Frugal Entertainment and Travel
I was looking for attractions in the Harrisburg area for our upcoming trip when I stumbled upon the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. I was immediately intrigued. A 100 (some sections are more than 200 years old) year old mansion that we could tour? That sounded like something right up my alley as I adore history! Even better, this mansion sits within a park that contains numerous historic buildings. Are you still not convinced? The property borders the Susquehanna River and also touches the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. This was going to be a grand place to visit, I could feel it in my bones!
Touring Fort Hunter Mansion
After parking, we made our way up the walkway. I could see a large house sitting before me, splendid with its impressive size. I stopped for a quick picture and then followed the signs to the gift shop. I had read online that tours begin at the top each hour throughout the day. As we were on a relaxing weekend get-a-way, I didn’t want to be tied down to a specific time for a tour, so I had not purchased tickets online, so I was on a mission to purchase tickets for the next tour! The gift shop is situated around the side of the house and I could just make out the beauty of gardens and outbuildings as I rang the bell to gain access to the gift shop. The shop is small, but had a nice selection of books and local trinkets. The cashier was friendly and we quickly had our tickets in hand. We had about 15 minutes before our tour started, so we decided to explore the gardens and grounds by the house. The gardens open up on the right side of the house, with flowers and some vegetables. An Ice house and a Small Dairy building sit amidst the garden confines. The left side of the house is all yard, with an amazing view from high up of the Susquehanna River
At the appropriate time for our tour, we headed to the front porch where we were welcomed into a small parlor. The tour guide welcomed us and invited us to watch a short 5-minute video history of the family and house. The video was informative and the tour guide even more so when he returned to the room. We were given the basic information about when the house was built (the first section in 1786) and more about the families that once resided in this house. The tour guide than said something that blew my mind, in a good way. 99% of the furnishings and artifacts in the house were actually in the house when it was last lived in. This is such a rare find! The family members that inherited the house, in the early to mid-1900’s had worked to preserve the house and its belongings. The attic was full of various artifacts that had been stored away in the attic during the houses occupancy and the museum had carefully catalogued them and worked to display the amazing collection.
The house was decorated exquisitely and had so many extra knickknacks and touches that it was easy to imagine that the owner had just stepped out for a moment. Each room was a plethora of artifacts and history that had my eyes roaming as I soaked in the information from the tour guide. All too soon, the tour was over. It was over so quickly, not because it was short but rather because I was enthralled the whole time. I am absolutely sure that if I went back and did the tour again, my eyes would feast on other items that I totally missed during this first tour.
Fort Hunter Park and Buildings
The grounds surrounding the Fort Hunter Mansion are split by a roadway and contain numerous buildings. As I mentioned above, the house and gardens contain a small dairy and Ice house, but there is so many more things to see. With a map of the park in hand, we headed out to explore. We headed along the Susquehanna River when we left the Mansion tour. A paved path meandered along the way, passing restrooms and an access to the Susquehanna River. We wanted to see it all, so we headed toward the Susquehanna river to check out the river bank before heading to the first building on our exploration.
The first building we decided to check out was the Heckton Church. This church was once a Methodist Church and sits at the end of the parking lot on the same side of the road as the mansion. The church is not in its original location. It was moved within the last 15 years to preserve it from the periodic flooding of the nearby river.
This was the only other building on this side of the road, so we carefully crossed the road and began to explore the other buildings within the park. There is a Large bank barn, a stone stable, a Tavern, smokehouse, and springhouse. We were in the height of summer when we visited so we were able to enjoy the vegetable garden that resided between the bank barn and the stone stable.
Beyond these buildings sits a covered bridge. This is the covered bridge that was built in 1881 to span the little Buffalo Creek. The covered bridge is not in its original location. The founder of this park and museum mansion bought the bridge to save it from its demise when the need for the covered bridge became obsolete. The bridge was dismantled and moved to this property, where it now sits over a small swampy area.
Beyond the covered bridge is the remnants of the Pennsylvania Canal. There are a number of signs to educate the visitor about the canal and the various means of transportation over the years.
