15 On 15
Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway
Journey Through Hallowed Ground
Catoctin Mountain — the ecologically diverse, easternmost spur of the Blue Ridge Province — spans multiple states and rises to its greatest elevation of 1,885 feet above sea level near Thurmont in Catoctin Mountain Park. The 38 mile Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway (Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway) winds along the picturesque landform, connecting surrounding towns and sites that offer an exploration of the area's rich heritage and culture.
The first north/south roads through today's Frederick County were crude Indian trails, used by Iroquois and Algonquian peoples. Through western migration and usage from European traders and pioneers, these routes became more defined. With origins dating to the 1730s, the Monocacy Road was heavily utilized by early German immigrants heading from eastern Pennsylvania to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. The first constructed wagon road north of Frederick came in the mid 1700s in the form of the Frederick Town and Emmitsburg Turnpike. From Frederick, the legendary "Old Carolina Road" took tradesmen and travelers south into Virginia's Loudoun and Fauquier counties continuing south to Roanoke and the Carolina border.
As with all major transportation routes, lodging and dining came first in the form of taverns and ordinairies along the turnpike. Throughout the evolution of Frederick County's roadways, lodging, dining, and various other retail opportunities have grown to accommodate transportation improvements and greater numbers of travelers.
The roads paralleling Catoctin Mountain were utilized for Civil War troop movements. General Robert E. Lee and his Rebel army traveled north through the Carrollton Manor area of southern Frederick County en-route to occupying Frederick City in the Fall of 1862 (prior to the battles of South Mountain and Antietam). The next summer, Union soldiers would utilize the north county turnpike to reach the small hamlet of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After intense days of fighting, dead and wounded from both sides were sent south on the roadway toward towns such as Emmitsburg, Thurmont and Frederick.
The State Roads Commission purchased the north/south turnpikes in 1911. Fifteen years later in 1926, the U.S. Highway system established the roadway as part of US 15, a major route running from New York state to South Carolina. As the primary north/south transportation route for Frederick residents and beyond, a modern roadway supplanted historic 18th and 19th century roads.
In 1974, the State Highway Association approved the locally suggested idea to name the Frederick County portion of US 15 "Catoctin Mountain Highway." The entire length of the Maryland section of US 15 was designated as a Maryland Scenic Byway in 1999. Six years later, the Catoctin Mountain Scenic Byway (US 15) received national designation as one of America's Byways in 2005 from the National Scenic Byways Program, under the direction of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.
The Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway traverses Maryland's "Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area" and is a primary route for carrying today's Civil War enthusiasts, historians and reenactors to Frederick City and Gettysburg National Military Park. In addition, the Byway represents Maryland's portion of "The Journey Through Hallowed Ground," a 4-state heritage corridor stretching from Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia north to Gettysburg.
The following is a list of fifteen of the CMNSB's primary attractions/sites for travelers and tourists to experience.
1.) The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
The Byway intersects the C&O Canal Scenic Byway at Point of Rocks. To the west on (MD 464) you'll find the village of Lander, located within the heart of the C&O National Historic Park. This is the site of a lock house and the Catoctin Aqueduct, one of 11 stone aqueducts on the 184-mile long canal. Further west, Brunswick is home to the C&O Canal NHP Visitor Center (located on the first floor of the Brunswick Railroad Museum). Canal lock 30 and a portion of towpath can be found here. Southeast of Point of Rocks (MD 28) at the confluence of the Monocacy and Potomac Rivers is the aptly named Monocacy Aqueduct, the largest of the C&O's aqueducts. Described by historians as one of the finest canal structures in the nation, the Monocacy Aqueduct is constructed primarily of large granite blocks that came from nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.
2.) Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
The Byway concludes at Point of Rocks, named for the striking geologic formation(best viewed from the river) . The village achieved national recognition in 1830 when the B&O Railroad and C&O Canal fought over the right of way between the narrow land pass separating Catoctin Mountain and the Potomac River. After a lengthy legal battle, both companies were allowed to build through the passage. The B&O officially reached Point of Rocks (from Baltimore) in 1832 and finally tunneled through the mountain in 1867. The picturesque Point of Rocks train station (on MD 28)is listed on the National Register of Historic places. Northwest, and upriver of Point of Rocks, lies Brunswick, at which the B&O built a six-mile long rail yard along the river from 1891-1912. (To reach Brunswick take MD 464west.) While in this "Main Street Maryland" community, visit the Brunswick Railroad Museum to learn more about the railroad's history and influence, plus see a large model railroad exhibit.
