Thursday, April 30, 2015

Unexpected Visit to the Past: Fort Frederick

Our goal, that cold last Saturday (25 April) was to park at Fort Frederick State Park, ride up to Hancock on the C&O Canal towpath, grab lunch, ride back on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, and then tour Fort Frederick, mostly because we were there and I could get two blogs for the effort of one. Check out next week's post for the narrative about the bike ride!

Fort Frederick was built in 1756-57 by the colony of Maryland. During the French and Indian War in 1756, a £6000 appropriation was authorized by the Maryland Legislature at the request of colonial Governor Horatio Sharpe to build a fortification on the frontier. The fort, named after Frederick Calvert, 6th Baron Baltimore, was completed the following year.

 As we turned into the state park off of Route 56, I greeted the news that there was some event going on with initial dismay. But that soon turned to pleasure and excitement. We unwittingly arrived during the 21st Annual 18th Century Market Fair event. Market Fair is the Colonial period's answer to the Renaisssance Fair, minus the fantasy aspect of fairies and pirates and the growing influence of Victorian steam punk (which goes so well with the Renaissance theme).

Era-authentic tents and shelters were assembled around the fort. I felt as if I were stepping into the past. Families garbed in Colonial dress and only two pirates strolled among the vendors and tents, chatting and shopping. We stopped at several of the vendors and at a boiled peanut demonstration (fun fact: peanuts were introduced to America by enslaved Africans during the Colonial period, but became more popular during the Civil War and were eaten by both Union and Confederate soldiers).

Other than the occasional cell phone, those at the Market Fair -- both the vendors and the tent campers -- were living authentically. As we arrived in the morning, the smell of multiple breakfasts filled the air, and folks were moving slowly and carefully in the chilly April morning temperatures. Vendors slowly began opening their tents and displaying their wares. It was fascinating!

Although many period forts were built of wood (George Washington's Fort Necessity comes to mind), the governor correctly noted that wooden forts burned easily. A fort as far forward on the frontier as Fort Frederick would have to be made of stone to be secure. It's location was carefully chosen for the bend in the Potomac River, which provided an ideal place to protect against both the native peoples and the French.

The large stone fort was designed primarily as a place of refuge for area settlers. Between 1757 and 1758, small raids by Indians in nearby settlements caused settlers in the surrounding countryside to flee eastward. At the same time, men of the 60th Regiment of Foot and local militia soldiers garrisoned the fort. Ranging parties were sent from the fort to patrol the area and to deter if not prevent Indian raids.

Fort Frederick -- not built to withstand artillery -- had limited usefulness both during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War a hundred years later. During the Revolutionary War, from 1777 to 1783, Fort Frederick was used as a prisoner of war camp. As many as 1,000 captured British and German soldiers were incarcerated there after the Battles of Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781).

Fort Frederick was sold at auction in 1791 and lay abandoned until the Civil War, when it was again briefly garrisoned. The fort was used as a gun emplacement to protect the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which paralleled the canal. The 1st Maryland Infantry (US) occupied the area in December 1861 and Company H fought in a skirmish at the fort against Confederate raiders on Christmas Day, 1861. The regiment left in February 1862. Although in October 1862, a picket from the 12th Illinois Cavalry briefly occupied the area, the military usefulness of the fort had ended as 1862 drew to a close.

Abandoned again, although the surrounding land was farmed, the fort slowly crumbled, until it was acquired in 1922 by the State of Maryland as Maryland's first state park. The walls had deteriorated but were standing up to 8 feet in places. Archaeological investigations and the discovery of the original plans allowed a complete reconstruction. The Civilian Conservation Corps, instrumental in so many other state parks, completed much of the restoration work in the 1930s.

Other events coming up at Fort Frederick State Park are listed at

Getting there: 11100 Fort Frederick Rd, Big Pool, MD 21711

Dogs: On the grounds of Fort Frederick, yes. But not in the fort itself. If attending the scheduled events, check to ensure Fido is welcomed.

Hours: 8 am to Sunset, April-October; 10 am to Sunset, November-March


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Updated September 2018

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Walk Through Time: Patapsco's Grist Mill Trail

I've blogged about Patapsco River Valley State Park before (check out this post and this one), but this post will focus on the Grist Mill Trail, in the Avalon part of the park. I'm writing again about it because, of all the places I have been to or go to regularly, this is the place I end up most often.

