Author & Photo credits: Beth Pollock
It’s hard planning a trip for people with diverse interests. How do you keep everyone happy if you love art and romance novels, and your loved one is passionate about history?
Fear not – Washington County, Maryland has something to satisfy every traveller. For you, there’s a museum of fine arts and the hometown of Nora Roberts. For your loved one, there’s a civil war battleground and a monument to war correspondents. And for both of you, you can finish the day with a cup or cone of spectacular ice cream – I’m guessing you both love ice cream, right?
Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA) in Hagerstown is one of those small museums I love to visit. Of course, I love big museums too, but a huge collection can be overwhelming. With art ranging from 15th century European to contemporary American, WCMFA has terrific variety, and it’s the perfect size to let you take in the whole collection.
Donors Anna Brugh Singer and William H. Singer established the museum in 1931, following through on a promise made before the stock market crash to donate 100 works of art. The collection has multiplied since then, and now contains over 7,000 pieces.
My favourite works here were the striking cubist painting Jazz at Takoma Station by Joseph Deveese Holston, and Bouquet in Blue Paper Wrapped Pot by American artist William Glackens. Depending on your taste, you might prefer Renaissance artist Timoteo Viti’s Self Portrait, Scene on the Catskill Creek by Hudson River School painter Frederic Church, or Anna Hyatt Huntington’s sculpture Diana of the Chase. Don’t worry – you’ll have time to see them all!
Home of Nora Roberts
If you’re a fan of romance novels, you’ll know that Nora Roberts is one of the most beloved and best-selling authors around. You may even have read her Inn Boonsboro Trilogy.
What you may not know is that she and her family own several businesses in real-life Boonsboro, Maryland: Turn the Page Bookstore, Inn BoonsBoro, and Vesta Pizzeria. If you drop into town, you probably won’t cross paths with her (having written over 200 books, she spends a lot of time writing). But you might want to plan your trip so you have a chance to meet her. Turn the Page hosts six to eight events a year where she meets her fans, ranging from book signings to Girls Night Out events.
Although I didn’t meet Roberts, I spoke to bookstore manager Janeen Solberg. “Nora’s fans travel from all over to meet her,” Solberg said. “Sometimes Canadians stop on their way to Florida, and sometimes they make a special trip here just to see her. One of our Canadian visitors told a border guard she was coming down for a signing, and he told her she was the second Nora Roberts fan he’d talked to that day.”
One of the rooms is devoted entirely to Roberts, and it offers all of her books that are still in print. It also displays a Nora Roberts cutout, which Solberg cheerfully posed beside. But if you aren’t a romance reader, rest assured the bookstore has a terrific selection from genres including literary, children’s, mystery and much more. “Our signings always include other authors, and we’re proud to promote their work, too,” Solberg says.
If you’re looking for something particularly festive, don’t miss the Halloween signing, where Roberts shows up in costume.
Interested in meeting Nora, in costume or otherwise? Check out the bookstore’s Event page to see when she’ll be appearing. And if you can’t make it down, you can place an order – they ships six days a week.
The Battle of Antietam
Washington County was the site of the tragic Battle of Antietam. More soldiers died on Sept. 17, 1862 at Antietam than on any other single day of fighting before or since – nearly 23,000.
General Robert E. Lee led Confederate troops into battle at Antietam against a Union army led by Major-General George McClellan. This was a pivotal battle: Lee was attempting to liberate Maryland from the Union, and President Abraham Lincoln was counting on McClellan to prevent Washington D.C. from being completely surrounded by Confederate states.
With Lee and his troops retreating to Virginia after the battle, Lincoln declared it a victory for the north, although it came at a terrible cost. At one point during the morning’s fighting, it is estimated that one soldier died every second.
Antietam marked the first time triage was used on the battlefield: before then, soldiers were treated in order of their rank. Clara Barton, who later founded the Red Cross, arrived on the battlefield at about noon, and continued to help surgeons and comfort the wounded until well after dark, and over the next few days.
Five days after the battle, Lincoln announced the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation five days after the battle, which would take effect on January 1, 1863.
Visiting the site today, the view is similar to what it was in 1862. The National Park leases land out to area farmers, under the condition that they plant crops that would have been planted in the 1860s.
Give yourself a couple of hours to tour this somber memorial, starting with the half-hour movie at the visitor centre that shares the gravity and historical impact of the battle. You’ll also see some of the photos taken of Antietam’s aftermath by Alexander Gardner. They were among the first photographs ever taken of a battleground. Most civilians had never seen carnage like it, and the photos dramatically shaped public opinion of the Civil War.
As you drive through the park, you’ll see the Dunker Church made famous by Gardner’s photos, and nearly 100 monuments. Climb the Observation Tower for a lovely view of the park and surrounding area.
War Correspondents’ Memorial Arch
One of the most unique monuments I’ve visited is the War Correspondents’ Memorial Arch at Gathland State Park.
George Alfred Townsend was the youngest war correspondent in the Civil War, and he also covered the assassination of Abraham Lincoln for the New York World. As a successful journalist and lecturer, he found himself longing for a rural retreat. He found that place in Washington County, where he bought 100 acres of land and built a family estate.
On his travels, he noticed many monuments to honour those who died on the battlefield, but realized there was nothing to honour non-combatants, and in particular those who covered war stories. He rectified that by commissioning a monument on his estate to honour war correspondents.
The monument is 50 feet tall, and is made of sandstone and Virginia blue limestone. Its three upper arches represent the mediums that correspondents used in the Civil War: Description (writers), Depiction (illustrators), and Photography.
Ownership of the arch was transferred to the National Park Service in 1933. On its 50th anniversary, it was rededicated to correspondents of all wars. More recently, a plaque was added in memory of Daniel Pearl and other journalists killed while covering modern conflicts.
South Mountain Creamery
After a busy day sightseeing, be sure to recharge with a stop on the Maryland Ice Cream Trail, featuring over twenty dairies and creameries. I stopped at the South Mountain Creamery just a few minutes from both Boonsboro and the War Correspondents Arch.
South Mountain is a true “cow to cone” operation: all the milk used for the ice cream comes from their cows, and the ice cream is made on the property. If you show up at 4 pm, you can help bottle-feed the calves.
But you’re here to read about the ice cream, and I’m here to tell you it’s some of the best I’ve ever eaten. I ordered the Red, White and Blue ice cream, which was a vanilla base with thick streaks of blueberry and strawberry preserves. The vanilla ice cream was a luscious cocoon for the preserves, which practically burst with fresh fruit flavour. If you could eat a 4th of July parade with a spoon, this would be it.
Something to make everyone happy indeed!
Notes: The author visited as a guest of Visit Maryland, who did not review or approve this story.
Where to eat
South Mountain Creamery: 8305 Bolivar Rd, Middletown MD
Vesta Pizzeria: If you’re in Boonsboro in search of Nora Roberts or her books, be sure to try Vesta’s pizza. I can vouch for the amazing Hickory Smoked BBQ chicken flavour, and there are fourteen other specialty and artisan pizzas to choose from. 2 South Main St, Boonsboro MD.
28 South: Grilled Salmon + Fig compote + Pinot Grigio = one terrific meal. 28 South Potomac St, Hagerstown, MD.