Thursday, May 28, 2015

C&O Canal at Williamsport

Most of my blogs about the C&O Canal recently have been about biking the towpath -- a great way to explore the canal, but sometimes you can see more if you slow down a bit and see it on foot.


That's what we did last Sunday. I hadn't planned on going on a day trip at all -- cleaning house and gardening was on the agenda. But at 10 a.m. I was mostly done with the gardening and had just bribed my younger son to do the housework for me (at a price, but one I was willing to pay). I looked at my text messages and saw that my sister had asked, "Do you want to go to Williamsport today?"

"Sure!" I responded. Then I thought to ask, "Why?"

"To see a working lock," she said.

That sounded reasonable to me. An hour later, we were on our way. My sister is learning about the C&O Canal -- properly called the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal -- and live on it because she will be a docent at Lander Lockhouse, near Brunswick, MD.

The section of the canal at Williamsport is watered, making it an interesting stop to spend an afternoon and learn more about the canal.There are several historic buildings and structures, including Lockhouse 44, a working lock, an aqueduct, two historic one-of-a-kind bridges, and the short boat ride itself down the canal.

Williamsport sits at the confluence of the Potomac River and the Conococheague Creek, making it an important spot for transportation since long before Otho Williams landed at the spot and founded the town he named after himself in 1787. Williamsport became important enough that George Washington briefly considered it as a suitable place for the Nation's capital.

In place decades before the canal arrived in Williamsport, the Cushwa Warehouse was built to handle flour and feed.
When the canal arrived, the warehouse expanded to handle brick and coal, as well as iron, cement, and plaster.
Williamsport -- or rather, Lemens Ford -- is also where General Stonewall Jackson and 15,000 Confederate troops forded the Potomac River in early September 1862 on their way from Frederick to Harpers Ferry, in an attempt to harry and delay Union forces in the days leading up to the Battle of Antietam. Confederate forces returned to the area in 1863 and damaged the Conococheague Aqueduct, shutting down the canal for 4 days while repairs were made to the structure.

The canal was an important asset the North during the Civil War, with primarily coal and other goods traveling from western Maryland down to Washington DC. The canal was strategically important to both sides. Union forces protected the canal and used it for transportation purposes, moving troops, coal, and war supplies. Confederates tried to damage both the canal and boat traffic. It became the subject of many raids by famous confederate cavalrymen such as Jeb Stuart and John Mosby. Canal mules were taken for the war efforts of both the North and the South. Both sides used the towpath as a road when war came into the state of Maryland.

"While today the canal is remember as one of America's most preserved 19th century canals, its Civil War history cannot be ignored.," wrote fellow blogger Tim Ware. "At every attempt, Confederate forces rained havoc down on the workers of the canal and the canal itself, nearly bankrupting the Chesapeake and Ohio Company."

(For more information about the C&O Canal and the Civil War, visit Ware's The War on the Canal Blog. Although no longer being written, the few posts the author published are extremely informative and interesting! Another source of information available on the internet is the National Park Service website about the C&O Canal and the Civil War.)

Built in 1923 by the Western Maryland Railroad, this lift bridge is the only one of its
kind along the canal. It only saw 1 year of operation before the canal closed in 1924. It
operates like an elevator, lifting the train tracks up so canal boats could pass underneath. 


But it wasn't until the canal arrived in 1834 that prosperity really came to the town, which was along the new trade route between Cumberland and Georgetown. Williamsport is about at the halfway point between both ends of the canal, and thus ended up with a turning basin, a body of water wide enough to accommodate turning the canal boats, which averaged 90 feet long, around, for the return voyage up or down stream. With two warehouses located along the canal, the town became a thriving coal transfer point.



The Conococheague Aqueduct, one of eleven built along the canal, was completed in 1835 and operated smoothly (with the exception of about 4 days off in August 1863 for repairs needed due to Confederate sabotage) until 1920 when a canal boat captain had a very bad day. Then disaster struck when a canal boat captained by Frank Meyers clipped the upstream wall, causing it to crumble into the creek some 30 feet below. Canal water and canal boat crashed into the creek below. Some say Meyers was drunk, having probably spent some time in Williamsport fine dining and wining establishments after unloading his cargo of coal at the Cushwa Warehouse. Others say he simply was in a hurry or careless as he guided his boat onto the narrow aqueduct.

