Built along the C&O Canal on the site of a former Native-American trading post, Williamsport was one of only three spots considered by George Washington as the location for the nation’s capital. Today, “Williamsport reeks history on every street corner,” says Sandy Izer of the Washington County Historical Trust, who nominated the town’s Potomac House for this year’s list because Sheetz wants to demolish the building in favor of a new gas station/convenience store.
“The 1820 Potomac House was a tavern, a temperance hall, and a local men’s club before it eventually became a hosiery factory. The charming two-story, locally bricked, gable-roofed structure stands prominently on one of the town’s busiest entrance intersections. This is why Sheetz wants the corner.”
Izer continues, “It’s difficult to decide which is more disturbing: the possibility of Williamsport losing yet another historic structure; the introduction of a glowing, super-sized, fast-food-modern Sheetz into the historic district of a 1787 town; or the abandoned convenience store that will remain on the opposite corner if their plan succeeds.
“Perhaps the new glowing store will draw attention away from the abandoned site.”
Despite strong opposition to Sheetz, Williamsport’s Zoning Appeals Board voted in favor of the corporation. In response, citizens filed a lawsuit.
“The Maryland Court of Special Appeals rejected the latest appeal to stop the plan,” says Izer. “On the surface, it appears the war is lost, but an unexpected side benefit resulting from the battle was the emergence of pro-preservation, historic-minded citizens stepping forward, running for, and winning public seats on the Williamsport Town Council and other committees, including the Zoning Appeals Board.”
Preservation-minded citizens have been encouraging Sheetz to consider building its new store on one of several open sites along Interstate 81 outside the boundaries of old-town Williamsport.
“Logically, the proximity to a busy interstate would attract significantly more customers,” says Izer. “The historic portion of the town would be spared, and the old Sheetz site could be transformed into a use more in keeping with the town’s plans for the development of its historic resources.”
The Potomac House’s current owner notes that development has been ongoing for years, which has caused her significant financial burden.
For more information, visit www.washingtoncountyhistoricaltrust.org.