Christmas decorations have taken over the Frederick landscape! Lights are on houses, candles in windows, figurines on lawns. The same goes for many area businesses as well, including ours here at Mount Olivet Cemetery where wreaths adorn grave sites, and artificial flower arrangements decorate mausoleum crypts and niches. People have also brought favorite ornaments to place on monuments or hang on trees within the mausoleum buildings in remembrance of their loved ones.
I just recently had the revelation that there is at least one establishment in Frederick which proudly displays a “landmark” holiday decoration for 365 days of the year, without fail. More amazing than that, is the fact that it’s been in place for 58 years. Can you guess what it is?
Back in the 1970’s, local Maryland State trooper, Millard “Mick” Mastrino, deemed a section of W. Patrick Street/US Route 40 (west of Frederick) as “the Golden Mile.” Mastrino knew this area well because the Maryland State Police Barracks were among the first structures in this vicinity. The mile-long stretch was the first parcel of former rolling farmland pegged for large scale commercial development.
“The Golden Mile” is still book-ended by two longstanding monuments, both marking fabled (non-chain) restaurant establishments. Each of these freestanding objects are also red in color as well. On the east boundary is the majestic “Red Horse,” survivor of multiple senior prank kidnappings and a local symbol of steak and flame-kissed beef culinary excellence. The Red Horse Steak House is located at the foot of Linden Hills, next to the former Red Horse Motor Inn, now a Comfort Inn. The Red Horse Restaurant started in 1968, positioned across the street from a Holiday Inn built by local attorney Dan Weinberg in 1962.
I recently wrote about Weinberg’s wife, Alyce, in reference to the popular book of local ghost stories she penned in the 1970’s. Although we remember the Weinbergs today for their outstanding generosity in saving the old Tivoli Theater (Weinberg Center), it was another early business venture on the west side of “the Golden Mile” that kept a generation entertained through the phenomenon of outdoor movies. This was the Braddock Drive-In. It was located just west of the triangle intersection of US 40 and US 40-Alternate at present day Old Camp Road. The Drive Inn, which once boasted country legend Patsy Cline performing between features, is long gone, today better known as the home of a Weis Market, McDonald’s Bob Evans and restaurants and strip store outlets.
Like Weinberg, another Frederick business visionary would take his chances with a venture on the west side of town. This was an era that pre-dated the mall, shopping centers, and influx of other restaurants that would later pervade the Golden Mile. He lived atop Linden Hills, moving here decades before the four-legged, equestrian monument made its appearance in the vicinity. Cramer decided to capitalize off the success of the Braddock Drive-Inn by setting up a diner-style eating experience, specializing in “date-night” and after hours fare such as sodas, ice cream, hamburgers, pie and candy. He also sold hearty, hometown favorites like fried chicken and apple dumplings, along with the novelty of breakfast food all day long.
This man was Ammon E. Cramer, a talented music prodigy turned restaurateur, sprinkled with more than a dash of “P.T. Barnum-esque” marketing talents. He punctuated his eatery with a landmark synonymous with Christmas and easily recognized by passing motorists as well as moviegoers across the street. The result—a 35-foot jumbo, red and white, candy cane.
Cramer fittingly named his new venture after his confectionary-inspired monument, but gave top billing to one Frederick’s finest past citizens, Barbara Fritchie, the 95-year-old, flag-toting, Unionist of the Civil War who lived a few miles east of his restaurant on W. Patrick Street. Opening the Barbara Fritchie Candy Stick Restaurant was not Cramer’s first foray in business. It also wasn’t his inauguration with candy production/sales and the equally lovable Barbara Fritchie, as his track record dates back to 1919.
Ammon Evers Cramer was from one of Frederick’s earliest, and best known, founding families. He was the son of Civil War veteran John Phillip Cramer (1844-1923), a man who fought with the 3rd Potomac Home Brigade and appears to have been wounded in the process. J. P. Cramer married Emeline Eyler (1842-1915) and was engaged in running a family farm at Pleasant Hill, northeast of Woodsboro.
