A travel journal
to Frederick by Idler
Quote: Quiet, self-assured Frederick sits at a crossroads of history, witness to many pivotal events. Overshadowed by nearby Baltimore and Washington, D.C., Maryland’s second-largest city is a cultural and architectural gem often overlooked by visitors to this region.
Savvy travelers will appreciate Frederick’s combination of small-town charm and urban savoir-vivre.
Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,
The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland…
The description of Frederick in Whittier’s famous poem about Barbara Fritchie ("Shoot if you must , this old gray head…"), is as true today as it was during the Civil War. Surrounded by rolling hills and patterned fields of wheat and corn, Frederick sits at the center of early transportation routes. Each period of history left its mark in a unique way, making the city’s chief attraction its past. Walk the cobbled streets downtown to see the "clustered spires" of the historic churches, as well as the homes of famous residents such as Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie, Thomas Johnson (Maryland’s first governor), Roger Taney (Chief Justice of the Supreme Court during the Dred Scott case), and John Hanson (first U.S. president under the Articles of Confederation). Rather than resting on its laurels, however, Frederick is a vibrant, civic-spirited community combining the best of the old and new. As overdevelopment threatens much of the Washington-Baltimore area, Frederick fights to keep its character intact while making the necessary concessions to an increasingly diverse population.
Don’t miss taking a stroll along the flood control canal that runs through town, a pleasant swath of greenery that includes the intriguing Community Bridge, a trompe l’oeil project that transformed an ugly concrete bridge into a poetic "stonework" masterpiece.
To the north of town is Rose Hill Manor, a lively children’s museum, while to the south is intimate, friendly Harry Grove Stadium, home to the Frederick Keys minor league baseball team.
Frederick makes an ideal base to explore several crucial Civil War sites, with Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, and Antietam all easily in reach. Just outside of town is Monocacy Battlefield, now a National Park landmark. As thousands of wounded soldiers were brought to Frederick during the war, it is no coincidence that the National Museum of Civil War Medicine is located here.
Frederick is most attractive in late April-early June and Oct-early November, when the weather and gardens are at their best.
Brewer's Alley has garnered a loyal and enthusiastic following of beer lovers, including my husband and me. Our favorite beer is the IPA, an amber-colored hoppy delight, though we've also enjoyed the Nut Brown Ale and Kölsch. Try the sampler rack if you're undecided about what to drink, or ask your waiter or waitress, as the staff is usually well informed.
All the beer is brewed on the premises under the guidance of a master brewer. Be sure to check out the various seasonal and specialty beers, such as the Trinity Stout around Saint Patrick's Day and the Oktoberfest in the fall. I've always thought the 10.5% alcohol Barleywine sounds intriguing - perhaps I'll get a chance to sample it next winter.
The menu at Brewer's Alley has some strengths and weaknesses; I'll confess to a dislike of overly ambitious menus that try to cover all bases. Cuisines on offer range widely: Tex-Mex, Italian, American, Cajun, Middle-Eastern, Asian, Greek, and various fusions in between. Frankly, it's too ambitious, and as a result there are some lapses such as the doughy mess that was billed as "falafel" the last time we ate there. But, on the bright side, the classic beer foods - pizzas, ribs, BBQ, nachos, wings, and burgers - have always been tasty and the portions are generous. The wood-fired pizzas are a big hit with my son and husband, both pizza afficionados, while I've enjoyed various caesar salads, the hickory-smoked ribs, and the pulled pork BBQ sandwich. There are a number of over-the-top "death-by-chocolate" type desserts as well, though we're rarely tempted to sample them after gorging ourselves on appetizers, entres, and beer.
What we recommend, rather than dessert, is a post-prandial stroll through town to window-shop or perhaps a ramble through the town's central greensward, along the Carroll Creek, taking in the unique trompe l' oeil decorated Community Bridge. It's also worth noting that Brewer's Alley beers on are tap at the ballpark, so if you're at a Keys game you'll have another chance to sample some of this brew pub's products.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 9, 2002
124 N. Market Street
Frederick, Maryland 21701
Attraction | "Rose Hill Manor"
Young visitors can get a taste of colonial life as docents lead them on a tour of the mansion's rooms, including the kitchen, two large parlors, and the upstairs bedrooms. Children get the opportunity to card wool, help make a quilt, pop popcorn, play with period toys, and dress in colonial garb. The buildings outside the mansion house a blacksmith shop, icehouse, carriage museum, and a simple one-room cabin. The entire tour is well planned, with plenty of hands-on activities and thought-provoking leading questions.
