Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Visit to Williamsport, MD; Martinsburg, WV; and Antietam Battlefield

We chose the Williamsport KOA for our camping trip because it's close to Martinsburg and Atietam, our target locations for this little two-day outing. It turned out to be ideally located for the traveller who likes a combination of physical activities and museum visits.

The town is charming and one of the locals told us it was actually considered as a possible site for the capitol. It occurred to me later that I should have asked her to clarify. Did she mean the capitol of the country or of Maryland? Anyone know the answer? 

Martinsburg has so much to offer we were sorry not to have had more time to explore its charms.

We started our visit with a late afternoon walk along a two-mile stretch of the C&O Canal in downtown Williamsport. It took us by Lock 44 where the locksman's house still stands.

The job of the locksman was no picnic. He had to be available day and night to respond to the boatsman's whistle and raise or lower the water level in the lock so the barge could continue on its way. Those who manned the locks were paid a small stipend and provided a home, but it was a meager livelihood and the families generally needed to supplement with a garden and other work to scratch out a living. Some of the women would bake items or make crafts to sell or trade. Needless to say, life was hard and vacations were non-existent.

For those who enjoy museums Martinsburg offers the Belle Boyd house which is a mini-tour of American history. Belle Boyd, a confederate spy, lived in the house as a child for about five years. There's little in the museum about her, but its a treasure-trove of Americana. There's a Civil War room, and other rooms dedicated to the Spanish American War and World Wars I and II. One room is filled with toys and another with a display of women's dresses and other articles, and another displays a rotating exhibit. The day we visited that room was dedicated to the Boy Scouts. Last year the three local high schools each took a turn setting up displays that were so popular, they are thinking of having them do it again. A popular room features a baseball player who played for the Chicago cubs and settled in Martinsburg. He still holds the record in the National League for runs batted in and held the record for 68 years for most home runs in the National League until Mark Maguire broke it in the early 90s. Now if only I could remember his name.

I particularly enjoyed the dioramas. Here's a portion of one from the Civil War room.

The Belle Boyd house is one of those historical spots saved by the love and devotion of a few individuals who spearheaded a rescue movement. Another home in town where her father later moved the family fell to the wrecker's ball and when the city planned to demolish their earlier home as well, the historical society began a campaign to save it. Another house next door now serves as the archives for the historical society. Both buildings have beautiful gardens that are well-maintained. What a delight for the eyes! I forgot to take a picture ot the Belle Boyd house but got several of the Historical Society archive building and gardens next door. Pretty, isn't it?

Visiting the railroad station was like stepping back in history. The waiting room could have been used for the filming of Anne of Green Gables. It made me reflect on the heyday of the railroads when they were the main form of both local and cross country travel. The trains still run from Martinsburg and I'd love to come back and take a train ride. Maybe next visit.

We met a single mom on the sidewalk outside the train station who expressed disappointment in Martinsburg. I commented in passing how much we were enjoying the little town and she responded with little enthusiasm which led to an interesting conversation. She grew up in Fairfax County but longs to see more of the world. She wants to take a trip to New York and ride a horse-drawn carriage in winter through Central Park with her young son. (Complete with falling snow and Christmas lights? She must be romantic.)

I encouraged her to save her pennies and told her there are so many things within a days' drive of where she lives. I took her card and hope to be in touch. It was a day of contrasts because the woman who was giving the tour at the Belle Boyd house has lived in Martinsburg her whole life and loves it (She's a teacher.) and we met a gentleman sitting on his porch who bewailed the fact that Martinsburg has grown too large and he wishes it were the way it used to be when he was growing up. The gentleman whose name was Rick was particularly interesting. I asked if he was Catholic since he had a statue of Mary in the yard. He isn't. He recovered the statue from the bottom of a stream when he was fishing. Poor Mary! Thrown there by a kinsman of Oliver Cromwell? I told him that the Lord is pleased at him giving respect to His mother, that Jesus performed the fourth commandment to honor your mother and father better than anyone. Rick laughed and asked if she could mow the lawn for him. Rick is a navy vet and I thanked him for serving our country.

Our other stop in town was at the local Catholic Church, St. Joseph's. But I'll post separately on that. It was a head-shaker. Antietam deserves its own page too.

I'll just close with this interesting bit of trivia. All over the main street in town were decorated "artists' pallets." I'm sorry we didn't ask at the Visitors' Center what the purpose was. They ranged from the Viking and Indian maiden below to paintings of wildlife and my favorite, a colorful dragon in front of a chinese restaurant.

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