The area now known as Fort Ritchie started humbly in 1889 when the Bueno Vista Ice company purchased around 400 acres as an investment property. They had grand plans to put in a man made lake to cut ice from. They would use the nearby Western Maryland Railroad to transport their ice from this mountain top to the homes in Baltimore, MD and Washington DC. The first man made lake was completed by 1901 and they installed a spur line off of the Western Maryland Railroad to use for loading their ice product. However, they did not take into account the ash and soot that the steam locomotives would disperse into the air. Ash and soot that would land and settle on the ice in their lake. This made the ice unusable and they had to come up with another plan. The quickly built a second man made lake and operated successfully for many years.
As refrigeration became more popular the areas purpose once again changed directions. In 1926 the Maryland National Guard built a camp on this site. The Maryland National Guard controlled the site from the inception of the camp until 1942. In June of 1942 the US Army turned this National Guard camp into a training camp for Military Intelligence. The US Army now controlled this base and used it heavily.
In 1995 the Army worked to consolidate and manage their resources and in 1998 Fort Ritchie was decommissioned and the resources were transferred to nearby Fort Detrick.
In the ensuing years the land has undergone little change. There is a community center and a park like atmosphere. Washington County manages much of the property and keeps the grass mowed and the property secure but the buildings remain intact. The property ownership has undergone some changes but has always been fraught with troubles that cause the ownership to remain in the hands of Washington County.
The roads are a great place to walk and ride bikes. The buildings stand sentinel along the roads. As we travelled the roads we noticed that the buildings close to the entrance were well taken care of and locked up. But as we moved further into the outskirts of the camp we started to notice that buildings were starting to show more and more signs of neglect. The doors had been busted down and it was possible to walk through the buildings and explore. We did not break into any building but if the building was open we entered!
Walking through Fort Ritchie is a great way to get some exercise. It is a fascinating view into life at a military camp. We were enthralled and will be back again!
We were ready to get out into the woods to enjoy some peace and quiet in nature so we headed to the Catoctin Mountain National Park! We decided to park at the Owens Creek Picnic site and hike from there. The first trail we hiked was the Browns Farm Trail. Our hike took us down an educational trail that sparked out curiosity and interest. History and nature surrounded us and we were in our glory.
Browns Farm Loop Trail
The Browns Farm Loop Trail in the Catoctin Mountain National Park is a short easy hike. The trail meanders in a loop from the parking lot. At the trail head there is an information booth that has the self guided tour of the loop trail available for anyone to pick up. We grabbed one and headed off down the trail. The trail was not overly used by other hikers and we were able to listen to the sounds of nature and breath deeply the smells of a mountain forest.
Along the trail there are markers. They are labelled with a number and a title. At each marker you can stop to read the corresponding information of the self guided tour. This farm tour took us on a stroll through an old farmstead high in the Catoctin Mountains (part of the Appalachian Mountain chain). It shows the diversity of the area and the unique characteristics that made it an opportune place for a farmstead. There is a pine grove, wetlands, a stream and a hardwood forest and a natural spring.
Along the way there are small remnants and reminders of a life once lived on this mountain top. There is a Buckeye Tree, which is not native to the area. One can only speculate that it was brought here to be planted by the family that started this farmstead. The location of the house and the nearby well is easily identifiable, even without the sign marking it as the Farmhouse. It is just a short walk away to reach the remains of the farms bank barn. The foundation is visible buried into the bank hill. The feeding trough still stands near the foundation, a testament to the livestock that once lived here.
We hiked here in the fall and loved seeing the remnants of an old stone wall peeking out from the undergrowth beside the trail.
One can only imagine how life must have been on a mountain top farm 100 years ago. It was definitely a slower more quiet existence that one can only dream of.
Browns Farm Trail
The Loop trail is not the only place to hike. The Browns Farm Trail branches off of the Browns Farm Loop and will take you another ½ to 1 mile further. It is an out and back trail that is a stroll through the woods with only one slight incline. Along that route you will see more foundations and more stone walls. These are not marked and we could only speculate as to what their uses were when the land that we were walking on was a working productive farm. It is worth the time to take that extra walk. The nature is amazing!
We had a delightful hike. We learned more about a history and an area that we didn’t know about. The farmstead families in this area are a forgotten piece of history and these trails will bring it to life. This is definitely a great hike to take. We live locally and we will be back for sure!
At the top of a small side trail off the Appalachian Trail in the state of Maryland sits the Pogo Campsite. This primitive camp site seems rather unimposing and quiet. The beauty of the area is fantastic and the Black Rock and Annapolis Overlooks are only a short walk away on the trail. But this area is bursting with historical significance. The Black Rock Hotel once stood at the site of the Pogo Campground.