We opted to drive to the last historical building within the confines of the park. That is the Fort Hunter Station built in 1929. . This was a gas station that was privately owned and operated as a gas station, restaurant, tourist cabins, miniature golf course and came complete with a beer garden. Everything a tired traveler would need. The building looks to be in the process of being remodeled inside, but the stone building is still standing well to the changes of time.
This park and mansion was a great place to spend a few hours. We were able to immerse ourselves in history that dated from the 1700’s to the 1900’s. It is truly a remarkable collection that should be visited by all. We can only thank Margaret Wister Meigs who was the family member that was instrumental in saving this amazing property and contents in the early 1900’s. Her foresight is a blessing to those of us that can visit in today’s day and age.
On a recent hike in the Catoctin Mountain Park, we hiked the Charcoal trail. It was super informative and sparked our interest in the industry. We had stumbled upon the preserved Catoctin Furnace a few months earlier while we were the way to the Catoctin Zoo. We hadn't explored to deeply, so we decided to go back and check it out and see where the charcoal that we created up on in the mountains was used.
The signs along the road are unobtrusive, announcing the 'historic Catoctin Furnace District". I had driven by them numerous times and paid them no attention, but when I finally drove down that road, a whole new world of history opened up to me.
The Catoctin Furnace was in blast and operational as early as 1776 when it was instrumental in providing munitions to George Washington and his men. The furnace remained in operation, under different ownership until 1903. The grounds are well maintained and where applicable, beautifully restored. The Catoctin Furnace complex is spread out throughout the historic district but is all within short walking distance
The Catoctin Furnace Museum
The Catoctin Furnace Museum is housed in a restored iron workers house. This free museum is bright and cheery and the volunteers were quite friendly. As you walk in, a map of the complex is affixed to the floor allowing you to get a clear view of where you are and what there is to see as you explore this historical site.
The museum has a good number of artifacts on display. There are both items that were used at the iron works as well as items that were created and manufactured at this site. The displays are informative and interesting to see. The museum is not large. It only took us about 30 minutes give or take to view all it had to offer. Before we left, the volunteer manning the visitor center reminded us of the places that we should check out within the complex. We headed outside and started to explore.
Buildings at the Catoctin Furnace
The museum has restored two of the old houses in the area to use for museum purposes. The first building is a two story log cabin that was a colliers house. This home in particular housed two different families. Many times, these families would take in boarders to supplement their income.
The second house is the Forgemans house This stone house is absolutely adorable and has been renovated to include a working bathroom and kitchen. We were advised that we could peer into the windows but this building can be rented out for overnight trips.
The furnace is still standing and the historical society has rebuilt the shed that is connected with it. The size of the furnaces always enthralls me as I can only imagine the heat that must have emanated!
Catoctin Furnace Buildings in Ruins
Some of the buildings at the Catoctin Furnace complex are lying in ruins, too far gone to restore. One of these is the Iron masters Mansion. This mansion was built on a small hill so that the iron master could keep an eye on the workings of the whole village from the comfort of his own home.
It is hard to not stand at the ruins of what was once a large and grand house and not notice the difference between the iron master and the colliers houses.
Trails at the Catoctin Furnace
There are two main trails at the Catoctin Furnace. The first is a short interactive trail that is dotted with signs that give information about the history of the area and the ironworks. The trail ends at the site of an African America gravesite where workers from the ironwork lay. The gravesites were discovered during the building of the nearby route 15. In recent years, archeologists have worked to identify the remains in that are buried here and in the museum they have two busts that were created using the information that they discovered during their archeology expeditions.
The other trail that is on this property is a trail that meanders over streams and through the woods. It is also an interactive trail that has signs to give more historical information. This trail will lead you right to the Cunningham Falls State Park.
This small historical site has been well maintained and preserved. The history is rich and displayed in a manner that is interesting as well as easy to understand. Our entire visit took about 2 hours. That includes visiting all sites and hiking all portions of the short trails. It is well worth the visit!
