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Some great county sites are off the beaten path

September 14, 2007|By TAMELA BAKER

Every year, thousands of people travel to Washington County to visit the site of one of the bloodiest battles in American history.

Thousands more trek along the once bustling canal that drove commerce in the region of the Potomac River during another century.

And millions flock to the county's shopping meccas in search of bargains.

As significant as each of those destinations is, there is a number of lesser-known - but no less interesting - sites and attractions in Washington County that the average visitor might miss.

From the Woodmont Lodge west of Hancock to the High Rock Overlook on the east end of the county near the Appalachian Trail, these treasures remain undiscovered even by many local residents.

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Just within the environs of downtown Hagerstown are so many little-known historic points of interest that the Hagerstown-Washington Convention and Visitors Bureau has compiled a walking tour called "Hagerstown's Hidden History."

The bureau also has produced a map for bicyclists, which outlines eight different loop tours through some of the most scenic and historic portions of the county.

Whether history, sports and recreation, nature or just exploring is your thing, there's plenty to do in Washington County.

The other battle

When Washington County became the unwitting target of the worst of the war's fury in September 1862, the ensuing battles permanently etched themselves into the countryside.

From Lee's march into Washington County to the unexpected federal attacks on South Mountain to the carnage at Antietam, Lee's Maryland Campaign produced both the bloodiest single day in American history and one of the most enduring "what-if" debates among military historians - revolving around a copy of Lee's orders, found by Union troops.

Although the Battle of South Mountain has always been overshadowed by the bigger and bloodier Battle of Antietam, which occurred a few days later, history hunters can find the whole story at the four state parks in the South Mountain Recreation Area. Efforts to preserve the areas where the action occurred have left a number of vistas much as they might have appeared to the troops before the battles began. Although the South Mountain battlefield only received official state designation in 2000, markers, monuments and artifacts are beginning to appear. Frequently, visiting Civil War buffs can have these sites all to themselves.

A rifle and photos

A good place to start a journey through the Battle of South Mountain is at the battlefield office, on Zittlestown Road near the entrance to Washington Monument State Park outside Boonsboro, or at the museum at the park. There, visitors can get information on the three fights that comprise the Battle of South Mountain, the history of the local Washington Monument - believed to be the first to be built in the United States - and see some relics of the battle.

One is an 1841 Harpers Ferry Rifle, which park employees happened to find in a Gettysburg, Pa., shop just before the 140th anniversary of the battle in 2002.

"We were really just lucky we were able to get it," said Robby Burton, a seasonal interpreter.

Burton said the soldier whose name is inscribed on the gun's butt was ill and in Richmond, Va., during the Maryland Campaign. But his unit fought in the battle, Burton said, so the gun evidently was used by one of his comrades. It was found shortly after the battle and was in private hands until the state acquired it.

Stories and copies of photos of soldiers who participated in the battle have begun to fill a small alcove at the museum. Burton said current members of the soldiers' families have provided the stories and images, and more are being accepted.

There's more information on the battle at Gathland State Park, site of the fight at Crampton's Gap and later the summer home of Civil War correspondent George Alfred Townsend. There's a museum in Townsend's house, and smack in the middle of the park, which straddles the Washington-Frederick County line, is the War Correspondent's Arch, a national monument originally commissioned to honor Townsend's fellow Civil War journalists. The arch's unusual design was inspired by two public buildings in Hagerstown - the B&O Railroad passenger depot, and the Antietam Fire Co. No. 2 building, still in use on Hagerstown's Summit Avenue.

The arch received national attention in 2003 when four journalists - David Bloom of NBC News, Michael Kelly of The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post and Elizabeth Neuffer of The Boston Globe, who died covering the war in Iraq, and Daniel Pearl of The Wall Street Journal, kidnapped in January 2002 by an Islamic militant group in Pakistan and later killed - were memorialized with a plaque at the park. It was the first time any names had been added to the memorial since the original Civil War correspondents were honored.

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