When I first visited Rose Hill, I was charmed by the gracious house but - need I say it? - as a parent chaperone I was somewhat distracted. I had long wanted to return on my own and do a non-kid-oriented tour, and finally did so this past spring.
Rose Hill was even lovelier than I had remembered it; the gardens were ablaze with red poppies and the numerous shiny-leaved leatherleaf viburnums had just set out new crinkly dark-green foliage. However, it seems I had come at an inopportune time as the staff was short one docent that day and everyone was busily leading first graders through the house and grounds. No matter; I wandered around until the schoolgroup left, which it did shortly.
I strolled through the grounds, past the neatly pruned orchard and around the handsome outbuildings, then rested a spell in the garden, with its wisteria arbors, pink rugosa roses, tidy beds of herbs, and those blazing poppies. The front of the mansion is handsome, with stately columns and the Stars and Stripes waving from a tall flagpole, but I found I preferred the view of the house from the garden. From that vantage point, the house displays less pomp and reveals a tidy, almost demure façade. I began to play a favorite architectural game: which Jane Austen character would be most suited to live in this house? Sensible, outspoken Elizabeth Bennett, I decided. Mr. Darcy would approve of the front of the house, while Lizzie would fall sway to the charms of the back.
It does the heart good to see the past treated with such care and respect, not to mention veracity. When the schoolchildren departed, I had the chance to be shown round the house on a private tour. I asked the docent questions about the restoration of the manor, a conversation that soon veered off onto a discussion of the restoration of our respective old farmhouses, the enduring preoccupation of inmates in aged dwellings. We both agreed that it would be a fine thing indeed if our homes were as lovingly restored as Rose Hill Manor.
Rose Hill Manor Park
1611 North Market Street
Frederick, Maryland 21701
Attraction | "The Frederick Keys"
Case in point: the Frederick Keys (named after the town''s most famous native son, Francis Scott Key), the sole "A" minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. No offense to you Orioles fans out there, but I head to Frederick rather than Baltimore for baseball. Here’s why.
First and foremost, it’s the park. Harry Grove Stadium has all the charm and friendliness that you could ask for in a ballpark. It’s affordable, unpretentious, clean, and easy to get to. No problems parking here, though you might have to wait a bit to get out of the lot on fireworks nights. It has a great family atmosphere and is the kind of place you can bring your kids, turn them lose over in the grassy area beside the bleachers, and know that they’ll be safe, happily chasing down flyballs or romping with the mascot, "Keyote."
Keys fans are a special bunch, too. They enjoy the game, but hey, it’s a game. Win or lose, no problem. They’re there to cheer on the home team and have a good time, and they’ve got it just about down to an art form. Goofy traditions abound, the sillier the better. The crowd, egged on by the avuncular announcer, Mark Kreider, responds enthusiastically to such spectacles as sack races around the bases and the "T-shirt toss." Giveaways abound – everything from boxes of pizza plopped down in the lap of the loudest fan to free carwashes for the owner of the dirtiest car on the lot.
Then there are the numerous promotional nights: Boy Scouts in uniform get in free one night; a free cushion to the first 500 another; and discounted or free admission with various product tie-ins. Reading night, Scout sleepover night, fire safety night... It’s all good, clean community fun.
And how about that great ballpark food? Peanuts slow roasted just so. Mounds of soft serve ice cream balanced on waffle cones. (Don’t forget the napkins!) Brewpub beer on tap, to go with the hot dogs and pizza. Cotton candy – hey, support your local dentist, why doncha?
Then there''s my favorite part of the night. Come the seventh inning stretch, every man,
woman, and child in the stadium rises up and reaches in a pocket. Gets out
a set of car or house keys, holds it aloft and shakes it while proudly
yodeling the team song:
"We''re the Frederick Keys
Come on out support your team
Baseball is back in town
You can hear the shaking sound
Bring the family
"We''re the Frederick Keys
We''ll park one in the bleachers
Come on out and shake them with me
We''re the Frederick Keys."
Ah, I can almost hear the jingle of keys right now. Wonder if they’re playing at home tonight? I’ll just go and check the schedule….
Frederick Keys Baseball
Harry Grove Stadium
Attraction | "A walking tour of historic Frederick"
The Boston Tea Party, you say? Wrong! The first spark of what became a full-blown revolution took place eight years earlier in the courtyard square of City Hall in Frederick, Maryland, when twelve local judges, who came to be known as the "Twelve Immortals," assembled to repudiate the Stamp Act by burning effigies of government officials. One of the participants, John Hanson, later served as the first President of the Continental Congress, while another, Thomas Johnson, nominated his good friend George Washington to be commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
Surprised by this? Well then, you should get on over to Frederick and take the historic walking tour. There are a lot of other surprises in store for you.