Thurston Griggs Trail
The name of the trail that winds up the side of the mountain to intersect with the Appalachian Trail is named the Thurston Griggs Trail. This trail was once named the Bagtown Road and it took visitors up to the Black Rock Hotel. Over the years, the trail was adjusted and moved to preserve the land and now bears no resemblance to what we could consider to be a road. In the 1980's there was a thrust by various people to work to preserve our trails. Many people fought for the conservation and protection of the trails. Thurston Griggs was one of these crusaders for the trails. During his retirement years, he spent much time working to preserve the Appalachian Trail and other trails in the Mid-Atlantic area. Bagtown road was one of the trails that Thurston worked to preserve. When Thurston Griggs was 86 years old, they renamed this trail to honor his work. Thus, we now have The Thurston Griggs Trail. Thurston Griggs was active in the trail community until shortly before his death at at 95 in 2011.
The Pogo Campsite sites at the top of the Thurston Griggs trail. A small spring near the top of the Thurston Griggs tail makes this campsite a desirable stop for hikers. The campsite is a primitive style campsite with a an older privy and multiple fire circles scattered around the area. A new privy is being built.
The Pogo campsite is built near /on the site of the old Black Rock Hotel. The campsite was named after a young man who passed away in 1974. Walter "Pogo" Rheinheimer grew up on the Appalachian Trail. His parents were active members of the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club). In 1974, as a young adult, Pogo cheated death. He and a friend set out for a cross country adventure on their bikes, attempting to travel from coast to coast. On the first day they were sideswiped and suffered serious injuries. Once healed, Pogo accepted an invitation to go canoeing on the nearby Potomac River. This time his luck was not with him. He passed away. His parents wanted to memorialize their son and approached the PATC. The Black Rock Hotel Campsite was renamed the Pogo Campsite.
The Black Rock Hotel
The Black Rock Hotel, also known as the Black Rock House was originally built in the 1870's. Even though the hotel was not easily accessible, it quickly became a popular destination for people that wanted to escape the heat of the city. Sadly, the hotel burned down in 1880. Within in a short period of time, the owner lost his wife and child to illness. Depressed and disheartened, he moved to New York where he experienced great financial prosperity. The fresh mountain air near Black Rock kept calling his name and in 1907 he rebuilt the Black Rock Hotel.
The newly rebuilt never regained it's former popularity. The accessibility of the hotel came into play as more and more people chose to visit the nearby Pen Mar park, travelling by train to access the mountain top resort.
The memories that are recounted about the Black Rock Hotel are pleasant. Memories include sitting on the porch and looking at the town far below, visiting during the Fourth of July and reading the Declaration of Independence and drinking liquor distilled from Washington County Rye.
The second Black Rock Hotel burned in 1920. The walls stood high up in the mountains for many years. It became a popular spot for people to visit and explore. As late as the 1960's and 1970's people recount experiences at the Black Rock Hotel and talk about the walls still standing. But by the turn of the new century, the walls had been reduced to rubble and the foundation overtaken by nature.
I would have loved to live in that time frame to travel up the Bagtown Road to visit the Black Rock Hotel/Black Rock House. The resort high in the mountains would have been the perfect retreat from daily life. But that era is over. Instead, I will enjoy my hikes up the Thurston Griggs trail and my walks through the Pogo Campsite.
Photo Credits: http://fess2.blogspot.com/2011/03/my-search-for-black-rock-hotel.html and https://www.fredericknewspost.com/news/lifestyle/wolfsville-serenity-in-the-hills/article_93620fce-04f0-5404-87ea-8364c92cb874.html
I was quite nervous about hiking the Kaymoor Miners Trail. OK, I was absolutely petrified! We had visited the area a few months earlier and we had heard fabulous things about the Kaymoor Miners Trail. It was supposed to have anything that someone could ask for. Waterfalls, gorgeous views and abandoned ruins of a coal mine, it had it all. It sounded like something we would love We had known that it was a must do hike. So on that visit, we made our way to the trail head to hike this trail. We even started down the trail anxious to see what this trail was all about. It didn't bother us that the trail was marked as strenuous. We had been on difficult trails before! We had this!
We did not have that! On that hike, we got to the waterfall and the steep rock scramble and I totally wimped out! I became frightened and worried about my balance and stability and we turned around and did not complete that hike. I regretted it almost immediately and began to try to come up with ideas to allow me to traverse that rock scramble safely. I came up with the idea to start hiking with trekking poles. Best decision ever!
Time to Hike the Kaymoor Miners Trail
I had been hiking with my trekking poles for a few months between our first visit to the New River Gorge and the Kaymoor Miners Trail and the second visit. The time had come, we were back at the New River Gorge for our vacation. It was time to put those trekking poles to use and hike the Kaymoor Miners Trail. I was so excited to experience this trail that we decided to hike this trail on our very first day of our vacation.