Ammon was born on December 20th, 1883. This was 21 years and two days after the death of Barbara Fritchie. Cramer attended school up through the 8th grade, customary of the time, and spent most of his time working on the farm. Somewhere along the line, he began to show talent as a musician and vocalist. He would leave the confines of Pleasant Hill for Frederick City and took a job with Birely’s Palace of Music, owned by one-time Orphan’s Court judge Jacob M. Birely.
The Woodsboro native soon earned the title around town of “Professor Cramer” thanks to his musical talent. He not only sold instruments ranging from pianos and organs to symphoniums and autoharps, but also taught music lessons, and wrote several compositions of his own. An early newspaper article reports that at least a dozen of Cramer’s songs met with modest success in the northeastern cities of the country.
The family eventually moved to a house of their own on E. Third Street. Cramer’s business grew larger and more diversified in 1919 as a restaurant was opened in conjunction with the music showroom and “Five & Dime” dry goods entity. Marketing ads boasted complete meals for the price of a quarter. A common crossover novelty tying all modes of business together at this location was a player piano, utilized to entertain patrons of the lunch counter and soda fountain.
In addition to composing music, Ammon Cramer soon found himself composing candy. He entered the confectionary trade, and began attending yearly conferences and expositions in Chicago. Cramer’s leading number would take the name of Frederick’s favorite daughter—Barbara Fritchie Chocolates and Bon-Bons. Cramer would file to have the name trademarked on September 13th, 1923. Success came quick, and necessitated a downtown diner/candy store location at 15 E. Patrick Street. He named it the Barbara Fritchie Chocolate Shop and Inn.
With business escalating, Cramer opened a second candy shop location in Baltimore, and also moved his chocolate factory the heart of Charm City. This endeavor would be located at 109 N. Liberty Street. Success did take a toll, along with alleged “indulging in sweets of another kind” as Blanche Cramer filed for divorce in May, 1924. Cramer found himself in a financial conundrum, and had to pay a settlement to his ex-wife, and had other creditors. He tried leasing his Frederick Barbara Fritchie location, but to no avail.
A levy sale was soon held by the county sheriff in August and many of his instruments, store furnishings and glassware were sold. A public sale, hosted by Ammon, would be held three months later with a number of items departing the inventory of Cramer’s Palace of Music, and highlighted by the passing of his majestic soda fountain along with the glass bar and stools. The Baltimore location also fell by the wayside. It was a low time for Frederick’s “Music Man/Candy Man.”
As this business did fine at the present location, something very special happened in 1927. A few local businessmen, under the leadership of Hammond Clary, concocted the idea of building a replica Barbara Fritchie House and Museum on W. Patrick Street along Carroll Creek. The original Fritchie home was destroyed by a flood in 1868 and dismantled as part of a control effort in widening of the creek at that location. Tourists and visitors had been coming to Frederick for decades, only to be disappointed to learn that the Fritchie House was not here, and no chance was afforded travelers to gaze upon the famous second-story dormer window in which the nonagenarian leaned out of and waved her flag.
On cue, Ammon Cramer quickly moved his establishment right across the street of the new museum to 59 W. Patrick Street. It also appears that he brought son his son Chauncey into the family business as well. He could now prey on the countless pilgrims to the recreated “alleged site” of Barbara Fritchie’s defiance back in 1862. And in my book, nothing goes better with Civil War history than candy and ice cream.
It was at this time that Cramer would marry Helen Mackley. The couple would move to the new suburban development of Linden Hills, west of town. He built a house at the top which afforded an incredible elevated view of Frederick’s famed “clustered spires,” made famous by the Whittier poem about Barbara Fritchie, of course. Everything was going very nicely for the former farm kid from Woodsboro.