The Frederick Historic District is an impressive 33-block area lined with stately mansions, historic churches, and lovely row houses. However, the heart of the district is an eight-block area covered on the ninety-minute walking tour. Our enthusiastic guide Barbara was brimming with stories to tell, and boy did she ever tell them!
Standing on the steps of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, she mentioned that Stonewall Jackson had worshipped there during theConfederate occupation of the city, drawing chuckles when she recounted the Sunday that Jackson fell asleep during services. While the pious general snoozed, the pastor, a Union sympathizer, indulged in some anti-Confederate sermonizing. Jackson slept right through it, congratulating the cleric on an excellent sermon as he left the church.
Another church a few blocks away, St. John the Evangelist, is the oldest consecrated Catholic Church in the U.S. Its gold-leaf dome is one of the famous "clustered spires of Frederick" lauded in Whittier’s poem about Barbara Fritchie, that feisty nonagenarian who dared Confederate troops to "Shoot if you must this old grey head, but spare your country’s flag." During the Civil War, captured soldiers were incarcerated here; most of the nearby churches served as hospitals for the thousands of wounded who flooded the town after Antietam and other nearby battles. Barbara explained how planks were set over the pews to form a raised flooring. At one point the number of wounded (some 8,000) equaled the number of town residents. Looking down Church Street, with its lovely tree-shaded brick sidewalks, it was hard to imagine.
The streets of Frederick have a stately grace that are best savored on a leisurely stroll, stopping to consider the stepping stones ladies used when getting into carriages or to pat the cast iron statue of "Guess," the pet dog of Dr. John Tyler, a noted ophthalmologist who was first to perform a cataract operation.
The tour ended all too briefly, as far as I was concerned. It seemed we had just begun to scratch the history of this fascinating place when the tour ended at the Historical Society Museum on Church Street, where I found another enthusiastic local historian ready to take up where our walking tour guide had left off.
The Great Frederick Historic Treasure Hunt
19 E. Church St.
Frederick, Maryland 21703
Attraction | "Monocacy National Battlefield"
On a hot July day in 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early put a bold plan into play: to march southwards from Frederick and seize Washington while Union forces were otherwise engaged fighting Lee’s army at Petersburg. His tactic nearly worked – and would have but for the Battle of Monocacy. Union forces under General Lew Wallace successfully kept Confederate troops from advancing – for a single day. By the late afternoon Union forces were forced to withdraw, but the Confederate soldiers, exhausted from the pitched battle, lost precious time regrouping. When they resumed their march toward Washington the next day, the window of opportunity had passed: Union troops had rushed back to the capital and were in position to defend it. Thwarted, General Early aborted the attack and crossed back into Virginia. The war never came north of the Potomac from that point.
Although technically the Union had "lost" the Battle of Monocacy, General Wallace’s
delaying tactics in fact ultimately constituted a victory. After the battle, he wrote,
"Orders have been given to collect the bodies of our dead in one burial ground on the battlefield, suitable for a monument upon which I propose to write:
’These men died to save the National Capital, and they did save it.’"
Today, the meadows and woodlands that once resounded with rifle and cannon fire are tranquil. Red-wing blackbirds, cardinals, and mockingbirds serenade visitors who stroll near the banks of the Monocacy, along a fenced pasture near Gambrill Mill, which now houses a visitor center. Sweet clover, dame’s rocket, star of Bethlehem, and honeysuckle scent the air. Nothing disturbs the peace.
Start a tour of the battlefield by driving south from Frederick on Rt. 355 and stopping by the Visitor Center just south of the Monocacy Bridge. The center, maintained by the National Park Service, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from April 1-Oct. 31. (From Nov. 1-March 31st the center is open the same hours but is closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Admission is free. Pick up a copy of the brochure which explains the layout of the park and gives directions for a short driving tour to the various monuments of the site. There is a helpful electronic orientation, lasting about 8 minutes, in the center. From there, visitors can stroll a short loop trail of approximately half a mile, take a longer hike to Worthington Farm, one of the key sites during the battle, or take a tour of the battlefield given by park rangers during the summer months. (Call ahead to check the tour/program schedule: 301-662-3515.)
