Currently viewing the tag: "Middletown"

“The National Road”

(US 40A)

JoAN bittner FRY

While perusing information for books I wrote, I was intrigued by the history of the National Road. This road links centuries of American history. Taverns and towns that are over 250 years old and mountain passes that were of strategic importance during the Civil War can be found on over 25 miles of this old road. If you’re looking for a day trip this summer, you may want your children or grandchildren to help plan a mystery trip to investigate the wonders close by.

Begin with the wonderful Mason Dixon Welcome Center on Route 15 in Emmitsburg, the South Mountain Welcome Center on Route 70 in Myersville, and/or the internet. As you travel, wonder about the miles and miles of straight road between Frederick and Middletown and ponder how this could be done with horses and men and very few hand tools and without modern equipment.

Climb the first Washington Monument in Boonsboro, see Gathland State Park and the War Correspondents Memorial Arch honoring Civil War correspondents, the overlook at Gambrill State Park, Braddock Heights (which was an amusement park in the 1920s), or the WWI Doughboy statue in Funkstown.

Let your passengers be your guide and don’t forget Potomac Street Creamery in Boonsboro or More Ice Cream (was Main’s) in Middletown.  Take a picture to send to The Catoctin Banner. Next time you may want to go to Cumberland on the National Road.


Just west of Frederick, Route 40 splits in two: the old road and Route 70. Bear left and take US 40A, which is the old road. Stay on US 40A for this trip. In the early 1900s, travelers stayed at motor lodges or tourist cabins, such as the former Barbara Fritchie Cabins in Frederick.

Middletown is a small village near the base of South Mountain, west of Frederick. It was the center of activity in the days before the Battle of Antietam. In September of 1862, Union and Confederate forces would march along the National Road through the town.  US 40A crosses South Mountain at a point called Turner’s Gap. It was there, along with nearby Fox’s and Crampton’s Gaps, that the Battle of South Mountain was waged on September 14, 1862. The battle, which was a Union victory, is called by some the “Prelude to Antietam,” which would occur three days later near Sharpsburg.

The Middletown Valley was a north-south route that brought German immigrants to the area.  This German heritage is evident in Middletown’s two Lutheran Churches, as well as Christ Reformed Church, built in 1818, and Zion Lutheran Church, built in 1859.

There is plenty more history at Turner’s Gap besides being a battle site in the Civil War. First, the Appalachian Trail crosses the National Road there. The Old South Mountain Inn has seen plenty of history since it was built in 1732. Many dignitaries in early American history once stayed here, including Henry Clay, who many consider the father of the National Road. The tavern was commandeered by John Brown’s militia before his raid on Harpers Ferry. During the Battle of South Mountain, it served as headquarters for Confederate General D. H. Hill.  Today, South Mountain Inn is well known throughout the area for its fine dining.


Sitting west of Turner’s Gap is the town of Boonsboro. The National Road through Boonsboro has historical significance because a 10-mile section here was the first to be built with a macadam surface in 1823. The process, named for John Loudon McAdam, greatly improved the quality of the National Road, and by 1830, 73 miles of the highway had been converted to a macadamized surface. The method simplified what had been considered state-of-the-art up to that point. Single-sized aggregate layers of small stones, with a coating of binder as a cementing agent, were mixed in an open-structured roadway.

The First Washington Monument

Boonsboro was founded in 1792.  The town prospered in the 1830s when the National Road was alive with westbound horse and wagon traffic that kept its blacksmith shops and 82 stores busy, and its inns and taverns filled with travelers and teamsters.  Boonsboro has the distinct honor of being the first town or city in America to dedicate a monument to George Washington.  Standing on South Mountain 1,200 feet above the town of Boonsboro, it commands a view of overwhelming beauty of the Cumberland Valley and several counties of West Virginia.

