Journey Through Maryland History: Washington County Bridges

12/07/2016
By Preservation Maryland

If you follow our blog, you may remember that the Preservation Maryland Board Vice President Diane Caslow has a goal to travel to all of Maryland’s 24 counties in the next 24 months. And her adventure continues with a scavenger hunt for stone bridges in Washington County.

The Bridges of Washington County

Roses' Mill Stone Bridge, ca. 1839

Roses’ Mill Stone Bridge, ca. 1839

The stone bridges of Washington County were important to commerce and many were used by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. Most people do not think much of bridges when they cross them; they are just a means to an end. However, my husband and I marveled in their masterful engineering and continued use after nearly two hundred years after their orginal constructure.

We chose to explore the bridges along Antietam Creek, following the creek from the top of the county in Leitersburg to the bottom in Antietam National Battlefield along a route organized by Washington County for heritage tourism. Most of the bridges are one lane, and people who live around them know the etiquette in crossing them and who has the right of way. We found fifteen of the seventeen bridges before the weather forced us to stop and head for shelter at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville.

Board Member Diane Caslow at the Antietam Ironworks bridge

Board Member Diane Caslow at the Antietam Ironworks bridge

Technically Bridge #1 was washed out in a flood, so Leitersburg Bridge #2, built in 1829 was the first stop on our journey. Surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and farmland, we were so excited to find it, we gave the locals something to stare at while we snap pictures and posed on the bridge. We found the second bridge, Old Forge, and made a stop for coffee in Hagerstown. We were delighted to find a pop-up shop event going on, allowing us to start early holiday shopping.

South of Hagerstown, we picked up our trail in Funkstown and got a little lost in finding the next two bridges. We actually drove over the two-lane Funkstown Turnpike Bridge a few times before we realized that we found it. The top and one side of the bridge were modernized in 1931, throwing us off our trail. We were able to spy it up the creek from Funkstown Bridge #3. Sure enough, we walked under the bridge to the other side where we found the original stonework – looks can be deceiving.

In quick order, we found the next three bridges, named for the mills that supplied water for Claggett’s Mill Race Bridge, Claggett’s Mill Bridge and Rose’s Mill Bridge. I stopped to admire the Claggett estate mansion, Valentia, which still stands near the bridge. Devil’s Backbone Bridge, is now the site of a picturesque park that follows the creek. We found Booth’s Mill Bridge and Rocksbury Mill Bridge, and again marveled in the stone builder’s craftsmanship. Further south we took the road less taken, a favorite hobby of my husband’s, and came in the back way to the next two bridges, which were also sites for successful mills; Hitt Bridge and Pry’s Mill Bridge. We stopped for a late lunch at Bonnie’s at the Red Byrd Diner in Keedysville and began to watch the weather change. With a piece of red velvet cake to fortify us for the road, we skipped Feltfoot Bridge, thinking that we wanted to get to Antietam before the rains come.

America's most iconic stone bridge, Burnside's Bridge Antietam National Battlefield.

America’s most iconic stone bridge, Burnside’s Bridge Antietam National Battlefield. Image courtesy Library of Congress, 1862.

With Jeff fully in his element as a Civil War history buff, we arrived at the Antietam Battlefield and walked down to the Burnside Bridge, the only one that is for foot traffic only. The sycamore tree that is still standing from the Civil War, graces the bridge and was witness to the bloodiest single day battle. Given the uncooperative weather, we called it a day and drove over the hills to Big Cork Winery. Not a bad way to end a scavenger hunt… a glass of wine at the end!

Next month is Anne Arundel County . . . a Capital Holiday!

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