"I am sorry I did not succeed in capturing Washington…." - General Jubal Early
National Park Service: Monocacy National Battlefield
Frederick, Maryland 21701
What I had stumbled upon, in fact, was one of Frederick’s signature features – the trompe l’oeil ("deceive the eye") paintings of artist William Cochran. However, it wasn’t until later that I discovered Cochran’s masterpiece, the Community Bridge. I had seen the bridge before from a distance – an old stone bridge spanning Carroll Creek. Only later, when I strolled along the Carroll Creek Park causeway, did I realize the "old stone bridge" was, in fact, another stunning trompe l’oeil illusion: the "stones" were painted on a plain concrete surface, as was the ivy growing on it, a bronze gate, and fountain set nearby. I examined the bridge more closely: a rich tapestry of symbols, faces, medallions, and subtle optical illusions emerged. I was fascinated. What could it all mean?
Later I learned about the history of the Community Bridge, a project undertaken by literally the entire community – though from start to finish it was the brainchild of Cochran, working with a handful of assistants. He’d had some success with the murals he’d painted around town. However, when he first suggested "painting a bridge on a bridge," community leaders thought he was crazy.
When Cochran finally got approval for the project, his "crazy" concept took wing. Ideas for the bridge were solicited from the local community and far beyond, with all the motifs adhering to the central "community" concept. Suggestions from places as far flung as South Africa and Indonesia were incorporated into the hundreds of symbolic features worked into the "stones" of the bridge.
Contributors to the bridge were asked, "What object represents the spirit of community to you?" The symbols they selected were intriguing: a key, a knot, a hand, a thistle, a chameleon, a spider web, a spiral, and many others. They remind me of Thomas Wolfe’s verbal talismans – "a stone, a leaf, a door…" But while Wolfe asserted that "You can’t go home again," this bridge was meant to be the distillation of home and community itself.
Of course, the overarching symbol is the bridge itself: as a connection from one person, race, culture, or generation to another. Just as significant is the symbolism of the "illusions." Cochran explained that, "The small illusions I create with paint are nothing compared to the large illusions we all insist on being fooled by every day. What if our sense that we are separated from each other by all kinds of differences and barriers is simply an illusion, no more real than the images I paint?"
Carroll Creek Park
Attraction | "Shopping in Frederick: Antiques, boutiques & more"
Whatever you’re looking for, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you found it in Frederick, one of the most interesting places I’ve been to shop, gawk, or simply be struck dumb by the sheer diversity of things that people buy and collect.
Now, I should probably warn you: this place is addictive. Every time we go there – and we go there a lot, we seem to find some new place we hadn’t been to before. Recently we discovered Capa Imports, which boasts a fine selection of Turkish rugs and crafts. Astonishingly, their prices aren’t in line with prices we noted on a recent trip to Istanbul.
When my son was doing a report on Kenya, we made a beeline for Frederick, where we found an authentic Masai drinking gourd (the tribesmen carry that blood-and-milk concoction that’s the staple of their diet in them). This interesting show-and-tell item set us back a mere $12. That brings up another point about shopping in Frederick: You’ll pay a lot less here than you will in such well-known but overpriced places as Georgetown or Alexandria.
Frederick is noted for its many antique emporiums, particularly Emporium Antiques, a vast rabbit warren of 130 affiliated dealers selling, well, everything. The antique sellers are clustered mostly along East Patrick and Carroll Streets, with others on East Street near Shab Row. One of the notable features of Frederick antique dealers is that if you’re restoring an old house, you won’t find a better place to locate that light fixture, glass panel, iron railing, porcelain basin, wooden shutter, or other salvageable/recyclable bit lacking from your old house. The Frederick antique hounds apparently arrive just before the demolition crew and carry everything of interest off from buildings slated to come down.
My husband’s an antique junkie, so I’ve been taken (sometimes unwillingly) through just about every antique shop in town. To be honest, there are only so many pieces of Depression-era glass I can stomach. My favorite shops are the quirky ones, such as Frederick Junction (310 E. Market St.), which sells model trains - and nothing but model trains. Almost the entire shop is taken up by an oversized train layout. The trick is getting your child (or husband, same difference) out of the shop. Luckily, the proprietor understands. He’ll even patiently demonstrate what each switch on the operating panel does.
Whatever else we may have bought, we never leave Frederick without stopping by the Stone Hearth Bakery (131 East Street) to buy one or two loaves of their outstanding bread. In fact, I’ll confess right here and now that we’ve come home and basically had bread - and little else – for dinner.
Shopping in Frederick: Antiques, boutiques & more
Central downtown area
Attraction | "Green lawns and cold marble: Olivet Cemetery"
I should perhaps explain that while I’ve no belief in an afterlife, others’ beliefs and interpretations of it fascinate me. I’ve wandered through cemeteries in Russia, Italy, France, England, Turkey, and other far-flung places, not to mention a number of them here in the U.S. I guess I’m something of a graveyard connoisseur, macabre though that might sound. In fact, it’s rare that I don’t learn something interesting about a place when I visit its graveyards.