Driving down the southern section of the Byway, you have a great view of the Piedmont, which is underlain with great deposits of limestone. This unique geologic makeup has always made this part of Frederick County a prime spot for crop farming and local agri-industries such as mills, lime kilns and canneries. Dating back to the colonial period, large manor farms have covered the valley surrounded by the Catoctins on the west and majestic Sugarloaf Mountain to the east. The best known of the vicinity's farming ventures is the 17,000-acre Carrollton Manor estate, established by Charles Carroll. Carroll served in the Continental Congress and was one of Maryland's signers of the Declaration of Independence, writing his name as Charles Carroll of Carrollton. Carroll's original manor house named Tuscarora(not open to the public) built in 1765, and adjacent St-Josephs-on Carrollton Manor Catholic church (originally constructed in 1764) are located on Manor Woods Road. The cemetery, adjoining the church, contains many unmarked graves of the Irish laborers of the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad, who fell victim to the cholera epidemics of 1822 and 1832. The cemetery also contains the graves of former slaves from the Carrollton estate and their descendants.
4.) Civil War
In many ways, Frederick was at the crossroads of America's Civil War.
Frederick County was the site of the Battle of South Mountain (September 1862), following days of rebel occupation in Frederick City. The area was under siege again by the Confederates in the summer of 1864, leading to the Battle of Monocacy (July 1864). This conflict, also known as "The Battle That Saved Washington," occurred a few miles south of Frederick. Severely outnumbered, Union General Lew Wallace was able to stall Confederate forces under General Jubal Early, whose objective was to march on the Capital city. Although defeated in battle, Wallace's troops gave the Federal army the opportunity to fortify Washington DC and bring in much needed reinforcements.
In the days following these battles, along with Gettysburg and Antietam, Frederick became a major hospital center. A permanent Union General Hospital existed in Frederick throughout the war. It originally opened in August 1861 on the grounds of the old Hessian Barracks at the south end of town. Quite appropriately, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is located here. This unique site is the center for study and interpretation of the medical history of the famed "War Between the States." The museum collects, exhibits and preserves medical artifacts, manuscripts, books, documents and other materials.
5.) Downtown Frederick
Complementing its rich history, Frederick's Downtown offers a variety of shopping, dining and entertainment experiences. This "Great American Main Street" — the first in the State of Maryland — lives up to its national billing with more than 150 retailers, restaurants and art galleries. You can find several antique stores and countless specialty shops. In addition to a wide variety of entertainment offerings from live theater to public art, special events occur nearly every weekend of the year.
6.) Frederick Town Historic District
At Frederick, the Byway intersects America's National Road (US40). In addition to its location at a major crossroads of transportation, Frederick Town, as it was known at the time of its founding in 1745, has seemingly played a part in every major chapter of American history for the last 260 years. Just off the Byway (Rosemont Ave exit), the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum helps orient visitors to the early German pioneers who settled here. The stone manor house, built in 1756, is revered as one of the nation's finest examples of German colonial architecture. Visit the Historical Society of Frederick County for a full overview of the area's rich heritage, notable citizens and important events. Throughout Frederick city you will find monuments, markers and museums tied to past residents such as Francis Scott Key the author of "the Star Spangled Banner", Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, and Civil War heroine Barbara Fritchie. Frederick City's most visible icons are its trademark church steeples, nicknamed "the clustered spires" thanks to poet John Greenleaf Whittier. For those who love history, a walking tour through Frederick's 50 -block historic district and cemetery sites is a must.
7.) Rose Hill Manor & Catoctin Furnace
Rose Hill Manor, on the north end of Frederick City, once served home to Thomas Johnson, Jr., a revolutionary war hero and first governor of the state of Maryland. Along with his brothers, Johnson originally came to the county from Southern Maryland after Hematite ore was discovered in the Catoctin Mountains in the 1770s. They built an iron foundry named Catoctin Furnace, which utilized slave labor in the form of skilled African metal workers when it started producing pig iron in 1776. The fuel for the furnace was initially charcoal, readily supplied by the surrounding forest. Following the usage of slaves, later furnace workers lived in the surrounding hamlet (also called Catoctin Furnace) in housing built by the furnace owners. The endeavor would operate up to 1903. The remains of a furnace stack and the iron master's Manor house still exists on the site.
8.) Fountain Rock Park & Nature Center
Turn east off the Byway onto Biggs Ford Road and cross over the Monocacy Scenic River, which spans the entire length of Frederick County before joining the Potomac River. This vicinity includes one of Maryland's most important Native American habitation sites with archeological evidence of multiple settlements dating back to about 1000 AD. Take a right on Fountain Rock Road and visit the 22.5 acre Fountain Rock Park & Nature Center. The park contains one of the state's strongest springs. Six historic lime kilns stand prominently in the park, overlooking a water-filled quarry which supports the locale's animal inhabitants. The Nature Center features several programs and exhibits for kids and adults alike.
