Recently, on Penn Pilot, a website of aerial photographs of Pennsylvania, I am able to help explain visually what Monterey Pass looked like at least during the 1930’s as Route 16 or Sunshine Trail was being cut in. The roads that were used during the Civil War are still visible and still in use as this new highway was being cut in.
Monterey Pass is full of history. Many will associate this mountain gap for the name given to a major Civil War battle that was fought during the night of July 4-5, 1863. While it’s true that the Civil War was a major historical event, it wasn’t the only historical event to take place in this area. Years after the battle, this area was home to hundreds of inner city bureaucrats which led to the Resort era.
Mining and the railroad were part of the huge industrial revolution that led to the area’s wealth, but declined during the Great Depression. Soldiers would again visit the area during World War Two, as a military camp was established by the U.S. Army at Camp Ritchie. But with all of this, there is a forgotten era that relates to Monterey Pass. That era begins just a few years before the French and Indian War.
Monterey Pass and Fairfield Gap were known by many names in Colonial America. On period maps, the Monterey Pass area was known as the South Gap, Nichols’ Gap, Nicholson’s Gap, and by the 1770’s as Willoughby Gap. It wasn’t until toward the early 1800’s that the name changed to Monterey Pass. Fairfield Gap was most likely given the name after the founding of that town.1
Monterey Pass is situated on South Mountain. South Mountain is a mountain range that is associated with the Blue Ridge Mountains, although the extension of the Blue Ridge Mountain ends at Boonsboro, Maryland and it known today as Elk Ridge. The mountain itself spans seventy-one miles begging near Hillsboro, Virginia known as Short Hill Mountain. From there, Short Hill rises to the south side of the Potomac River. On the north side of the Potomac River, it rises in Maryland, continues into Pennsylvania, and ends near the Susquehanna River between Carlisle and Dillsburg. This portion of the mountain is called South Mountain.2
During colonial period, anything west of the mountain ridge was one vast wilderness with the exception of some forts and stockades to protect settlers and some small settlements. The mountain is full of natural resources. Hemlocks, maple, beech, basswood, chestnut oak, northern red oak, northern pine, birch, and poplar were the basic types of trees that grew in the forest.3
Aside from trees, South Mountain had an abundance of wildlife and fish to sustain life on the frontier. Crystal clear springs and creeks such as Toms Creek and Antietam Creek were given life from the mountain.
West of South Mountain is the Cumberland Valley. Then, it was known as the Great Valley. The area was open for immigration for settlements after treaty cessions and purchases from the Indians in 1764, ending the French and Indian War. Prior to then, two main roads were created to allow settlers to flow into the valley.4
In 1744, a treaty between the English colonists and the Indians gave the white men control of the road for the first time. By 1765 the Great Wagon Road was cleared all along it way enough to hold horse drawn vehicles and by 1775, the road stretched 700 miles.
With immigrants flooding the new world, land was becoming scare. As a result, in the mid 1740’s, the Scots-Irish began looking for newer and less costly means of land to farm upon. By the mid 1700’s, Pennsylvania Germans would also migrate. West of South Mountain and areas to the south in what we call Appalachia was rich with fertile farmland, but it was also a rough place to live.
In February 1747, people petitioned the Lancaster county government for a road to be laid out ‘from the Conocheague through the gap in the mountains of Lancaster.’ Known as the Black’s Gap Road. A second road was surveyed that linked the headwaters of the Antietam Creek with York and Lancaster and became known as the Nichols’ Gap Road. This road branched off the Black’s Gap Road near New Oxford. It paralleled Route 116 from Gettysburg to Monterey Pass.5
This road began in Philadelphia and would encompass the modern day towns of Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, Dillsburg, Gettysburg, Fairfield, Monterey Pass, Hagerstown, and Williamsport before entering into West Virginia then Virginia. Other forks of the Great Wagon Road would also link at Williamsport, MD. At Harrisburg, a road led to Carlisle, Shippensburg to Chambersburg and to Williamsport. From there, these roads converged and would lead travelers to North Carolina. Later the wagon road was extended to South Carolina and Georgia. Today, we call this area Appalachia.