Meyers' daughter or stepson -- accounts differ -- had the quick-thinking to cut the lines to the mules on the tow path, saving them from being dragged into the creek along with the boat. Meyers himself jumped to safety. What happened to the two mules on the boat (two pulled, while two rested aboard) is unknown. I'd like to think that they survived the terrible fall.

The lockhouse is a sweet little cottage -- relatively spacious compared with the much smaller lockhouses in the more eastern parts of the canal. Lockkeepers were given a salary and a cottage rent free for the job of operating the locks 7 days a week, 24  hours a day and maintaining them.

You can get a guided tour that takes about an hour by signing up for one of the canal boat rides that take place on summer Saturdays and Sundays. The tour takes you through the Cushwa Warehouse, then over to the canal boat, which you ride down to the lock and the lock house (which you can then tour).

Tip #1: After exploring the canal and the historic buildings, it's time to grab a bite to eat! The Desert Rose Cafe offers a casual sandwich menu; after 3 pm there's the Desert Rose ice cream shop right across the street.

Tip #2: Williamsport has Civil War significance. If you head toward the cemetery you will encounter Doubleday Hill, where Abner Doubleday (baseball fans will recognize him as the inventor of baseball). As a captain in the Union Army, he crossed the Potomac River in June 1861 and built a breastwork mounting three siege guns overlooking the river.




Getting there: 205 W Potomac St, Williamsport, MD 21795

Dogs: Definitely on the tow path -- who doesn't love a walk or a splash in the water? But not on the boat ride.

Hours: Dawn to dusk. Boat rides/tours on Saturdays and Sundays only, between Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/choh/planyourvisit/williamsportvisitorcenter.htm

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 



Thursday, May 21, 2015

Hiking Maryland Heights, Part 2: Stone Fort Trail

Fellow blogger J. Hammer graciously agreed to guest blog for the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog about hiking along Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. This is part 2 of his two-part series.

Last post I mentioned that I hadn't hiked the Stone Fort Trail section of Maryland Heights due to a lack of time. Well, I had plenty of free time on Tuesday, 11 November to complete this section of the trail, and it was well worth it.

TRAIL MAP



NOTES

Distances: from the Maryland Heights Trail Guide: railroad bridge to Stone Fort (round trip): about 6 miles (4 hours)

Blazes:

Combined Trail: Green Blaze

Stone Fort Trail: Blue Blaze (note: the blazes were light blue; in harsh/bright sunlight, the blue blazes look almost white)

Except for a few spots, the trail is clearly marked, but I included the blaze information anyway.

START

First, you'll have to reach the Maryland Heights trailhead, and hike part of the way up the hill, as I described in my previous post.

The Stone Fort Trail starts not far from the Naval Battery (described in the previous post) which sits at about 679 feet, and it goes UP to over 1440 feet.

The start of the Stone Fort Trail.



It goes up!

...and up...

...and up...

During your climb, you'll probably want to stop to rest, catch your breath,
and look around a bit. In this picture, you can see the remnants of Dam #3 on the Potomac.
The path you're hiking is basically an old military road. The soldiers used this path to climb Maryland Heights during the many efforts to fortify it in the Civil War. One information sign along the trail acknowledges the steepness of the trail. "Tired and breathless?" it asks. "You are experiencing the hardship of a Union soldier climbing to reach his work place (or fort) or his home (a tent or log cabin)," the sign states. Then the sign suggests trying the ascent helping haul a 9700-pound gun tube or a week's supply of water. Lincoln himself attempted to climb up to the batteries. Following the Battle of Antietam, Abraham Lincoln came to Maryland to review the army, including the garrisons on the mountain. He began the ascent, but because of the steepness of the slope, turned around halfway up, concluding any man who could make the climb would pass his muster. Even Lincoln couldn't finish this climb, but you can! 

MILITARY CAMPGROUND

Eventually you reach a more level spot on the ridge. This flatter area is where Civil War soldiers lived and worked for more than 3 years.


The campground is bordered by the exterior fort, a rock wall breast works that leads from the top of the ridge down the hill toward the Potomac River.

STONE FORT


To the right from the breast works is a set of stairs which will lead you up to the top of the ridge, and the interior of the Stone Fort.