Early on the morning of July 4, 1827, two years before the completion of the majestic shaft on Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore, the patriotic citizens of Boonsboro assembled in the town square and marched to the “Blue Rocks” high above the town and by the heaving and hauling of heavy limestone rocks, nearly completed a memorial 54 feet in circumference and about 20 feet in height dedicated to the Father of Our Country.  The day was spent in hard work, the men stopping only briefly for a noonday meal and rest.  Heavy stones were moved and put in place, many of them weighing as much as a ton.  Before nightfall, several Revolutionary War veterans climbed its crude stairway and fired a volley of musketry from the top of its masonry.

The monument, once in ruin, was rebuilt in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was in existence from 1933-1943.  It is easily accessible a short distance off Route 40A, two miles east of Boonsboro. This quaint but impressive monument, built by the hard toil of inspired men, testifies to the fervid patriotism and loyalty of Maryland citizenry.

The CCC was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1943 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families, ages 18-28.  James McEntee was the head of the agency.  A part of the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, it provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local governments.  The CCC was designed to provide employment for young men in relief families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression while at the same time implementing a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory.  Maximum enrollment at any one time was 300,000; in nine years 2.5 million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food together with a small wage of $30 a month ($25 of which had to be sent home to their families).

From Boonsboro, follow US 40A to Funkstown, noticing the beautiful Pennsylvania-German bank barns with their limestone-faced gable ends.  In Funkstown, find the Doughboy Monument to WWI veterans.

Dahlgren Chapel

Across from the South Mountain Inn and bordered by the Appalachian Trail is The Dahlgren Chapel.  Dahlgren is located at the summit of Turner’s Gap in Western Maryland between Middletown and Boonsboro.  The Gothic Revival stone chapel was built in 1881 and was consecrated as the Chapel of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Most of the building materials came from the immediate area of the site, while a marble altar was imported from Italy.

The chapel was built for Sarah Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren, daughter of Congressman Samuel Finley Vinton, who had married Admiral John A. Dahlgren, inventor of the Dahlgren gun in 1865.  John A. Dahlgren designed the 9-inch “soda bottle” gun combining greatly improved ballistic characteristics with a higher safety factor.  Dahlgren guns were muzzle loading naval artillery designed by Rear Admiral John A. Dahlgren (1809-1870), mostly used in the period of the American Civil War.  Admiral Dahlgren died in 1870.  In 1876, Mrs. Dahlgren, who was a noted author, purchased what is now the Old South Mountain Inn and transformed it into a private residence. 

After a period under the ownership of the Sisters of the Holy Cross from 1922 to 1925, the chapel returned to the Dahlgren family.  It was purchased in 1960 by Richard G. Griffin who undertook a restoration.

The property was acquired by the Central Maryland Heritage League in 1996.

The chapel is included in Turner’s and Fox’s Gaps Historic District but as a non-contributing structure, owing to its post-Civil War construction, which places it outside the historic district’s time of historic emphasis.

Middletown Valley from Braddock Heights, MD, showing National Highway (U.S. 40).

Remains of Washington Monument, peak of South Mountain, erected by citizens of Boonsboro, MD, in 1827.

Courtesy Photo of Postcard

Mike Randall, CRC Vice President

Like all youth sports organizations, Catoctin Rec Council (CRC) Softball had to navigate through the extremely murky waters of a pandemic. Balancing player safety with the desire to play is not an easy task for players and parents alike. But, the girls came out with renewed energy and vigor, beginning with cold and rainy practices in March and ending with championships in June.

This year, CRC fielded teams at all age groups: 8U, 10U, 12U, and 15U, with almost 70 girls from the area. Our teams played groups throughout the Frederick County Girls Softball League, including Middletown, Carrol Manor, Urbana, Libertytown, Frederick, Walkersville, Araby, and LUYAA.

“The great thing about our organization is that the players get to see good competition in Frederick County, and the parents don’t have to travel far to do so. Games are about two hours long, and we don’t play double headers like other organizations. It really is the best of all worlds for the girls,” said League President Melissa Thomas.

