011.

“It is about history, about folklore and about agriculture,” said Dunn, who lives nearby in Hinebaugh’s old home, a residence considered to be a mansion in its time.

“All of the original items in the store were sold, so we have had to recreate those things,” Blizzard said. “Some items we have found in other places on the grounds.”

Restoration of this Appalachian gathering spot has been much assisted by local residents.

“When people saw us start working here they would stop by to see what we were going to do with the place,” Dunn said. “Then after a while they would stop back to see what we had done.”

Blizzard said local residents, especially older individuals who remembered the store from their youths, would stop to sit a spell.

“They are helping us because they remember things such as a stack of Coke crates being on the front porch,” Blizzard said. “They said kids would turn in empty glass soft drink bottles for a few cents and then use the money to buy candy.”

In the center of the store is — what else — a barrel with a checkerboard atop it. Looks like black is winning this abandoned game.

Ancient tins of this or that line shelves.

“One man told us that when he was a kid, the old-timers would keep him there until dark, telling him ghost stories, knowing that he would have to walk past the graveyard to get home,” Blizzard said.

Said Dunn: “We have had two open houses and drew about 250 people each time.”

On Dec. 18, from noon to 2:30 p.m., Friends Store will be open for Holiday Delight, a mix of events timed for the Christmas season. There will be another open house in the spring.

“We were able to open the store this past summer because of an intern and volunteers who worked it. We are in need of additional volunteers,” Blizzard said.

Warm weather visitors can expect to feel as if they are living in the pages of a Foxfire Magazine, awash in the music, memorabilia, language and culture of a long-ago Appalachia.

How important has Sang Run been?

George Washington and his survey crews stayed there.

In 1908, the Cumberland Evening Times reported that the Garrett County election would not be final until the votes from Sang Run were brought in once the weather cleared.

This past summer there was a garden behind the store.

“Kids grew pumpkins and at harvest would go pick one and bring it to the store where it was carved,” Blizzard said. “It is amazing how often we hear from a parent who wants their child to understand that food is actually grown before it is eaten.”

Blizzard said there are big plans for Friends Store, though she doesn’t want growth to overwhelm the available manpower and budget needed to deal with it.

Dunn would like to see a portion of the fields become a working farm — livestock and all in a barn on the property. A classroom is to be built in the space behind the storeroom.

The store is just a few horseshoe throws from the Youghiogheny River where rafters gather to float the mountain waterway. Blizzard and Dunn say the store can become the registration point for such floaters and a place for them to purchase items.