To see where they made Charcoal to fuel this furnace check out the Catoctin Charcoal Trail post.
A big Snake and the Park Police
We were hiking in the Catoctin Mountain Park recently and I couldn't help but laugh about a situation we had about two years ago during one of our hikes in this gorgeous National Park system area. It was the day of the great big rattle snake!
The Rattle Snake
Our hike was over and we piled into the car, ready to get cooled down and relax on the drive home. We didn't have too far to travel. We lived somewhat locally and had both grown up in the general area surrounding this beautiful park. We hadn't gotten far from the parking lot when we saw a huge rattlesnake crossing the road. I had never heard the rattle of a rattlesnake and it had been discussed quite a few times that we wished that I would hear one in a safe environment so that I would immediately know what it sounded like were I to ever encounter one in the wilderness during one of our hikes. Without thinking we decided to stop the car and get out so that I could hear the rattle from a safe distance.
Very conveniently there was a pull off on the side of the road. I whipped the car into that pull off, watching the snake the whole time. We jumped out of the car and made our way to a safe distance from the snake. IT was watching us, but was never threatened enough to shake it's rattles in a warning. I snapped a few pictures but nothing. We were not going to push our luck, so we walked the few feet back to the car. That is when I realized my mistake!
Big signs dotted the edge of the turn around. The stated 'no stopping at any time' and big signs prohibiting any pictures being taken. Oooops! How could I forget that Camp David was nestled in these woods. I grew up in this area, I know about this fact but I had somehow just let it slip my mind in my quest to see the snake. We laughed about our snafu and quickly left the area and drove toward home.
The Park Police
We didn't even make it a half mile down the road before I saw a park police car sitting beside the road. I knew that they were there because of me. The pulled behind me and followed me. I laughed about how I could make a run for it and I could be out of the park before long. But I knew that was not to be. I knew that I was getting pulled over and furthermore, I knew that it wasn't REALLY the park police that would be pulling me over.
Sure enough, before long the lights flashed on. I was caught! I pulled over and remained calm. It was after all a mistake, even if it was a mistake at a federal level of security. Two 'park police' men got out of their vehicle. The were dressed for serious business. Flak jackets and numerous weapons, definitely NOT park police standard issue. One came up on each side of the car and they asked us to both put down our windows and I began to answer questions and I tried to not laugh when they tried to skirt the issue and use euphemisms instead of calling it Camp David.
"NO sir, I didn't pay attention to the signs until it was too late, my mind was elsewhere"
"Yes sir, I actually do know that there as you call it a 'military installation' in these woods'.
"Well you see sir, I was just trying to see a snake"
"Yes, I did take pictures with my cellphone"
They actually took my cell phone and inspected the pictures that I took. They could see when flipping through that we had been hiking on valid trails and to allowed places just a short time before. But it was still nerve wracking.
They finally let me drive away. It was obvious that I had just been thinking about one thing and not paying attention to my actual surroundings. We had a good laugh that day, but I know that in the future I will need to be careful. I am sure that my name is marked in some database system and a second infraction may not go as easily!
Fort Ritchie: Abandoned Military
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!
Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
In June of 2020, we visited the area near Summersville, West Virginia and Fayetteville, West Virginia to see the New River Gorge Bridge. The three days in the area were not enough, we saw a lot of the sites, but there were so many more places to explore. I had lists of places that I wanted to see but we ran out of time. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield was one of those places. In less than four months, we were back to see some of what we missed on our first visit.
The civil war battle in 1861 that took place near the Carnifex Ferry was a mystery to me. I had never heard of this battle and I wanted to learn more. Nestled in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia, this battleground is often overlooked as people chose to visit the larger more well known Civil War historical locations. However, this battlefield is a great historical stop for the person that is in the area enjoying the kayaking, hiking and gorgeous mountain top views that the New River and Gauley River areas offer.
The West Virginia State Park: Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a small State Park near Summersville, West Virginia. The area draws tourists who vacation on the Summersville Reservoir, boat the Gauley and nearby New Rivers, come to see the mighty New River Gorge Bridge or visit the multiple parks (national and state) in this area. An area that is a playground for the nature lover and outdoorsman.