Olivet Cemetery is an exceptionally lovely place, with long, gently sloping paths running through well-maintained grounds dotted with groups of tall elms and locust trees. The day I visited, I was looking for a particular set of graves. The first person I encountered, a genial, chatty funeral director stationed to greet mourners for a funeral, seemed happy to talk about the cemetery and give me its general layout. Where funeral directors have gotten their ill-deserved reputation as morose or neurotic, I’ll never know. Every one I’ve met has seemed almost preternaturally well-adjusted.
One of the most prominent features of Olivet Cemetery, an elaborate monument to Francis Scott Key, Frederick’s most famous son, is not far from the entrance. Key was originally buried in Baltimore (where he penned "the Star Spangled Banner" as well as practiced law), but was later brought home to his native city. A flag unfurled gracefully in the breeze on a tall flagpole set beside the monument, a fitting tribute in this town where flying the Stars and Stripes was a tradition long before national tragedy rekindled patriotic sentiment.
Further down one of the central paths, I paused by the grave of Barbara Fritchie, that feisty patriot who faced down Confederate troops and earned the respect of Stonewall Jackson himself. Nearby, the colorful Maryland flag flew over the grave of Maryland’s first governor, Thomas Johnson (1732-1819), a close friend of George Washington and uncle by marriage to John Quincy Adams.
As always, the pathos of a few graves stood out. A small marble child lay as if curled up asleep on a stone bier, but the chiseled name and date had long eroded. Elsewhere husbands and wives, with names I recognized from local streets and parks, lay side by side.
I reached the back of the cemetery, where, as I’d been told, I found a long row of modern plain stone markers, each set behind much older, barely legible headstones marking the graves of hundreds of Confederate soldiers, many dated September, 1862: the Battle of Antietam. Another large stone marker commemorates 408 unknown Confederate soldiers who died at the Battle of Monocacy. Still another monument, listing Frederick men who died on the Southern side, testified to how the divided the local community’s loyalties were.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 9, 2002
Mount Olivet Cemetery
515 South Market Street
Attraction | "The National Museum of Civil War Medicine"
A small-waisted, demure-looking dress is on display at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. I can imagine the woman who wore it. Her movements were quick and light, her voice soothing, her hair neatly gathered in a bun.
But she was overwhelmed by circumstance, this woman. Her dress is spattered with blood. She was a Civil War nurse working in Frederick, Maryland, a city also overwhelmed as successsive waves of casualties poured in from nearby battles.
This poignant artifact is one of over 3,000 objects in the museum, which houses everything from a surgeon’s tent to chloroform inhalers. The displays are set up roughly chronologically, beginning with soldiers’ recruitment, then progressing through their experience in camp life. Things turn a little darker as the exhibit progresses, with the subsequent rooms detailing what happened when soldiers were wounded – how they were evacuated, taken to a field dressing station, then to a field hospital for surgery, and finally a pavilion hospital for longer-term care.
The museum does an outstanding job of detailing and recreating this. Most rooms contain a central tableau, such as a surgeon and his assistants preparing to perform an amputation. As the visitor enters the room, a recorded conversation between the participants begins, adding a human dimension to the static exhibit.
The wartime experience of Private Peleg Bradford, a simple Maine country boy, illustrates the patient’s point of view. Extracts from his letters home recounting his war experiences are featured in each room. Bradford, who was hospitalized several times during the war for various illnesses and ultimately lost a leg after being shot in the knee, was a blunt and clear-eyed critic of the soldier’s lot. "I should advise you to stay at home and let the war & sea go to hel for theair is plaises a man can make more than to go to sea or war eather," he wrote to his brothers, advising them not to enlist.
It is fitting that this museum is in Frederick, which witnessed three invasions, 38 skirmishes, and two major battles. Over 6,000 wounded poured into the town after the Battle of Antietam, and the town became, in the words of one reporter, "one vast hospital." Thirty-eight local buildings, including nine churches, were converted to hospitals.
More than 600,000 soldiers died during the war, twice as many from disease as in combat. Frequently working under horrid conditions, the doctors, nurses, and other caregivers did the best they could. Advances such as the establishment of an ambulance corps, recruiting women to act as nurses in hospitals, and the first widespread use of anesthesia made the lot of the wounded men more bearable. The triumphs and tragedies of the "real war," as Whitman called it, are splendidly documented in this unusual museum.
Admission is $6.50 adults, $4.50 children; hours are 10-5 Monday-Saturday, 11-5 Sunday.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on July 11, 2002
National Museum of Civil War Medicine
48 E. Patrick Street
Frederick, Maryland 21701