High Rock: The Most Beautiful Mountain Scenery

Along the Appalachian Trail, situated on the western side of South Mountain just below its highest peak called Mt. Quirauk is High Rock. High Rock is located in Washington County, Maryland and was at one time part of Pen Mar during the climax of the Resort Era that took place from 1870 to the 1930’s. It was started by a Civil War veteran named John Mifflin Hood. John Hood served as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Maryland Infantry as an engineer. After the Civil War, on March 24, 1874, he became president of the Western Maryland Railroad. With the resort era starting to peak in the Monterey and Cascade area, his hopes were that people would take a train ride to the area. It was with this idea that Hood opened Pen Mar Park on August 31, 1877. High Rock would feature an overlook tower climbing a total height of two stories.

Today, this little known area of South Mountain also has some Civil War importance. Because High Rock is a mountain cliff, on a clear day one can see north to south, the Cumberland Valley from Chambersburg to the Potomac River and to the west as far as North Mountain. Because of the observation advantage, Union cavalry soldiers made High Rock part of their reconnaissance.

In 1905, the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry Association published its regimental history “History of the Third Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment, Sixteenth Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers in the American Civil War 1861-1865.” On page 324, Chapter 20, the members of the association wrote about their experiences during the pursuit of the Confederate Army as it retreated from Gettysburg. “Waynesboro is delightfully situated on the side of the Blue Ridge, and surrounded by the most beautiful mountain scenery. The view from, the Overlook [High] Rock, Penn Mar, and the Blue Mountain House in the pass of Monterey, is regarded as one of the most notable east of the Rocky Mountains. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we passed over the mountain, and recalled the fact that Colonel Averell had, during the proceeding year, taken us over this road while we were encamped at St. James’ College after the Battle of Antietam.”

Just days before the Battle of Gettysburg, General Buford and his cavalry division traveled from Boonsoboro, entered Waynesboro, and crossed South Mountain via Monterey Pass. On June 29th, General Buford, using what is believed to be High Rock, observed the dust being kicked up by Confederate soldiers in Greencastle and suggested that a battle would erupt somewhere in south central Pennsylvania. From there General Buford rode on to Fairfield and then to Emmitsburg.

During the Confederate Raid of Chambersburg which resulted in the burning of Chambersburg on July 30th, High Rock was also used. Lieutenant Ellis reported from High Rock that Chambersburg had been burned on August 1st, 1684, after he observed smoke on the horizon to the northwest.

Today, High Rock is a treasured piece of local history. It is home to many recreational uses from A.T. hikers taking a break to enjoy the view, to hang gliders using the rock to soar through the air, but how many come to High Rock just for the Civil War history that it has experienced. As long as I give tours of South Mountain, High Rock will always be on the list of Civil War sites to share.