The grounds of this park have been preserved in memory of a civil war battle that took place in September of 1861. To fully understand the battle however, we need to back track a few days in time before the battle.
The Battle of Carnifex Ferry
In August of 1861, a contingent of the Confederate Army encamped in the area near the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield. The roughly 1,800 men settled onto the land near the Patterson Farmhouse. In early September, the union army arrived with nearly 7,000 troops. In the afternoon of September 10th, the Union army advanced upon the heavily entrenched confederate army. Both sides fought valiantly and it was the Union army that retreated at the end of the day.
When the union general was pushed back he must have realized his error. You see, he had only advanced a small portion of his available men to attack this confederate camp. When he retreated, he knew it was only for the night and that in the morning that he would be attacking with his full force of me.
Riding high on his troops ability to push back the Union army on the first day of fighting, the confederate general knew that he was seriously outnumbered. He assessed the risks and the benefits and that night in the cover of darkness he withdrew his troops and retreated.
The Union army claimed victory for this battle. They held the ground that they had fought for and the Confederate Army had retreated. However, the Confederate Army did not see it that way. They claimed that they rightfully held the victory due to the fact that they sustained far fewer casualties and absolutely no fatalities during this battle. A claim that could not be made by the Union Army.
Near the Patterson House on the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield is a single grave. This grave is a stark reminders that risk of being a troop in the Civil War was not confined to times of battle. Sickness in the encampments was a very real problem and this grave is testament to that. On September 7th, only three days before the battle a young soldier died of sickness within that encampment. Granville Blevins had been in the army for less than 3 months when he passed away. His brother and friends gave him a proper burial on the Patterson land. While many men died of sickness while encamped here, this is the only known gravesite.
Other activities at the Carnifex Ferry Battlefield
This state park also offers a few other neat tidbits of interest. The Carnifex Ferry Battlefield can boast of a fabulous overlook that gives visitors a breathtaking view of the river far below. This battlefield offers a 2 mile trail that circles that battlefield and will take a visitor near all points of interest within the battlefield. The multiple picnic shelters and the softball field round out the variety of activities that this park offers.
A trip to the Gauley River and the New River would not be complete without at least a quick stop to see the hallowed ground of this battlefield. During the summer months, the gift shop and museum is open for visitors (weekends and holidays). If you enjoy watching reenactments, you can visit in early September during an even numbered year and take in the thunder of guns as this battle for control of the valley takes place. During our visit we split our day at Carnifex Ferry Battlefield with a trip to the Babcock State Park to see the gorgeous Glade Creek Grist mill! Thanks for the great visit West Virginia State Parks!
Babcock State Park resides in the Appalachian Mountains near the New River Gorge. This state park is a multi faceted park with a variety of opportunities for fun. However, the main attraction at this state park is the Glade Creek Grist Mill.
Glade Creek Grist Mill
The Glade Creek Grist mill is frequently touted as one of the most picturesque locations in West Virginia. Many go as far as to say that it is the most commonly photographed spot in the state. I can attest to it's beauty and how photogenic this building really is.
The History of the Glade Creek Grist Mill
The Glade Creek Grist Mill may look old, but this building is relatively new with the construction being completed in 1976. What makes this mill look old and vintage? This mill was built from the parts of three other West Virginia Mills.
The actual building structure is from the remains of the Stoney Creek Grist mill. That mill dated back to the 1890's and was located in Campbelltown, which is in Pocahontas County.
The overshot waterwheel is from the Spring Run Grist Mill that was located near Petersburg, WV. The waterwheel was the only thing that was salvageable after a fire decimated the mill that was located in Grant County.
The other inner workings for the mill came from the Onego Grist Mill that was located near Seneca Rocks in Pendleton County.
The Glade Creek Grist Mill was built near the sight of the former Coopers Mill which was destroyed in 1920. This mill is fully operational and is open on the weekends. You can even buy some cornmeal that is ground on the premises.