On May 21, CRC had its first annual Hit-a-Thon family picnic at the Thurmont Town Park. It was a fun day of face painting, cornhole, egg toss, obstacle courses, sack races, and of course, the Hit-a-Thon. All of the girls competed in fun events for various prizes, from a new iPhone 13 to Hoverboards or gift cards. “Bringing the Hit-a-Thon to Little League in 2013 was an exciting experience, so I thought I would try it again with CRC. We had a great day, and the girls will benefit from everyone’s willingness to pitch in,” explained CRC Vice President Mike Randall. Winners in each age group received Amazon gift cards of $50, $25, $10, and $5. The winners of the Hit-a-Thon were: 8U Distance Winners: 1st—Brantley Miesner, 2nd—Lillian Barnes, 3rd—Emma Hodnett, 4th—MiKayla Martinez; 10U Distance Winners: 1st—Addison Krietz, 2nd—Peyton Gallion, 3rd—Brylee Cameron, 4th—Alexis Roos; 12U Distance Winners: 1st—Raquel Owens, 2nd—Corine Jewell, 3rd—Delaney Warner, 4th—Jadyn Aubol; 15U Distance Winners: 1st—Tatiana Owens, 2nd—Haven Miesner, 3rd—Madeline Whetzel, 4th—Keelyn Swaney.

Overall Sponsor Winners were: 1st Place Overall Sponsors—Carli Savage  (selected a new pink iPhone 13); 2nd Place Overall Sponsors—Kaydense Cox (selected a $250 Amazon gift card); 3rd Place Overall Sponsors—Pressley Brantner (selected a $100 Amazon gift card).

The event raised over $11,000, which will be used to construct new batting cages and hitting stations for the girls at the town fields. CRC Secretary Dana Randall stated, “I’ve been involved with Frederick County softball for over 30 years, so it felt great to get back into an organization I love and raise funds for equipment just for the girls. My son and daughter both played ball here, and I felt it was time that the girls have just as good of facilities as the boys.” 

Every team played in the post-season championships, and each age group had its own County All-Star team. The Catoctin 12U White team won the Gold level Championship to cap off a stellar season, while both 12U Blue and 15U were runner-ups in their Championship series. 

Many thanks to the coaches, players, and parents for a great comeback season for CRC Softball. CRC would also like to thank the Town of Thurmont for the exceptional care and dedication they take in keeping the softball fields in great condition. The new lighted softball field will be a welcome addition to the community. If you are interested in helping the organization, see our Facebook page at


Catoctin Rec Council Softball teams 8U, 10U, 12U, and 15U.

A fire above Thurmont between Route 550 and Kelbaugh Road consumed seven acres on Sunday, November 21, 2016. The fire started around 2:00 p.m., was contained by 5:00 p.m., and fully extinguished by 8:00 p.m. It was started by downed power lines.

Ironically a new fire broke out around 1:00 a.m. the following morning near the same area. It is believed that the second fire started when a spark from the first fire was carried by the wind to the new location.

Initially, Thurmont’s Guardian Hose Company responded to the second fire, and by 7:30 a.m. fifty to seventy-five fire fighters were involved. Responders from Thurmont, Graceham, Emmitsburg, Rocky Ridge, Wolfsville, Smithsburg, Leitersburg, Frederick City, Camp David, Lewistown, Greenmount, Middletown, Blue Ridge Summit, Raven Rock, and more reported to help. Route 550 was closed to traffic during these fires.

Graceham Fire Company’s Assistant Chief, Louie Powell, was in command at the base of the mountain on Route 550 where water, gas, food, and holding tanks were set up. A canteen truck was brought in from Independence Fire Company to feed the responders.

Powell explained that to pump water up the mountain to fight the fire, a fire truck from Rocky Ridge had a 5” supply line pumping from the holding tanks to an engine from Vigilant Hose Company, and then that engine pumped through to another engine, and so on, to reach the fire higher up the mountain. He said, “It’s a neat operation.”

Neither of these fires resulted in a threat to human life, nor was there damage to homes or buildings. The second fire consumed approximately ten more acres of forest before being fully extinguished sometime in the afternoon on Monday.

Thanks to the many residents who provided assistance to the firefighters by opening access routes, allowing access to your property, and allowing the use of your private ponds for water. Good job to everyone who pulled together to successfully beat these fires!


Photo of fire by Donna Sweeney,


photo of basecamp by Deb Spalding