Some of the Stone Fort ruins:


There are some nice views of the Potomac from the Stone Fort vista
(although a better view was from the 100-pounder battery)
The Stone Fort is a great place to stop for lunch, since it's about halfway through the hike, and you've got a nice place to sit, relax, and take in the view (...and dry out a bit, since you've probably worked up a sweat just getting here.)

100-POUNDER BATTERY


Once you leave the Stone Fort area, the path takes you along the top of the Maryland Heights ridge, winding you through more wooded and rocky areas. At times it was difficult to discern if I was still on the trail,
 

You'll eventually reach the 100-pounder battery, site of the heaviest and highest gun on Maryland Heights. As you can see, it would have had a commanding view of the Potomac River and Loudoun Heights (VA).


From the 100-pounder battery location, you can see Brunswick, MD, and Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.


A short distance from the 100-pounder battery, you start a rapid descent from the top of the ridge. This part of the trail is very rocky, so take your time and use your walking stick or trekking poles for balance.

Looking back toward the ridge:
 

30-POUNDER BATTERY


After descending from the ridge, the trail takes you to the final 'spot of interest' on the Stone Fort hike: The 30-pounder battery. The remnants of the fortification, a moat and rampart, are clearly evident. There's a ramp that allows you to cross over the rampart and explore the battery area.


Inside the battery

 

The battery operated up to six guns, able to reach Loudoun Heights in Virginia, and Bolivar Heights, above the town of Harpers Ferry.

THE END


After the 30-pounder battery, you'll continue down the hill toward the main trail. The Stone Fort trail connects with the combined trail not far from the turnoff to the Overlook Trail. If you're not too exhausted, hang a left at the trail intersection to take a trip to the overlook if you haven't seen that yet. Otherwise, going right will take you back down toward the Maryland Heights trailhead, and back to town.

Stop by one of the shops in town for some ice cream or another snack, you've earned it!

Happy Hiking!

Tip #1: If you can't tell by the photos, the trail is somewhat steep, in some places more than others. Take your time and bring plenty of water (there are no fountains or water access on the trail at all). Also, make sure you take care of restroom business in town before you cross over the river.

Tip #2: I strongly recommend a hiking stick or trekking poles to help you up the side of the mountain. There's plenty of loose gravel, rocks, and tree roots on the trail, so mind your steps.

Tip #3: There are a very small number of spots near the trailhead, so unless you get there early, you probably won't get a spot. I recommend parking at the visitor center, taking the bus into town, and walking the rest of the way.

Tip #4: The Stone Fort is a nice place to stop for a lunch break, so if you're willing and able to haul some food up the mountain, go for it, but please make sure you pack out your trash, as there are no trashcans anywhere on the trails.

Dogs: You can bring dogs along, but please make sure you clean up after them as well. Leave no trace except footprints.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hikes.htm

Did you enjoy Hiking with Hammer? For more Hiking with Hammer posts, check out my blog, Hiking with Hammer.

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger! 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hiking Maryland Heights, Part 1: Overlook Trail


Fellow blogger J. Hammer graciously agreed to guest blog for the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog about hiking along Maryland Heights, near Harpers Ferry. This is part 1 of his two-part series.

Worth a Voyage across the Atlantic



Over 1400 feet high, Maryland Heights offers stunning views of the town of Harpers Ferry, WV, and the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. You might learn a little bit of Civil War history along the way.

Maryland Heights is one of the hikes I've been wanting to do from the first time I visited Harpers Ferry. I finally got some spare time to hike it on a chilly, windy, but sunny November afternoon. I parked at the visitor center and took the bus down to the main town with my pack and hiking stick.

Full disclosure: I only hiked the Overlook trail and didn't get to the Stone Fort trail, since I got started a little later than I wanted.

NOTES

Distances (from the Maryland Heights Trail Guide):
  • railroad bridge to Overlook Cliffs (round trip): about 4.1 miles (3 hours)
  • railroad bridge to Stone Fort (round trip): about 6 miles (4 hours)
Blazes:
  • Combined Trail: Green Blaze
  • Stone Fort Trail: Blue Blaze (note: the blazes were light blue; in harsh/bright sunlight, the blue blazes look almost white)
  • Overlook Cliffs Trail: Red Blaze

TRAIL MAP


If you can't tell by the photos below, the trail is somewhat steep, in some places more than others. Take your time and bring plenty of water (there are no fountains or water access on the trail at all). Also, make sure you take care of restroom business in town before you cross over the river. 