Sadly, Ammon would lose Helen in 1938. She died after a five-month illness at the tender age of 31, leaving her husband to raise two young daughters, ages six and seven. As had always been the case, Cramer persevered, throwing himself into his work. Meanwhile, the allure for a takeaway souvenir of namesake chocolate was overwhelming for tourists visiting the Barbara Fritchie House. Cramer had to find new digs for his candy manufacturing. In 1944, he attempted to gain industrial zoning approval for a new factory which he desired to place at the northwest corner of W. 7th and Bentz streets. He couldn’t get the zoning and was forced to look elsewhere.
Ammon Cramer would establish his chocolate factory south of Frederick on the once-sparse Evergreen Point (along the Georgetown/Urbana Pike/MD355). He built a series of Quonset huts, encompassing 18,000 feet, to house the equipment used to pump out his Fritchie bon-bons. This was 1947, after the boom following the close of World War II. Much of this structure survives today as it has been repurposed many times of the years. Currently, it serves home to Tate Chrysler/Plymouth's Used Cars location.
Ammon had married for a third and final time earlier in the decade. His young bride (35 years his junior), was Mary Frances Wertenbaker. Mary took an active role in helping Ammon run the family business, plus two more children would come from this marriage.
The New Frontier
In the post-war period, automobile sales skyrocketed, and motoring shaped the culture of the country. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 added to this. Roadside attractions and restaurants sprouted up everywhere, as did motorist-friendly amenities such as drive-up tellers at banks, drive-in movies, and drive-in restaurants. These were “Happy Days” for sure! Ammon Cramer needed to be part of the new “vehicular” frontier.
The newspapers of 1959 feature news stories of the Cramer’s attempting to get zoning approval for a parcel located at the intersection of Hayward Road at US15. This was the year that the Frederick Freeway opened, a plan to bypass traffic around downtown Frederick. Ammon Cramer experienced defeat again with this venture—one which would have been optimal in capturing motorists coming from the north on the early interstate, along with those coming from the south and heading towards the Civil War mecca of Gettysburg. Undaunted, he now focused his attention west of town on W. Patrick Street/US40 as it had been a major traveler highway of note for two centuries.
Ground was broken on October 13th, 1959 at a site north of the Braddock Drive-Inn and west of Masser’s Motel. Ammon Cramer placed a large candy cane along the roadside itself in front of the restaurant to bring extra attention to his eclectic eatery. Day or night, this architectural element became a beacon to travelers, and an important landmark in the annals of Americana.
Ammon Cramer faithfully ran his Barbara Fritchie Candystick Restaurant, including the resale of his Barbara Fritchie candy creations, up through his death on September 13th, 1967. He also lived to see his music business celebrate 50 years in business, closing shortly after.
Ammon would be laid to rest in the mausoleum-cloister atop Linden Hills, immediately across from his home. At the time, this was known as Frederick Memorial Park Cemetery (established in 1931). It has undergone a series of names and owners, but today goes by the name of Clustered Spires Cemetery and is operated by the Cody family and Resthaven Cemetery.
West of Frederick, the story was quite different. The “Golden Mile” and suburban boom provided more customers, along with more competitors as well. The Barbara Fritchie Restaurant held its own and was run successfully by Mary Cramer, who died in July, 2003. Mary Cramer’s children had her inurned within Mount Olivet’s main Mausoleum Chapel. At this time, Ammon Cramer’s remains were removed from the Clustered Spires Mausoleum, and brought here to Mount Olivet. Today, you can find the couple sharing a niche space on the back wall of the Chapel Mausoleum.
As for the Barbara Fritchie Candystick Restaurant, new owners have continued the Cramers’ legacy, and it is still beloved by Frederick locals and tourists alike. The place hasn’t changed all that much as it marches toward 60 years in existence. The candy counter is gone, but the throwback décor and “homey feel” certainly remains. Over the years, many travelers have recounted to me their fond memories of Frederick being synonymous with dining excursions at “the Fritch” dating back in some cases to their youth. I’ve had the opportunity to share this with my children as well. How can one forget the desserts, milkshakes and breakfast all day-long? Thank you Ammon Cramer, if nothing else, you certainly “composed” culinary masterpieces in the form of music for our stomachs.