9.) Covered Bridges
Frederick County is fortunate to have three active historic covered bridges. The southern most is the Utica Mills Covered Bridge, located on Utica Road (off of Old Frederick Rd). The bridge originally spanned the nearby Monocacy River but was washed away during a severe storm in 1889. Local citizens gathered the remains and reconstructed the 101'long bridge at its present location crossing Fishing Creek. Loy's Station Covered Bridge, first constructed around 1748, is also on Old Frederick Road . Although structurally modified and rebuilt, the bridge's original timbers remain throughout the 90' long structure crossing Owens Creek. The Roddy Road Covered Bridge, built in 1856, rests just north of Thurmont, where Roddy Creek Road meets Roddy Road at Owens Creek. The smallest of the county's covered bridges, this structure measures 40' long. Park and picnic facilities adjoin each of these historic bridges.
10.) Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo
Just south of Thurmont is the 35+acre Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, where, for nine months out of the year, visitors can experience more than 400 animals. This unique business began as a roadside attraction in the 1930's as Gordon Gaver's "Jungleland Sepentarium." The Hahn family purchased "Jungleland" in 1966 and built the attraction into an accredited preserve and one of the finest zoos in the state
11.) Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park
Head west on MD 77 to climb and traverse Catoctin Mountain itself. Catoctin Mountain Park, which lies to the north of the state road, is federal property acquired in 1936 as an experiment in developing forest on marginal land. The Camp David Presidential Retreat located here is closed to the public, but several nearby paths trace the history of the industrial use of the mountain. Near the park's visitor center, a short interpretive trail takes you to the Blue Blazes Still, where moonshine makers turned out 25,000 gallons of corn whiskey before the still was raided and shut down in 1929. At the other end of the park is a sawmill replica built on the site of an actual mill that operated into the late 1890s. Other trails explore the wood-cutting industry and the life of colliers who practiced charcoal-making. On the south side of MD 77 is Cunningham Falls State Park, the centerpiece of which is a 78-foot waterfall that cascades into a rocky gorge. Amenities allow visitors to hike from a picnic area off Catoctin Hollow Road, and swim in the 43-acre Hunting Creek Lake.
Originally known as Mechanicstown, Thurmont once served as a bustling village of "mechanics" engaged in support professions (teamsters, wheelrights, blacksmiths, tanners) for nearby Catoctin Furnace. Early residents, comprised primarily of German descent, had migrated here in the mid to late 1700's from the York and Lancaster areas of Pennsylvania. The Western Maryland Railroad arrived in 1872 and served as an important shipping point for local farmers and boon to timber related industries. The railroad also turned the town into a popular tourist destination, aiding Baltimore City residents looking to escape the oppressive summer heat in favor of mountain tranquility. The most famous of Thurmont's "tourists" have been American Presidents beginning with Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Thurmont is known worldwide thanks to its proximity to the President's retreat at Camp David, off limits to the public, in the nearby Catoctin Mountains. Thurmont with its revitalized downtown area is a designated Main Street Maryland community, boasting a number of specialty shops and restaurants.
Several orchards and fruit stands line the northern section of the Byway. Catoctin Mountain has been the site of the orchard industry dating back to the early 20th century. Opportunities exist to "pick-your-own" (or simply purchase) fresh apples, peaches, plums, berries, pears, cherries, and pumpkins in season. Some of these businesses also offer canned fruits, preserves, jams and baked goods such as fresh made pies.
14.) National Shrines
Northern Frederick County is home to a religious and historic site honoring the first American-born canonized saint, Elizabeth Ann Seton. The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton includes a visitor center, museum, basilica, and restored period buildings. Travel a few miles south on the Byway and you'll find the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, situated high on the mountainside. Dating back to 1875, the shrine is the oldest known replica of the famed French Grotto of Lourdes in the western hemisphere. Mount Saint Mary's University sits in the middle of these two holy sites. Founded by French émigré father John Dubois in 1808, "the Mount" is the oldest independent Catholic college in the United States.
Just south of the Pennsylvania border is the peaceful town of Emmitsburg. Dating back to 1785, the town has remained a social and business center for surrounding farms and historic religious and educational institutions. During the Civil War, troops passed through while going to and from the Battle of Gettysburg. Union troops camped on the grounds of the former St. Joseph's College, and officers planned battle strategies in the former home of the school's founder, Elizabeth Ann Seton. Today, the former St. Joseph's College is home to FEMA's National Emergency Training Center. Here, visitors can pay tribute to heroes from around the country at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial.
Click here for more information on other scenic byways in Frederick County.
May We Recommend...
- Stop at the roadside markets of Catoctin Mountain Orchard or Pryor's Orchard and purchase locally grown produce, products and bakery items
- Check out these great 15 sites along US 15, Catoctin Mountain National Scenic Byway and Maryland's portion of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground
- Drive Maryland's Historic National Road and visit Jug Bridge Monument Park and the main streets of Frederick, Middltetown and Mt. Airy