Historic Ferry Hill Place open for weekend tours

July 27, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

SHARPSBURG - Ferry Hill Place, the historic home of Confederate Henry Kyd Douglas that led to his father getting unfair treatment from the Union during the Civil War, is open to the public as a National Park Service interpretive center, Park Ranger Susan Burke said Saturday.

Ferry Hill Place has overlooked the Potomac River across from Shepherdstown, W.Va., for almost 200 years, often drawing attention from curious people in the area, she said.

The center is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. At some point in the future it will be open all week, Burke said.


The National Park Service purchased the property in 1974 and began using it as the headquarters of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historic Park in 1980.

The headquarters were moved to Hagerstown in 2002, allowing Park Superintendent Doug Faris to accomplish a longtime goal of opening the property to the public for educational and historical purposes, Burke said.

The building has a rich history, which Burke said she sometimes enjoys getting lost in, reflecting on when it was a hive of activity.

"Being here, I can put myself back 100 years," she said. "I like to put myself in another place sometimes. ... I love this house."

John Blackford had the house built for him shortly after 1810 prior to his brief service in the War of 1812.

The Ferry Hill plantation received its name from the ferry service across the river that operated from about 1750 to 1850.

Blackford wrote detailed journals about life during that period, describing, among other matters, the lives of his 25 slaves involved in the operations. He let one of his slaves run the ferry operations. Some of his journals will probably be on display at the house, Burke said.

In 1848, the Rev. Robert Douglas, who married Bradford's youngest daughter, Helena, purchased Ferry Hill. Their oldest son was Henry Kyd Douglas, the youngest member of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson's staff. He subsequently became a prominent attorney, living and working in Hagers-town.

Douglas' diary was later published as the book "I Rode With Stonewall."

The location and the war caused problems for the family. After the Battle of Antietam, the Union Army occupied the house and briefly used it as a military headquarters.

Since Douglas was in the Confederate army, Union soldiers were suspicious that the reverend and his family were using the vantage point to spy and send signals from the house to Confederates on the far shore, Burke said.

Although Douglas denied the allegations, Union officials insisted that all shutters at the home be kept closed, she said. But wind blew a shutter open during a storm and that was enough evidence for the Union to take the reverend prisoner

While he was never charged and most people knew Douglas was an honorable man, some always believed the allegations, Burke said. He died shortly after the war ended.

In later years, the property served as a restaurant before being purchased by the C&O Canal, Burke said.

If you go...

What: Ferry Hill Place historic home.

When: Open Saturday and Sundays, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Where: Md. 34 at the Potomac River.

Directions: From Sharpsburg, travel 3.2 miles on Md. 34 toward Shepherdstown, W.Va. Ferry Hill is on the right before crossing the bridge into Shepherdstown.

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