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.
About 70 miles northwest from DC there is a little known Maryland State Park. The park is centered around a monument of great importance to our national history. This monument is dedicated to one of our founding fathers of the United States of America. I am talking about the Washington Monument State park.
This state park is here to allow visitors the chance to see and visit the monument that was completed that was dedicated to George Washington. The park is conveniently located along the Appalachian trail and the state park utilizes much of the Appalachian Trail system within the park. In fact, the monument is located only a short distance from the Appalachian Trail. To get to this park you will need to take Alternate 40 to the top of South Mountain which looms on the outskirts of Boonsboro, MD. At the top of South Mountain, you will follow the signs to the park entrance. There is an honor system entry fee box at the entrance of the park. Upon paying, you can proceed into the park where the road will wind you further up toward the top of the mountain where you will find a parking lot, some pavilions, bathrooms and a small visitor center. During our winter visit, the visitor center and bathrooms were closed. However, they conveniently had a port-a-potty on the grounds for visitors use. (A very clean port-a-potty also!) The website indicates that you can rent a pavilion and that youth groups can camp on site, both of which require a reservation. The lower parking lot can be used by hikers that are hiking and camping on the nearby Appalachian Trail for a few days. The trail begins northward from the upper parking lot. There is plenty of signage to help you navigate the park. The information board will give you more information about the park and how this monument came into existence and it’s history. There are multiple waysides to talk about the flora and fauna in the area. My personal favorite was the raptor board. This is a board that captures a running tally of how many different birds of each species was seen in the area. It was neat to realize that bald eagles had been seen more than 60 times during the year in which we were visiting. The trail from the parking lot is quite wide and well packed as it meanders up the hillside. Along the trail there are signs that indicate certain milestones in George Washington’s life.
They start with his birth and as you go up the short hill to the monument you will see more signs with more events and happenings in his life until finally you are in sight of the monument and you see the sign chronicling his death.
The monument itself was built in 1827 and has been rebuilt at least twice…the most recent time by the CCC. It towers on the edge of the mountain and the walkway around the monument allows visitors the chance to see the spectacular views.
The monument is open and visitors can climb to the top. The steps are narrow, winding and steep; but the view at the top makes it worth it all! The view is breathtaking as this monument is located on the top of a mountain. Therefore, you can see an incredible distance. The informational plaques at the top will help you recognize not only the towns and landmarks before you but also the various birds you may see soaring high overhead.
Overall, this is a small gem of a historical site. But don’t think that your visit is over!
No, remember that the Appalachian Trail meanders quite close to the Monument! The hiking in this area is fantastic. The tail is well used and in great shape. There is a rather steep grade down at the beginning, but it is all graded with stepping stones and logs to not only help the hiker navigate the trail but to keep the natural erosion in check.
You will come to a ridgeline. If you are hiking in the summer you may not even realize that it is a ridge…but if you step off the trail 100 feet in either direction at various locations, you will find yourself standing before more breathtaking views. It is a great place to hike!
The Washington Monument State Park in Boonsboro, really packs a punch. It is the perfect place for a short visit. There is history about the building of the Washington Monument as well as history about the life of George Washington. There are breathtaking views! There is nature and hiking. This is the perfect little place to visit for the day!
For a fun trip with more history and fun, check out Lancaster County, PA
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