Plumb Grove Mansion Descendant Shares Her Connections to People, Places, and History.
By Kate Rader
Age 92, Clear Spring, MD
I’m immediately charmed by Mary Fiery, who welcomes me to her home with the warmth of an old friend. Her home is lovingly decorated with cherished memories of her time traveling around the world and with photographs and mementos of her friends and family, connected through generations to the history of Clear Spring.
We chat on her front porch—sipping sweet tea with mint and eating ice cream with tiny spoons—about her fascinating life and passion for the people in it.
What connects you to Clear Spring?
I was born on Hopewell Road in 1930. My great-great-uncle on my mother’s side was Jonathan Nesbitt II. He owned Plumb Grove (built in 1831 by his father), which is now a museum. My mom grew up in Clear Spring and my dad in Fairfield. We moved to Emmitsburg when I was six because my parents wanted a dairy farm.
My mother was a teacher and all three of her sisters were teachers. They taught at the old schoolhouse, and my aunt taught at Clear Spring Elementary School when it opened. My Dad was a Fiery, and Mom was a McDonald, who was related to the Nesbitts. Grandpap had a blacksmith shop which my uncle turned into a garage and Gulf gas station.
How was life growing up in Frederick County?
Mom was still teaching, so she didn’t have to help with the milking—dad hired someone to help with that. But she loved her chickens and built a considerable henhouse. I remember helping her pack the eggs into cartons.
A huckster would come by and pick them up and take them to Baltimore to be sold at the market there.
There was a quarry on the farm where I learned to swim. We made it into a little resort, with a picnic area and a cabin. Later, in college, I got my lifesaving certificate and worked at the pool.
Mom used to take us to Hendrickson’s department store downtown. I remember when they opened Gilberts—they made trips to New York for fashion if we really wanted to dress up and go somewhere.
One year, I was home from college and the neighbors had gotten a television! We all went over to see it because we didn’t get ours until the late ’40s.
What was your profession?
I graduated from Emmitsburg High School in 1947 and went to Towson to get my teaching degree in 1951. I taught third and fourth grade at Emmitsburg Elementary. Here I was, a new teacher, teaching with some of the people who taught me.
In the early ’60s, I got my master’s degree at the University of Maryland in social services. I planned on staying in Baltimore, but a recruiter convinced me to return to Frederick, where I became what they called a “Pupil Personnel Worker” for 27 years. I drove to peoples’ homes to coordinate services for families who needed them. Perhaps a child had a learning disability or needed home instruction because of an extended illness. I attended state meetings where I renewed many friendships. Those years just flew by, I loved the work.
When did you start traveling?
I had wonderful teachers in elementary school who encouraged me to go to the library. I wanted to travel and visit those places I wrote about.
As a teacher, I had off during the summer months. One year, I traveled across the country with two gals I taught with—Barbara and Ima Jean. Barbara got a new Ford, so she drove, and we did all the National Parks in one summer! We followed the AAA route and maps and each had family connections who entertained us along the way.
I enjoyed Yellowstone the most, I was excited to see the animals. When we got to the West Coast, we visited Catalina Island. Denim was a new fashion then and we wore our “blues” everywhere!
When did you come back to Clear Spring?
I retired from Frederick County Schools after 33 years and in 1993, built my home on this piece of land that was once a cornfield on the McDonald farm. I can see the old homeplace across the way.
Do you still enjoy traveling?
Oh yes! Eventually, we got into cruises. I’ve been on one every summer for the last 20 years until Covid hit. I just love life on the ship—the meals and the shows and swimming. I rode on the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth when they docked in New York. They were so luxurious, with huge gold-framed portraits of the Queen and duchesses.
I’ve also been on a few of those Grand Tours through Europe, to Italy, London, France, and Rotterdam. I just love traveling and I love people.
What do you enjoy doing now?
I am blessed with good health and a nice circle of friends who like to do things and go places. Lately, I’ve been entertaining more at home, but would love to go to New York again. I write a lot of letters and use the phone. I enjoy life and being happy. I’m just so darn independent!