What else does Babcock State Park Have
Babcock State Park is not just for the Grist Mill. There is a campground and the most charming cabins that are for rent. They have multiple trails that are good for trail running, hiking and mountain biking. They even have a mountain top lake for those hot summer days.
Babcock State Park and the Glade Creek Grist Mill are definitely something that we are happy that we took the time to visit. We are already making plans to return to this state park and stay in one of the cabins and explore more of the trails that this park has to offer.
Hiking the Kaymoor Miners Trail
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!
New River Gorge Bridge
I have heard so much about the New River Gorge Bridge! Jason had always wanted to see the the bridge and I had grown interested through hearing about him talk about this bridge. We were in Western West Virginia to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum and realized that the New River Gorge was only an hour away. We had to go! Completed in 1977, The New River Gorge Bridge opened as the worlds longest single span arch bridge. It held that record for 26 years. Even now, it remains the fourth largest single span bridge. The bridge was built as a means of traveling from one side of the gorge to the other. Before the completion of this bridge traversing from one side to the other required a 40 minute trip down to the bottom of the gorge and back up the other side. The new bridge reduced the travel time to roughly one minute.
National Park Service Visitor Center
We arrived at the new river gorge around lunch time. We couldn’t wait to lay our eyes on this bridge that we had heard so much about! We immediately headed to the National Park Service Visitor Center parking. I knew that the actual visitor center was closed due to the pandemic, but the website had indicated that the boardwalks and overlooks were open. While it would have been nice to be able to see and learn more about the bridge , I was grateful that I would still be able to visit the overlooks. After all, that was what I came for! We parked in the parking lot at the National Park visitors center. We were ready to get our first taste of the New River Gorge Bridge!
There were signs that indicated the direction to the overlook. The path quickly turns into a wooden boardwalk. The walk is easy and in just a few short moments you will come to the first overlook. We could see the bridge and we stood in awe for a bit.
AThis boardwalk trail was not over though. There are a series of steps that head down to a second overlook. We didn’t have to ponder long. Although as we headed down there was a bit of trepidation about the return climb up the steps. Halfway down the steps there is a nice area that includes some benches if you need a break. We reached the bottom and the view was spectacular. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized exactly how deep this gorge is and how utterly mammoth this bridge really is.
The hike back up isn’t too bad. We were out of breath but it only took a few minutes. We decided to walk a bit around the visitor center area and we came to a second overlook. This on also had some neat displays showing information about the bridge.
After we had explored all we could see we headed out. It wasn’t until the next day that we explored the bridge more fully.
Fayette station road
The road that up until 1977 had been the primary means to get from one side of the gorge to the other is called the Fayette Station Road. It is still open and the visitor center offers audio tours of this road. I knew from my pre-trip research that we could stream the audio tour in lieu of going into the visitor center (which was closed). Perfect! We happily headed on this tour. The audio tour is well done. It gives the history and background of this road that winds down and then back up the mountain utilizing switchbacks while carrying you by sheer rock walls and waterfalls.
Along the way there are ample opportunities to stop to view the New River Gorge Bridge. Each different view and angle only reinforces the mammoth proportions of this bridge. At the bottom of the gorge there is camp/day use area with plenty of parking. This allowed us the chance to view up close the river that runs through the gorge. We saw kayakers drop into the water, fisherman fishing and swimmers enjoying the cool temperature of the water on a hot day. We took the opportunity to walk back to the bridge that spans the water at the bottom of the gorge. It was here that we were given a full view of the bridge.
andThe Fayette Station Road has a few pull offs that are at trailheads. We hiked one of the trails for a bit, enjoying the flowing water of streams and the gushing waterfalls that the trail took us too.
The overlooks located at the visitor center and the views of the new River Gorge bridge from the Fayette Station were spectacular and made the bridge experience a most amazing part of this trip! The new River Gorge is definitely a must see location!
For More West Virginia travel, visit the Museum of American Glass in Weston, WV and Thurmond and abandoned town in the New River Gorge Area.
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!