We started out on the trail and we were loving the trail. It was easy, deceptively so; but I knew what was ahead of me. We got to that rock scramble area and it didn't seem quite as difficult. I paused for a few seconds and then moved forward. I went carefully and slowly but it wasn't that bad and the rock scramble was relatively short.
We kept hiking and before long we were at the intersection of the Kaymoor Trail. The Kaymoor Trail in this area sits on a shelf on the side of the mountain. This is the first visible evidence of the old mine. You can see buildings and mine entrances at this level.
Kaymoor Miners Trail: Stairway
After exploring this area, we took a deep breath and headed down the stairs. The signage near the stairs makes it very clear that there are 821 steps that will take the brave person down the side of the mountain. The signs also included a brief description of what we would see at the bottom of the steps. There was no question in my mind! We were going down those stairs!
hThe stairs were tough. Going down them was surprisingly rough on my muscles. Climbing back up the steps? That was difficult also! I was breathing like a freight train!
But on my word! The beauty at the bottom of those steps is incredible! The ruins of the abandoned mine are all around you. There are traces of the lives and work that took place here evident with every step we took! It was worth every muscle ache and every gasp for breath as I climbed back up!
I was so afraid of this hike, and it turned out to be the best hike of our entire visit. Was it difficult? Absolutely! Would I do it again? In a heartbeat! The Kaymoor Miners trail has it all. It's a great workout. It has fabulous scenery. It has abandoned buildings. It has amazing history. It has the peace that nature brings. This trail is top notch!
A visit to The New River Gorge National Park would not be complete without a visit to the town of Thurmond, WV. Before we visited the area, I did my due diligence and researched many of the attractions and trails in the area. We only had a short time during that visit and I wanted to see as much as I could and to hit the most important locations. As soon as I saw the words ‘abandoned town’, I was hooked! Thurmond was one of the ‘musts’ for this trip!
The town of Thurmond was once a bustling boom town. The steady flow of money from the local coal mines and the railroad station in town fueled the economy. Over the years the coal mines began to shut down which caused a decline in the financial wealth of this community. Simultaneously, the rise in popularity of the automobile brought around a steep decrease in passenger train travel, which further hampered the economic prosperity of the town. Slowly, people began to leave the town for more prosperous towns. In the 2010 Census, the population of the town was listed as 5 and most of the buildings are now owned by the National Park Service.
The Commercial Area of Thurmond, WV
The first thing you will see as you drive into the town is the train station. This station has been completely redone and serves as a visitor center for the National Park. It is the focal point of the town. This is still a flag stop for Amtrak service. So if you want to begin and/or end your vacation in Thurmond, you can definitely arrive by train!
To tour the business area of the this abandoned town you will be walking along the railroad tracks. The commercial area of town is nestled between the side of the mountain and the railroad tracks. These railroad tracks are still owned, operated and used by CSX, so please be careful. It is fascinating to walk by the businesses and imagine how life was in this town during the heyday when it was a bustling center of activity that while small was so prosperous that it was able to support two banks.
The Coaling Tower
There are still remnants of the bygone era of steam locomotives. The coaling tower still stands tall and proud at the end of the commerce section of town. Along with some of the outbuildings that supported the thriving railroad. Proud of the history of this town, in recent years they have held a Thurmond Train day for rail fans.
The Residential Area of town
We walked through the commercial area of the town and walked by a few buildings that were obviously residential in nature before we came to a winding road that led up the side of the mountain. It was a hot day when we were there, but we decided to walk up a bit of the hill to explore. Oh my word! I am so glad I did. Abandoned house after abandoned house stood at the side of the road a testament to the lives that had been lived in this town. The houses have been secured by the National Park service, so they are not readily available for entry. However, it is possible to walk onto the porches and peer in some windows.
Remnants of lives once happily lived are evidenced in the flowers that were once carefully planted but now grow wild. As we wound up the hill and back down, we came across the town church standing proud on the side of the mountain. Oh, if walls could talk!
Thurmond, WV quickly became the absolute favorite part of our visit to this area. It is not often you get to walk through an abandoned ghost town that is still almost fully intact. The history and vibe of the area was something to behold! We explored that town as fully as we could! We have both on many different occasions since we have been home have made the remark that we will go back to that town to explore more!
For more about this area, check out The New River Gorge Bridge.
I first learned about the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum somewhere right around 2010. I had been searching for abandoned and historical buildings online and the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum came into my radar. I read all that I could about the building. I was fascinated with the history and filled with thankfulness that this building had been purchased and open to the public for tours. Immediately, this location skyrocketed to one of the top three places to visit on my bucket list. I wanted to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in a really bad way. Unfortunately, life and circumstances kept me away. I may have not been able to visit at that point, but I kept a close eye on the website. I was pleased to see that the tours were supplying the funds for ongoing restoration. As a result, through the years they began to offer a larger variety of tours and more access to the property. My interest only grew, but more years passed.
