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The Crossroads of the Civil War

The Crossroads of the Civil War

One month after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, Maryland held its First State Convention at the State House in Annapolis.
On September 6, 1776, the State Convention passed a resolution that made the land west of South Mountain a new county named Washington County, for the Commander-In-Chief of the American Army. At that time, Washington County included all the land that is now Washington, Allegany and Garrett Counties.
As colonists continued moving to America, Maryland grew. The road from Baltimore to Frederick was heavily traveled and soon it extended over South Mountain at Turner's Gap, and down into Boonsboro. This stretch of highway was later known as the National Road.
The National Road, extending from Baltimore to Cumberland in Maryland, was the busiest road in America for years. It brought a great deal of business to Washington County, as travelers stopped along their journey.
In early nineteenth century America, trade became vital between people on the East Coast and the western farmlands. Goods were being carried from the Chesapeake Bay to the people across the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio Valley. The idea for the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal grew out of this popular route. The canal was started in 1828 at Georgetown and was finished 25 years later, extending 83 miles through Washington County and continuing further west to Cumberland.
The railroad actually reached Cumberland before the canal. The Western Maryland Railroad was built from Baltimore to Cumberland, following the Potomac River on the Maryland side. The B & O Railroad built a branch rail line to Hagerstown. Other railroads came into Hagerstown from the north and south the Penn Central and the Norfolk and Western.
In 1861 the Civil War broke out, dividing North and South. Maryland remained a border state during the conflict, with citizens in support of both sides. Troops occupied Washington County for four of the five years of the war. The bloodiest single day in American history took place in Sharpsburg on September 17, 1862.
Washington County sent men and women off to war during World War I. The final year of the war, 1918, the United States government opened the Clearspring Proving Ground in Washington County. Soldiers at the camp tested weapons before they were sent overseas to be used by soldiers in battle. It was one of only eleven United States proving grounds that operated during World War I. The camp was abandoned in November 1918.
From 1933 to 1939, a trail was cut on the crests of several of the Appalachian Mountains. Today, the Appalachian Trail passes through 14 states, from the state of Maine to the state of Georgia. Thirty-seven miles of the Appalachian Trail passes through Washington and Frederick County, Maryland.
In 1938 the National Park Service (NPS) acquired the C & O Canal property. The towpath, which follows the Potomac River, was made into a 184-mile recreational trail.
Various camping sites have been provided along the trail and ramps have been placed to allow boaters access to the river
Washington County played a vital role in World War II because of the Fairchild-Hiller Corporation airplane factory in Hagerstown. Fairchild-Hiller made three models of fighter planes used to train pilots for combat, and a small passenger plane used to carry Army staffers.
Camp Ritchie, a Maryland National Guard base in the northeastern corner of the county, was also used during World War II. It was taken over by the United States War Department and was expanded for use as a military intelligence training center.
Washington County continues to make its mark in history today. The county was recently listed as one of Money Magazine's Top Ten Best Places To Live.
History is very much alive in Washington County, where we celebrate the past, thrive in the present and plan for a bright future!

Credit for this article goes to the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Published with permission for this issue.

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