Gathland State Park, Maryland

Gathland State Park - War Correspondents Memorial

We’ve all been feeling it right? The weather is getting warmer, and the walls are closing in on us. But, we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones by making smart decisions about when and where to go out.

Armed with masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, a giant bottle of rubbing alcohol, and a desperate need for the open road, we headed to South Mountain, just 30(ish) minutes north of our current location.

This is a “we” instead of an “I” trip because I was happily joined by my quarantine partner, road trip concierge, my mom.

You can’t stop us, Universe!

First, the universe tried to put a couple of obstacles in our way. We started the day patiently waiting for prescriptions to be brought to the car in a Walmart parking lot before heading on our preferred route through Shepherdstown. Only to be deterred and turned around when our lovely two-lane road was shut down for a fire.

So, on to Plan B. Up U.S. Route 11 to Williamsport and then east on Route 68. Before we could continue, a bathroom break was much needed. And, with the current state of affairs and our proximity to home (and the first attempt at finding an open bathroom being a fail), it made sense to just head back home instead of trying to find an open and clean bathroom.

All needs taken care of, we tried again to make our way to Gathland State Park, most specifically to see the War Correspondents Memorial. It was a beautiful day for a drive, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s.

Williamsport, MD

As we crossed over the Potomac River into Williamsport, I made a quick detour to a park spotted from the bridge over the river. There was a very narrow wooden bridge open to motor traffic that I decided against driving over, which would have taken us to Williamsport Park. Instead, we parked at the head of the bridge and walked around a little.

Union Major General Jesse Reno

Union Major General Jesse Reno

Also on South Mountain, and our first stop is a monument to Union Major General Jesse Reno. Major General Reno was felled at this spot, unfortunately by a rookie Union Soldier who mistook him for a Rebel.

Rumor had it when they brought him to camp, mortally wounded; he greeted Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis by clearly saying,

“Hallo, Sam, I’m dead!”

To which Sturgis replied (thinking that Reno was joking) that he hoped it wasn’t as bad as that.

Reno replied, “Yes, yes, I’m dead-good-by” and promptly succumbed to his injuries.

Several cities are named for Major General Reno, including Reno, Nevada. Fort Reno, in my hometown of Washington, DC, and a place I spent a lot of time as a teenager, is also named after him. Fort Reno sits atop the highest point in DC, making it an excellent place for seeing all the fireworks on the Fourth of July. They often have a summer concert series that showed off DC’s underappreciated punk scene.

Onward, to Gathland

We turned right from the Fox’s Gap parking lot and wandered through the South Mountain countryside. Past South Mountain Creamery, a place we’d been before on a different adventure, and through beautiful farmland.

Picnic Woods Farm in Arnoldtown, MD
Picnic Woods Farm in Arnoldtown, MD

We came upon Gathland State Park, a place we’d accidentally gone by in yet another adventure several months ago (or was it years? Time is a construct). There were more people out exploring than I expected, but we grabbed our masks and kept our distance.

George Alfred Townsend was the youngest war correspondent of the Civil War. He wrote under the pen name Gath, and after the war, wrote several novels while continuing his journalistic endeavors. In 1884, he purchased the tract of land he called Gapland and, in 1896, erected a unique monument to fellow war correspondents and artists who served in the Civil War.

Gathland State Park - War Correspondents Memorial

The property is now known as Gathland State Park. After Towsend’s daughter sold it the property, it changed hands a few times, and was ultimately deeded to the State of Maryland by the Frederick Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Frederick in 1949.

Towsend also built several buildings on his land. The only ones of which stand today are the mausoleum (where he is not buried), Gapland Lodge, and the crumbling foundation of Gapland Hall.

Gathland State Park - Mausoleum
Gapland Mausoleum
Gathland State Park - Lodge
Gapland Lodge
Gathland State Park - Gapland Hall
Gapland Hall

The Appalachian Trail Runs Through It

As with Fox’s Gap, the Appalachian Trail made its appearance in Gathland State Park. This has not been the year for thru-hikers. First, a train derailment in Harpers Ferry closed the Goodloe E. Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway across the Potomac River. Then, well, we all know what happened next. The warning signs under the Appalachian Trail markers warned of both the bridge closing and all of the shelters being closed to discourage large gatherings and the potential spread of the virus, changing how we see the world.

Appalachian Trail Marker
The sign below reads “Potomac River Footbridge Closed”
Appalachian Trail Marker - South to Weverton Cliffs
Warnings about limited services and shelter closings for Appalachian Trail hikers

Three and a half hours of driving in under 12 minutes

I had my dashcam recording the whole trip. Sit back and enjoy Beethoven’s 9th symphony as we zip through the countryside.

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