FINALLY, the arrangements were made and I had plans to go visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. I was beside myself with excitement. I had researched the different tours and I knew that there were two of the available tours that I was planning on taking. I wanted to do the Four Floor tour and the Criminally Insane Tour. We planned to arrive in time to start with the first tour, which would give us the option to add on a third tour at the end of the day if time permitted.
We pulled up to the building and I was practically giddy! The pictures that I had seen (and that I took) do not do this building justice. This building is quite immense and imposing. (I am honestly struggling to not just fill up this post with pictures!)
The building was opened in 1864 and operated as a hospital until 1994. It was opened under the name of Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum but later changed its name to Weston State Hospital in the year 1913. The name was changed back to “Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” when it was reopened to the public for tours. This imposing structure is the largest hand cut stone building in the United States and is the second largest in the world, second only to the Kremlin in Moscow.
The main floor opens up to a grand entrance that has been beautifully restored. Here you will have the chance to buy your tickets, sign your waiver and visit the gift shop. Your price of your admission (no any of the variety of tours) will give you access to the museum which is housed on the main floor and right wing of the main floor. There are artifacts from life in this mental hospital and the property that included fields for producing their own food and a coal mine. As you walk through the right wing you will see various examples of common treatments for mental illness. You can read about them and then take in the re-creations that they have set up.
The first tour in my day was the Four Floor Tour. This guided tour is fantastic. In 2020 it was $30 and will last for about 90 minutes. The tour guide will lead you through the main building and talk about the various features of the architecture and history of the building. The tour guide will point out various points of interest and will share stories of the patients and personnel who lived, worked and resided in this grand building. During the tour there will be opportunities to learn about the history and uses of the other buildings that surround the main building on this medical campus. The tour will lead you through beautifully restored areas. You will see what the building looked like when it was at the height of it’s use.
However you will also see similar areas that are showing signs of the years of disuse and decay. The juxtaposition between the two is amazing to witness.
The tours will lead you through many areas of the building that are rough and raw and showing signs of the years decay. You will see the peeling paint. You will see decay as you learn about how the areas were used. You will see the sheer beauty of this building.
The four floor tour will also give you access to the Medical Building. This building served as the for not only the asylum but also for the community. While this building may not be as old and prestigious as the main building, the history and stories are no less plentiful and fascinating.
We were absolutely pleased with our tour and our tour guide. It was 90 minutes of amazing sights and fabulous stories about what we were seeing. But our day was not over yet! We had a thirty minute break before our next tour. We spent our time strolling through the museum portion of the building. The artifacts are well displayed and you can tell that they were carefully chosen to convey the life of the people that worked in the building as well as the life that was created for the patients that spent most of their lives within the confines of this property.
All too soon it was time for our next tour but we knew that we would have time to see the rest later in the day! Up next was the Criminally Insane Tour. Yes, this hospital housed the criminally insane and at one point they had a building that was built for this exact purchase. This tour is again led by a tour guide who was quite knowledgeable In fact, we were lucky enough to get the same tour guide for this tour but even luckier, we were the only two people on our tour. A personal tour! We headed back to the criminally insane building. Our tour guide let us peak into the windows of the hospital library and look at the patient graffiti that still graced the walls outside the library before heading into the main portion of the building.
This tour was just as good as the first tour. We learned that they housed two types of patients in this building. They housed the patients that were deemed criminally insane but the state also used the building to house prisoners while they were awaiting on the trial for their mental competency. The doctors and staff of the hospital would work with the prisoners/patients to determine the level of their sanity. Much of the building was in a dorm room style where these criminally insane patients were housed together. The stories, history and architecture on this tour was just as impressive as the first tour that we went on. It was a great decision to add this tour onto our day’s activities. It was an additional $15, but worth every penny.
After our two tours we continued to explore the museum and visited the gift shop. We were seriously debating adding on the Daytime Paranormal tour to our day . This tour would lead us through the buildings. It would be full of stories of paranormal experiences and show different areas that were noted to have higher than average paranormal events. We eventually decided to not do the tour so that we would have plenty of time to enjoy the museum.
Visiting the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was on my bucket list for years and after visiting, I question why I waited so long to actually visit. The money from the tours goes back into the building and each year they work on restoring and stabilizing this grand building, so the money is well spent. But these tours are preserving not only the buildings, they are preserving the stories and the life that was held within these buildings. As we were driving away Jason looked at me and said “we will have to come back to Weston, West Virginia in a few years to do the paranormal tour and to see what they have restored!” Yes, this building really is that awesome!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!