A bridge to nowhere now marks the old road at Elk Ridge Landing, where a bridge used to cross the Patapsco River. This little stone bridge crosses the trace where a mill race had channeled water to power the mills and factories.

The other morning, as I headed toward Patapsco Park once again, I mused on the history I've learned. In school we mostly learn about national and world (okay, in my day, it wasn't so much world history as it was European/JudeoChristian). There's very little local history. As an adult I moved to Ellicott City, suburbia at its best and worst. Any sense of the place itself is diluted by the abundant Targets and Walmarts, McDonalds and Chick-fil-As, although sometimes local businesses and school names give hints (Ellicott Mills Middle School, for example, recalls the original name of Ellicott City, which was never, ever really a city; only a fit of snobbery made its citizens want to change its name from reflecting the mill town it really was into something more, and supposedly better).

From the early 1700s to the 1860s, the Patapsco River valley was heavily industrialized, served by the port of Elk Ridge Landing -- the site of modern day Elkridge. Port? Elk Ridge Landing used to be an important colonial port, rivaling Annapolis. In 1781, Generals Lafayette and Rochambeau crossed Patapsco with their armies on separate occasions en route to York Town to force the surrender of British General Cornwallis. In so doing, they both lost men and boats in the "treacherous waters."

Bloede Dam makes a pleasant sound in the distance; folks are fishing for newly stocked trout (in mid-April).

Early development in the valley centered on tobacco and the production of iron in the vicinity of present day Elkridge. During the colonial era, both of these commodities were exported from Elk Ridge Landing to Britain and the East Indies. By the early to mid-1800s, the port had silted up (due to land erosion as a result of the iron forges in the area) and as a result, a highway and railroad system was developed largely to get products from there to Baltimore's markets and harbor.

Today the once formidable Patapsco is a lazy, quiet little river, only a few feet deep at most along this stretch. The morning I was there, I encountered a woman with binoculars scanning the trees near the bridge to nowhere (pictured above). She could hear, although not see, the Northern Perula, a cute little warbler. In the park you're likely to see Canada geese, herons, hawks, and a variety of song birds. There is evidence of beaver as well.

Gina and Frank, jogging buddies, walk their respective dogs. 

This portion of the Patapsco River Valley State Park is highly populated. Bikeriders like me, dog walkers, joggers, families with children, and fishermen (fisher people?) were plentiful along the Gristmill Trail, which is about 2 1/2 miles long from end to end. The Grist Mill Trail is sandwiched between the river and an active railroad. If you spend any time at all there, you're likely to hear the thunder and screech of a train coming along the railroad.

There are picnic shelters, lots of picnic areas, playgrounds, and rest rooms in the Avalon/Orange Grove part of the park.

What's left of the Orange Grove flour mill.

Throughout the park are the ruins of old brick and stone homes and other structures. The flood associated with Hurricane Agnes (remember that one? a major event of my childhood!) swept away almost all of the remaining evidence of earlier mill sites from the valley. Two well maintained swinging bridges also characterize this section of the park.

In addition, there is the Thomas Viaduct and the Old Gun Road Stone Arch Bridge. Although not in use, it dates back to colonial times and spans the “mill race”which supplied water power to the Dorsey Forge. George Washington reportedly laid out Gun Road to move guns for the American Revolution produced at the Dorsey Forge. Transported via Gun Road to Elk Ridge Landing, the guns were shipped down river to the Bay and then to Annapolis for final assembly. In 1815, the Ellicott family acquired Dorsey Forge and expanded it to become the Avalon Iron and Nail Works, for which this portion of the park is named. Floods in 1868 destroyed the Iron and Nail Works along with the village of Avalon. The industries in this river valley: the iron forges and textile mills, helped win American Independence from Britain and ignited Maryland's industrialization.

