I guess you could say that Harry Payton Fraley spent the bulk of his life around furnaces and ovens—quite a “warm existence.” Born on March 10th, 1896, Harry was the son of James Henry Fraley and wife Victoria Isabelle Sweeney, farmers in the vicinity of Catoctin Furnace. The small northern Frederick County hamlet (below Thurmont) boasted a prosperous iron producing operation established by James and Thomas Johnson at the advent of the American Revolution. A bustling industrial and residential complex grew up here taking the name of Catoctin Furnace from the adjacent geologic structure of neighboring Catoctin Mountain. Harry’s cousins operated the company store for many years, so named with the family moniker—Fraley’s General Store.
Harry P. Fraley’s great-great-grandfather, Johann Henry Frolich (anglicized to Fraley), was a drummer in the Hessian Army and apparently captured at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 and brought to Frederick to be imprisoned. After the war ended, he, like many other Hessian soldiers, decided to stay in the fair county and the newly victorious United States of America. Johann would eventually gain employment at the Johnson Furnace and lived in the village until his death in 1830. His son, Solomon, and grandson, Jonathan S. Fraley, worked as laborers at the furnace in addition to farming. The latter (Harry P. Fraley’s grandfather) took employment at the local furnace, with the 1880 US Census showing that he drove a delivery team of mules for the operation.
Harry grew up here at “The Furnace” and attended the local public school up through the 7th grade, which was customary as he assisted his father and siblings on the family farm. He would experience three major events in his childhood. In 1903, the Catoctin Furnace went out of blast, being quieted for good after a run of 128 years. In June, 1905, tragedy struck the residents as news reached town that a flat car loaded with railroad workers from Catoctin Furnace was being hauled up the line and as a result of an error in signals, a fast train crashed into it. Almost every family in the village was touched by a personal loss. Two years later in 1907, the Catoctin Iron Works went into the hands of receivership and was sold to a congressman from Bedford County, Pennsylvania and soon closed. All of the machinery was moved to a like plant near Pittsburgh.
In February 1918, Harry married Maude Mahala Zimmerman. Five months later, the groom shipped out of the vicinity to participate in World War I. He was a private with the Machine Gun Company within the 71st Infantry Regiment. He is one of nearly 600 local veterans of the Great War featured with a memorial page on our sister website www.MountOlivetVets.com. Here is a brief overview of his war experience including his draft/enlistment papers.
Harry would be honorably discharged in January, 1919 and came back to Catoctin Furnace unscathed. He got to first hold his son, Francis James Henry Fraley, who had been born in December, 1918. The couple can be found living here in the 1920 US census.
The furnace property had been used for a couple of different purposes, but the hamlet’s lifeblood was gone. One of these supplemental operations gave employment to Harry P. Fraley. In 1920, he took a job at the local stave mill here, housed within some of the old furnace operation buildings.
Stave mills produce the narrow strips of wood that compose the sides of barrels, which were vital for the transportation of goods in the days before easily fabricated boxes and waterproof plastic containers. The Hickory Run Stave Mill was begun in 1914, and managed by a firm out of Lehigh, PA. It would operate for about 12 years.
By 1930, Harry had moved to the Ballenger Creek Pike area southwest of Frederick, and was employed as a tenant farmer on a property owned by his father-in-law. Fraley also dabbled in trucking and hauling. He would live with his wife and son until 1938, at which time he separated from his wife. The 1940 census shows that he was a driver for an oil refining company. The couple was back living together again, but this would not last.
In early 1946, Harry and Maude officially divorced, apparently due to Harry’s abandonment the previous year. Both had been put through immense strain in June, 1944 as they endured the news that son Francis had been wounded in France during World War II. In 1956, Harry remarried a divorcee named Lillian Anna Wachter. The two lived at 22 Hamilton Avenue in Frederick.
Oh What a Night
Harry lived out his life working as a night watchman for the G&L Baking Company, also written out as G.L. Baking Company. It was a peaceful and drama-free job for the man from north county, at least until his very last week on the job before a well-deserved scheduled retirement in September, 1975.
On that particular overnight of September 25th/26th, while making his rounds, the native of Catoctin Furnace suddenly found himself “floured and battered,” but not exactly in that particular order.
Not a good showing for Harry as the bad guy made off with the dough, both literally and figuratively. So much for the gold retirement watch, I guess. I’m not sure if our subject had to work out his last two days or not, but he would retire from G.L. Baking with the dark-comedic story of a lifetime to tell, although not of the standard hero variety. Regardless, Harry P. Fraley was a child of the mighty furnace, a war vet, and faithful employee of the stave mill and bakery.
I could not find anything further on the case, and am figuring they never caught the culprit. Harry would live to tell his harrowing tale for six anniversaries of the bakery burglary event. He died a few weeks prior to the 7th anniversary, succumbing on September 9th, 1982. He was laid to rest in Mount Olivet’s Area GG/Lot 55 by the side of wife Lillian, who had died nearly two decades earlier.
I have to say, this simple story made quite an impact on me, so much so, I was inspired to place "flours" on Mr. Fraley's grave. It was only temporary though, and I had to settle for a brand other than G.L. --as it's been quite a while since that local product has been on the grocery store shelves!
(Author's Note: Special thanks to Thurmont mayor/historian John Kinnaird for the period images of Catoctin Furnace from the Robert S. Kinnaird Collection of Historic Thurmont Photographs.