Located against the backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains in Western Maryland, the picturesque rolling hills of Washington County are laced with stone bridges and quaint towns. This is an area rich with colonial and Civil War history and the gateway to many historical landmarks. Antietam National Battlefield, Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, Washington Monument State Park, and The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park are just a few of the many treasures here. Historic Hagerstown is the hub of Washington County. It may be a small town, but it is big on history and culture. Here are a few of the highlights.
Antietam National Battlefield
From the Antietam Battlefield to an old slave block located in a local gas station parking lot, Civil War history is everywhere in Hagerstown. The Battle of Antietam is best remembered as the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with over 23,000 casualties. It was also the battle that led directly to President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Today the Antietam Battlefield shows no signs of the bloody conflict amid its rolling hills and picturesque stone bridges. One such bridge is the iconic Burnside Bridge spanning the Antietam Creek. More than 500 Union troops were killed or wounded attempting to secure this key crossing.
Guided battlefield tours are available or you can choose a self-guided audio or hiking tour. Keep things interesting for the kids with a scavenger hunt designed to further their understanding of the battle and the battlefield. The answers to the questions are located along the tour route.
Jonathan Hager House
Stepping into the Johnathan Hager House is like taking a walk through the past. Hager arrived on the shores of the American colonies in 1736. He chose to make his home in Maryland where Charles Calvert, proprietor of the county, was offering cheap land to those willing to settle in the western frontier. Hager built his home with carefully fitted fieldstones in the German traditional style. A large central chimney added warmth to the stone structure. He presented the home to his new bride, Elizabeth Kershner, in 1740 and the home even served as a fort and trading post.
Today the Hager House has been completely restored and is outfitted with authentic 18th century furnishings. Not many American cities older than the country itself can present the homes of their founders completely restored like Hagerstown. Tours are available by appointment.
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is regarded as one of the finest small museums in the country. Located in Hagerstowns historic City Park, the museum was founded by Mr. and Mrs. William Henry Singer, Jr. and houses a permanent collection encompassing over 7,000 objects. The collection includes paintings, prints, sculptures and decorative arts. Housed among the collection is a bust of Abraham Lincoln sculpted by Gutzon Borglum who also sculpted Mount Rushmore.
The museum has a remarkable collection of American Art including works by Thomas Moran, Wayland Bartlett, Benjamin West and Norman Rockwell. The international collections and collections of world culture reflect the founders cosmopolitan worldview.
Once dubbed Hub City, Hagerstown has a rich railroad history. The Hagerstown Railroad Museum in City Park features hundreds of signs, signals, bells, telephones and tools that were used by railroad workers throughout history. Most of the items in this significant collection came from the Western Maryland Railroad Company. Notable items are an 1885 Pump Car and an 1875 Velocipede.
The main attraction of the museum is a locomotive known as Steam Engine 202. Built in 1912, the locomotive is 77 feet long and weighs 415,000 pounds. Steam Engine 202 is the only Western Maryland road-type steam locomotive in existence.
Have you been to Hagerstown? What cultural or historical gems did you discover?
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