Gathland State Park: Home of a Civil War journalist
Gathland State Park
Home of a Civil War journalist
This beautiful park sits 17 miles southeast of Hagerstown where Gapland Road crosses South Mountain. Gathland State Park was once the mountain home of an unusual man named George Alfred Townsend. Born on January 30, 1841, George Alfred Townsend became the youngest war correspondent of the Civil War. He served both at home and abroad, and later became one of America's most important journalists and novelists of the Reconstruction Era. Townsend was also a poet and novelist whose pen name was Gath.
Townsend first saw this beautiful spot when he was covering the Battle of South Mountain. After the war he returned to this area and bought 100 acres on the mountain top, where he built an extravagant assortment of buildings, nearing 20 structures, to his own design--many of them built of rugged stone. Some of his buildings have been completely restored. Townsend hoped to convert his mountainside into a retreat from the pressures of his strenuous writing schedule.
George Alfred Townsend was generous with his hospitality-that is until his fortunes changed and he fell upon hard times. During that time, the buildings fell into ruins, all except a large stone arch--built in 1896--that he built and dedicated to war correspondents. This monument, resembling the wall of a castle, is an outstanding attraction at the park today. The monument features tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative almost all the events of the four-year war. The unusual monument was dedicated by Governor Lloyd Lowndes on October 16, 1896, and in 1904 was turned over to the U.S. War Department and later transferred to the National Park Service.
The Appalachian Trail passes through the park and the monument base. The park includes all of Crampton's Gap, which was the southern most gap fought over during the battle of South Mountain. Fought September 14, 1862, it was the first major battle of the Civil War fought in Maryland.
After Townsend's death on April 15, 1914, his daughter sold Gathland. In 1943 the property was purchased by a church group and used as a summer conference site. Sometime later a members of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc. purchased the historical land. On May 13, 1949, it was deeded to the State of Maryland to be administered as a State Park by the Department of Forests and Parks.
During the summer months there are ongoing interpretive featuring Civil War re-enactors. The annual "Living History" weekend always occurs the first weekend after Labor Day and portrays various aspects of the soldiers' life including infantry, cavalry, and artillery demonstrations.
Townsend's once beloved tract of land in the mountains offers hiking trails, picnic areas, and a historical walking tour where visitors can read some of Gath's writings and papers in the visitors' center.