Along the Gristmill Trail, look for the remaining foundation wall of a flour mill established in 1856 on the Baltimore County side of the river, all that remains of a once vibrant community known as Orange Grove. One of the largest mills in the mid-Atlantic region, it operated until a fire devastated it in May 1905. Twelve mill homes on the Howard County side of the river connected to the mill via a swinging bridge. Orange Grove flour, which was marketed as "Patapsco Superlative Patent Flour," was widely popular in both Europe and the United States. Now there's a rebuilt swinging bridge and the Orange Grove picnic area to remind us that a community once existed here.

In 1868, a devastating flood hit the Patapsco Valley and eliminated almost all of its industries, including, temporarily, the Orange Grove flour mill. If you think about it, this flood started the Patapsco River Valley to begin its unwilling conversion from industrial mills and factories to the forested state park we have today. The possibility of additional floods, the invention of the steam engine, and the generally poor national economic situation at the time prevented many mills and their associated communities from rebuilding along the Patapsco.

You can't miss the old Bloede Dam (pronounced “Blerda”). Patapsco Electric and Manufacturing of Ellicott City brought fame to the Patapsco River corridor in 1906 when it constructed the world’s first underwater hydroelectric plant. Named Bloede's Dam after the company’s president, Victor Gustav Bloede, it was state of the art at the time, but only operated a couple decades and stopped providing power in 1924. Part of the reason why it became unfeasible to continue operations was the large amount of silt and debris ending up in the river from the denuded hillsides. Since then it's served no function, and in fact, impedes the migration of some fish, and is therefore being considered for demolition.

There are a variety of trails, many of which intersect the paved Grist Mill Trail, and including some accessed from Hilltop Road that connects Ellicott City and Catonsville, that are enjoyable hikes into the hollows formed by the creeks flowing into the Patapsco. Some of the hikes offer some pleasant views. Walking along some of the trails that follow creeks feeding into the river, especially in the fall, are enjoyable hikes. Keep alert, although about the wildest thing you'll see are mountain bikers!

Getting there: Enter the Avalon Area of Patapsco Valley State Park off U.S. Rt. 1 at South St., just north of Elkridge. Proceed on the park entrance road to the contact station. Park in the driveway in front of the contact station. There is also access to the Grist Mill Trail from Ilchester Road; do NOT park below the railroad bridge as you may receive a parking ticket.

Dogs: A perfect place for them! Keep them leashed.

Hours: Dawn to dusk.


For other hikes in the Patapsco Valley State Park, check out the following articles:

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Thomas Viaduct was completed in 1835 and is the world’s largest multiple arched stone railroad
bridge with an arc; it is still in active use today.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Morven Park and the Davis Mansion

My sister suggested we tour Morven Park one day after she attended a riding competition there (Morven Park is well known among the horse set). The grounds of Morven Park encompass 1,000 acres of lawns, fields, wooded areas and boxwood gardens, including the mansion, stables and a show ring(s), and a museum of coaches. As we walked around the gardens, she pointed out various steeple chase jumps. I wished there'd been a show that weekend so I could have seen the horses in action.

Although located in Leesburg, VA, Morven Park has very close connections to Baltimore and Maryland. Thomas Swann Jr., used Morven Park as his summer home while serving as mayor of Baltimore between 1856 and 1860 and before becoming Maryland’s governor in 1866. Although his election may have been questionable, he became known as a good governor for Baltimore. He eventually served as U.S. Representative from Maryland's 3rd Congressional district and then the 4th Congressional district. His career began -- and this I find most interesting -- in the railroad industry in 1834. Swann rose to be director and president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in 1847, serving in that position until his resignation in 1853.

The second governor to inhabit Morven Park was Westmoreland Davis, governor of Virginia from 1918 to 1922, who along with his wife Marguerite, purchased the property in 1903. The mansion reflects the Davis period of occupation, with their original furnishings and personal belongings.

Westmoreland Davis was born to a wealthy and prominent family on August 21, 1859, on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean. The Davis family was a prominent, slave holding family, and lost most of its wealth during the Civil War. Davis and his mother, left a widow by the war, struggled financially after the war, but he was able to attend the Virginia Military Institute on a scholarship. After graduating in 1877, he taught for 2 years then went to work as a clerk for the railroad company. Later, he completed a year of post-graduate study at the University of Virginia in 1883, and studied at Columbia Law School from 1884 until graduating in 1886. He joined an elite New York City law firm and became wealthy. Marguerite's family, extremely wealthy themselves, hired Davis, and it was then that he met and eventually married her.

When Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis purchased Morven Park in 1903, they inherited a landscape that resembled English private park estates. The road winding through the landscape passed through magnificent wrought iron gates, a gift from the citizens of Baltimore to their mayor, Thomas Swann, Jr.

Wrought iron gates given to Swann by the citizens of Baltimore.

The couple traveled the world, and the thousands of items --
furnishings, which include 16th century Belgian tapestries, hundreds of silver pieces, Hudson River Valley paintings, and Asian treasures -- in the Mansion’s collection all add to the sense of the Davises’ everyday lives. It is decorated in a rich, gaudy style that reflects the materialistic dedication to excess of Victorian aesthetics.

While visiting Morven Park, don’t miss the unique collection of horse-drawn vehicles in the Winmill Carriage Museum. The 40 antique coaches, carriages, sleds and carts range from utilitarian to regal.

While two of the carriages belonged to Westmoreland and Marguerite Davis, the rest were donated to Morven Park by the late Viola Townsend Winmill of Warrenton, VA, in 1967.

Of particular interest is the miniature road coach once owned by General Tom Thumb of the Barnum and Bailey Circus and an elegant caleche Mrs. Winmill loaned for the use of Grace Kelly in one of her final movies before becoming “Princess Grace.” Also on display is the very ornate antique hearse that carried Mrs. Winmill’s remains during her 1975 funeral.

Also on the grounds is a glimpse into life at a winter encampment of the Civil War. Morven Park became an encampment and training site for Confederate forces until they abandoned Leesburg in early March 1862. From late December 1861 to March 6, 1862, two companies of the 17th Mississippi Infantry Regiment constructed and stayed in winter huts.

Know before you go: Leesburg is a quaint and lovely little town -- at least, the historic part of it is. Plan to spend an hour or two walking around exploring. For you Civil War buffs, Balls Bluff is right around the corner.

Getting there: 17263 Southern Planter Lane, Leesburg, VA 20176; setting your GPS or on-line search to “Morven Park” may take you to the wrong entrance, so please use the address provided here for tours of the mansion.

Dogs: Droopy tails since Fido isn't welcome in the museums. If you don't want to go into the house, or plan just walking around Leesburg exploring, then would be perfect to bring your pooch along.

Hours: Morven Park’s three museums are open for tours Thursdays through Mondays (closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays). The Civil War Encampment Site and the gardens are open daily.


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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ellicott City: Quant and Small, There's Something for Everyone

For a town* that stretches barely a mile long, there's an impressive array of things to do. Booze it up in the bars, sit down for fine dining (preferably before you booze it up), spend an afternoon shopping the variety of boutiques that line Main Street, explore local rail history at the B&O Museum, take a walk on the old trollycar trail to Catonsville, or go ghost hunting.

I live near historic Main Street Ellicott City -- a quaint old milltown main street lined with boutique and antique stores and some well-respected restaurants in old stone buildings.

In 1772, three Quaker brothers from Pennsylvania, chose the picturesque wilderness, upriver from Elk Ridge Landing (known today as Elkridge, Maryland), to establish a flour mill. John, Andrew, and Joseph Ellicott founded Ellicott's Mills, which became one of the largest milling and manufacturing towns in the East. The Ellicott brothers helped revolutionize farming in the area by persuading farmers to plant wheat instead of tobacco and also by introducing fertilizer to revitalize depleted soil.

In 1830, Ellicott's Mills became the first terminus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad outside Baltimore.

When the kids were little, we frequently visited B&O Museum. The Ellicott City Station is the oldest surviving railroad station in America and the site of the original terminus of the first 13 miles of commercial track ever constructed in America. In the 1970s the station was restored as a museum and a second restoration in 1999 returned the building to its 1857 appearance. The station, built of huge blocks of locally quarried granite, stands today as a living history museum, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark. The site interprets the story of transportation and travel in early America through seasonal exhibits, education programs and living history programs. According to the Haunted Ellicott City Ghost Tours, several ghosts haunt the old building.

