The history of Frostburg has been marked by several major shifts in the basic economy of the area; yet the vitality of the people of Frostburg, combined with the receptiveness to new ideas, has enabled the community not only to survive these major shifts but to actually profit by them. Today, Frostburg occupies a unique position in Western Maryland: a growing community in the midst of a declining region.
Three major events have shaped the development of the town; the first of these was the coming of the National Pike. This road was the principal route along which the westward migration took place during the first half of the nineteenth century. It was also the route along which the agricultural products and raw materials of the west moved to eastern markets. After the National Pike was surveyed, in about 1811, Josiah Frost, laid off building lots just west of the house which had been built a few years before by George & Mary Clark McCulloh , and called Mt. Pleasant.
As trade began to flow over the new road, the town began to grow and prosper. Meshach Frost built a house in 1812 which he rented a few years later to the Stockton Stagecoach Company. They named it Highland Hall, and it soon became a famous stopping place for east-west travelers and catered to both celebrities and laborers using the National Pike. Over the years, Highland Hall was joined by the Franklin Hotel, and other hostelries, and Frostburg became a regular stopping point for travelers until the coming of the railroad in the 1840's and 50's. The growth of the town took place in a slow but steady fashion. Since there was already one Mount Pleasant in Maryland, the name of the town was changed to "Frostburg" by the government when a post office was established there in 1820.
The development of the railroad and the C&O Canal brought a decline in the traffic using the National Pike, but it also brought new opportunity for economic development. Coal was discovered near the town as early as 1782, but difficulties in transportation made mining in Western Maryland seem quite unlikely. The first shipment east from the Maryland coal fields was not made until 1820. The first mined in the Western Maryland region was taken from a location about a mile and one-half from Frostburg. this early coal was taken to Cumberland by wagon for use there in the glass works. Some other mines opened in the area, but mining was still a relatively small operation until the completion of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to Cumberland in 1842, and the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad to Frostburg in 1852.
It was Meshach Frost who took the lead. He and his brother owned 1,355 acres of coal land, and in 1845 they incorporation as the Frostburg Coal Company, and in 1846, the first shipment of coal began. In 1864, the Frostburg Mining Company was sold to the Consolidated Coal Company, which ultimately became the largest operator in the Maryland coal fields. By 1850, the Borden Mining Company, the Allegany Coal Company, the Maryland Coal Company, and Washington County Coal Company were also active in the area. In 1863, the last stage traveled over the National Road; the economy of Frostburg was now firmly tied to coal mining.
Another industry to develop during this period was the manufacture of fire bricks from the extremely high grade fire clays which were found in the area. Beginning in 1864, the clay was removed and hauled to town by wagon and there made into bricks. In 1902, the Big Savage Fire Brick Company was formed and is still one of the major manufacturers of fire bricks in the east.
It was during the height of the coal mining period, between 1870 and 1915, that Frostburg developed most of its major institutions. The newspaper and churches were established during this period as well as the school system (1868), the fraternal organizations, banks and many local businesses. The Fire Department came into being in 1878, the water company began operation in 1884, and by 1895, both gas and electricity were available to the citizens of Frostburg. Public transportation to Cumberland and Westernport was established in 1902 by an electric railway and the Miners' Hospital was built in 1913.
A major factor in Frostburg's economy was the growth of the State College. Originally legislated as State Normal School #2 in 1898, the facility was intended to train teachers for the public schools of the State. The site for the school was donated to the state by the citizens of Frostburg, since the General Assembly provided no funds for land. The school grew slowly from an original enrollment of 91 students, and the campus was expanded in keeping with the needs of the students. To the original building, erected in 1900, were added a gymnasium and a campus elementary school in 1913, a dormitory in 1915, a new auditorium-gymnasium in 1927, and a new six room elementary practice school in 1930. In 1934, the school became a four year teacher's college. In 1964, the college expanded its general curriculum to four years. The college was named a University in 1988 and had an enrollment of 3,800 students. The university, of course, provides jobs for local citizens and contributes to the welfare of local merchants through the purchasing power of its students and faculty. Thus, the university contributes significantly to the community, economically as well as culturally.
Frostburg today is a combined residential-academic community with very little industrial employment of its own. The majority of the wage earners commute to jobs in the surrounding region; therefore, the development of the economy of the entire region has direct bearing on the prosperity of Frostburg.
The City of Frostburg is a full service community with a population of approximately 8,075 year round residents. In addition, 5,400 students attend Frostburg State University, which is the only four year higher education institution west of Baltimore located in the State of Maryland.
The City has an assessable tax base of $73,000,000, and employs fifty persons to maintain services. The City of Frostburg, over the years, has been a very aggressive and progressive community. It has participated in virtually every State and Federal funding program that has been created. Currently, the City operates a housing rehabilitation program for the low to moderate income person through the Community Development Department. The construction of a new Piney Dam Reservoir has added to the development of the City.
The outlook for the City of Frostburg is very bright with several annexations taking place in the last year. Frostburg is the only area of Allegany County which has shown growth within the last five years and the progressive policies of the City as well as the almost certain growth of Frostburg State University will provide continuing growth for years to come.
Frostburg was incorporated as a town in 1870 and has a commission form of government. The 1990 official U.S. Census reported the population at 8,075. The climate is moderate. There are twelve churches representing all principal denomination. There is a daily, Sunday, and weekly newspaper; two radio stations; bus line; airport in Cumberland, Maryland; a hospital; three public schools, senior high and a parochial school, as well as Frostburg State University. Amusements include movie theater's, golf course, Community Center offering a wide variety of programs, recreation parks, swimming pool, and outdoor rifle range.
The newly completed "Old Depot Train Station and Restaurant" is a popular attraction. It draws people throughout the region to see and ride behind a steam locomotion. The Thrasher Museum, also located at the Depot Station, boasts a variety of carriages well worth seeing.
Frostburg owes its beginnings to the National Road, authorized by Congress in 1806. Josiah Frost bought a tract of land lying across the route which was decided upon, and laid out a series of "town lots". His son, Meshach, built a house on lot #1 and brought his bride to it in June, 1812. When stagecoach service was inaugurated in 1818, the house became an Inn, known as Highland Hall, and a cluster of taverns, smithies, and houses grew up around it. When mail service began in 1820, the Post Office Department identified the community as Frostburg.
Railroad superseded the road in the late 1840's making it possible to ship coal in large quantities. There were also large brickyards and lumber mills in the area.
Frostburg, Maryland, is located on Route 40 West, with exits 33 and 34 off the National Freeway (I-68). Just minutes away from LaVale and Cumberland, Maryland, and just 3 hours from Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., a beautiful scenic one-hour drive from Morgantown, WV, and two and one-half hours from Pittsburgh, PA.
Frostburg boasts many historic and charming homes, a few dating from the earliest days of the National Road, some contemporaries of the Famed "SOUTHERN MANSIONS", some built in the later 1800's. Many of these homes stand straight and unembellished in their original dignity. A large portion of the city has just recently been declared a National Historic District.