TRAILHEAD

To reach the trailhead, you have to cross the railroad bridge across the Potomac (part of the Appalachian Trail) and then head up the C&O Canal Towpath. The footbridge over the C&O canal leads (once you cross the road beyond) to the trailhead.

The footbridge over the canal to the trailhead.

Maryland Heights trailhead. It goes up!

The trail winds around the back side of the mountain, then begins a steady climb up toward the turn to the overlook.

NAVAL BATTERY

On the way up the combined trail to the overlook trail, you'll encounter some trail markers and points of interest. The first one, 300 feet above the Potomac River, is the Naval Battery, the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights. Hastily built in May 1862, its detachment of 309 sailors and marines were there to protect Harpers Ferry, just opposite the Potomac River, from Confederate attack during General Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862. Although the fortification initially was successful, Jackson returned in September that year, and this time he prevailed, and the battery was abandoned by Union troops. Soon after that, however, Union troops returned again to Maryland Heights, but this time they built fortifications at better locations on the crest and slopes of Maryland Heights. Losing its defensive importance, the Naval Battery became instead an ordnance depot.
As you can see on the Maryland Heights Trail Guide, the trail splits around the Naval Battery, but make sure you take the side trail to see it. The Naval Battery was the first Union fortification on Maryland Heights.

THE TRAIL NOT TAKEN

Once past the Naval battery, not far up the combined trail, the Stone Fort trail splits off. The Stone Fort trail goes up to the summit of Maryland Heights, and is a little more than 3-mile circuit hike, which will bring you back around near the Overlook trail.
The Stone Fort trail branches off.
As I mentioned before, I didn't hike the Stone Fort trail, but I understand it's fairly strenuous but rewarding. Hopefully soon, I'll head back and hike this one.

THE OVERLOOK

Thomas Jefferson said of the view that it was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." Although he was actually referring to the view from Jefferson Rock, I believe he would have said the same about the view from the Maryland Heights Overlook.
Finally, the payoff for climbing the mountain.
Harpers Ferry from Maryland Heights overlook.
The Potomac River. You can see the Maryland Heights trailhead from here.

The Shenandoah River. The bridge over the Shenandoah is part of the Appalachian Trail coming out of Virginia.
The AT then turns up the hill and goes past the church before crossing the Potomac into Maryland.

OTHER PICTURES FROM MY HIKE


Coming down the mountain.









The trail to the Overlook actually descends from the Combined Trail to the Overlook cliffs, involving several switchbacks. There were plenty of rocks and tree roots on this section of trail, so again, watch your step as you descend down to the Overlook.

FINAL THOUGHTS


As it was a windy and chilly day, I bundled up with a long sleeve base layer under a t-shirt, and a warm zip up hoodie. I also wore a scarf and hat which I occasionally removed. I brought along an extra fleece pullover and windbreaker jacket as well, but I didn't really need them. I worked up a pretty good sweat hiking up the hill, and in colder weather, I might have been concerned by this. Thankfully, a little time spent relaxing in the sun on the overlook dried me out a bit. This trail is definitely one of the more strenuous trails I've done so far, so if you attempt it, know your limits and take your time. Most of all, enjoy.



Tip #1: I strongly recommend a hiking stick or trekking poles to help you up the side of the mountain. There's also plenty of loose gravel, rocks, and tree roots on the trail, so mind your steps.

Tip #2: Parking: There are a very small number of spots near the trailhead, so unless you get there early, you probably won't get a spot. I recommend parking at the visitor center, taking the bus into town, and walking the rest of the way.

Tip #3: On a warm day, the overlook would be a nice place for a picnic, so if you're willing and able to haul some food up the mountain, go for it, but please make sure you pack out your trash, as there are no trashcans anywhere on the trails.

Dogs: You can bring dogs along, but please make sure you clean up after them as well. Leave no trace except footprints.

Hours: Dawn through dusk.

Website: http://www.nps.gov/hafe/planyourvisit/hikes.htm

Did you enjoy Hiking with Hammer? for more Hiking with Hammer posts, check out my blog, Hiking with Hammer.

Check out the blog's FB page for updates on places we've visited and blogged about:  facebook.com/midatlanticdaytrips!

Have you daytripped somewhere interesting? I'd love to hear what you're doing! Email [email protected] if you're interested in being a guest-blogger!