An interesting but little known fact about Ellicott City is that the famous race between Peter Cooper's iron engine, the Tom Thumb, and a horse-drawn carriage took place at Relay on the return trip from Ellicott's Mills in August 1830.

By 1861, Ellicott's Mills was a prosperous farming and manufacturing area. At the start of the Civil War in May 1861, Union troops seized a Winans Steam Gun en route to Harpers Ferry at Ellicott Mills. The experimental gun was used to guard the Thomas Viaduct for the remainder of the war. On July 10, 1864, Federal troops under the command of General Lew Wallace retreated down the National Pike (now U.S. 40) from the Battle of Monocacy to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Ellicott's Mills station. Homes and churches in Ellicott's Mills were temporarily used as hospitals for the Union wounded, perhaps accounting for why there are so many purported hauntings within the mile-long main street.

In 1867, a city charter was secured for Ellicott's Mills, changing the name to Ellicott City (supposedly to make it sound grander than "just a mill town"). In 1892, trolley service was proposed for Ellicott City, and it is the resulting former trolley line that now offers a pleasant four-mile (there and back) stroll through the woods. The Old Trollyline Trail lands on the edge of Catonsville -- and there you should turn around and walk back. But just off the trail about mid-way is a most excellent bread bakery! Keep an eye out for these hidden delights!

* The historic main street of Ellicott City, that is.

For more about Ellicott City's ghosts, check out:

Getting There: There is street parking available along the entire main street but there's also a parking lot on the upper end of Main Street, near the Howard County Visitor's Center. On the lower end, there's limited parking near the Railroad Museum. Bring quarters or credit cards, because most of the parking is metered.

Eats: Lots to choose from. I personally recommend the Phoenix Emporium or Johnny's in Ellicott City, or the Trolly Stop in Oella, just beyond the railroad bridge and where the Old Trollyline Trail begins.

Dogs: Yes for the ghost walk and Old Trollyline hike, or just walking up and down the street; no for boutique shopping, fine dining, or bar-hopping. During warm weather, some restaurants allow well-behaved dogs to dine with their owners in the outdoor tables. Call ahead to confirm.


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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Trail Rides in Canaan Valley, WV

One way to experience Canaan Valley, as well as some of the relatively nearby mountain attractions, such as Seneca Rocks, is on horseback. If you don't have horses of your own -- or you're a novice rider -- no worries. The local riding outfits can accommodate you easily.

And although the rides are kid friendly -- kids as young as 6 years old have gone along -- you don't have to have kids along to enjoy the ride. It's quite romantic to slowly walk up the side of a mountain with your loved one, with your only expended effort being to dodge branches. You really don't even need to steer -- the horses generally seem to know their way.

Over the years, I've taken my family on three trail rides: up to Seneca Rocks and twice through the Canaan Valley Resort State Park.

During your ride up through Canaan Valley Resort State Park, you're likely to see white-tailed deer or even a black bear in their natural habitat. There are frequent wildlife sightings and photo opportunities along the trail as you ride through wooded forests and mountain meadows to vantage points near Bald Knob. These trails are used only for riding horses, and provide spectacular views of Canaan Valley - the highest valley east of the Mississippi River.

Seneca Rocks, a prominent and visually striking formation rising nearly 900 feet above the surrounding countryside, is well worth a visit, whether to the visitor's center at the base or via a hike or horse ride along the side of the mountain. Whether you hoof it or hike it, though, unless you're an experienced rock climber, you won't make it to the peak. Seneca Rocks is easily visible and accessible along West Virginia Route 28, near U.S. Route 33 in the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area of the Monongahela National Forest.

Tip #1: Dress appropriately! Jeans (or pants) and reasonable shoes, such as hiking boots or sneakers. Don't wear flip flops.

Tip #2: When they offer you a helmet, say yes. One horse my husband was riding decided that a doe was a wild and crazy creature, to be avoided at all costs. Although he stayed on when the horse reared and bolted (a very unusual occurrence, by the way), had he fallen we'd have been grateful for the helmet. Plus, branches that a horse can duck aren't always avoidable by an inexperienced rider.

Hours: Check the outfits websites for times and locations.

Dogs: Not for the trailrides, no.


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