The road itself was not very wide. The first settlers more or less walked along side of pack horses that contained all the family’s valuable items. In some places, the path was only three to four feet wide. Later, oxen would pull two wheeled carts loaded with supplies. Over time, as thousands moved upon the road, it became wide enough for wagons to transverse through. The Pennsylvania- Germans built wagons (Conestogas) at their largest would be twenty-six feet long, eleven feet high and some could bear loads up to ten tons. It took five or six pairs of horses to pull them.
The fastest loaded wagon could go about five miles a day. The trip took a minimum of two months. Wagons broke down, rivers flooded, supplies gave out, and there was sickness but no doctors. Wagons were repaired, floods ceded, the wilderness supplied, and the sick were buried or stumbled on.6
The Great Wagon Road in our area featured many taverns. The sounds of hooves, wagon wheels, chains and supplies jolting along this road were common sounds. At night, many immigrants headed to Appalachia bedded down waiting for dawn to keep moving to a new life that awaited them.
In 1787, this great road became and official Pennsylvania highway and was improved upon. Work parties were sent out to make repairs when the road was damaged and kept traffic flowing.
Looking at various period maps, one can easily trace the renaming of our mountain pass. The 1755 Jefferson-Fry Map, you can study the road that came through our area.
South Mountain is associated as being part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but people often get that confused with the actual Blue Ridge Mountain itself.
Pennsylvania DCNR has a trail system along Route 16 near Rouzerville and Monterey Pass Battlefield that is called the Bicentennial Trail. It features markers that tell about the trees and their uses during the 1700’s. This trail explains what types of trees there were present on South Mountain during this period.
There were upwards to a population of about 3,000 in the Cumberland Valley prior to the French and Indian War. Many of these settlers were illegally living on Indian lands. During the F&I War, the population dropped to 300 as Indian raids occurred and were often bloody.
Adams County Bicentennial Tidbits, July, 1999 www.gettysburg.com/adams200/tidbits/july.htm
Jefferson-Fry Map, 1755 LOC
W. Scull, 1770. Hamiltonban Township, Adams County, PA.
In Washington County, the stone arch style bridge, like the one at Antietam National Battlefield is a work of fine craftsmanship. Many of the bridges date to the early 1800’s, primarily the 1820’s and 1830’s. The stone arch bridge seemed to be more popular than covered bridges. The total number of stone bridges that stand today in Washington County alone is twenty-eight. Seventeen of them span the Antietam Creek, two span Beaver Creek, two smaller bridges span Marsh Run and five span over the Conocoheague Creek. The last stone arch bridge spans a tributary of Antietam Creek known as Israel Creek.
The popularity of the stone bridge in Washington County was due to the problems that plank bridges posed when heavy traffic traveled through them. They found that with this traffic, the plank bridges were in need of repairs every couple of years. I found a quote on the Washington County Tourism web site that sums this up nicely. “Why build temporary wooden bridges when we have so much limestone, rugged granite, sandstone, slate, and even beautiful marble in our own quarries?” The result was the popular stone arch bridge.
Upon researching the Battle of Antietam, one will quickly find out that a portion of the battle was fought surrounding what is now known as Burnside Bridge. My goal in this blog posting is to summarize the major aspects of the Civil War and what transpired there. To be honest, I think that the Burnside Bridge at Antietam has been written about numerous times and one does not need to go into great detail here. But what about the other stone arch bridges that stand over the tributaries in Washington County? What Civil War history do they have?
Washington County has been considered by many to be the crossroads of the American Civil War. Many troops marched across the vast Cumberland Valley during the various campaigns and raids. If these bridges could talk, what stories would they tell? Unknown to the average Civil War buff, a lot of these bridges witnessed skirmishes, troop movements and encampments. Some of these stone bridges are located in view of South Mountain. Today, Washington County Tourism has even designed a brochure for those interested in seeing these bridges. I highly suggest downloading a copy of the tour. Judging by the Historical Marker Database, many of these stone bridges do include some sort of interpretive markers. This blog posting is to help promote tourism to these bridges by bringing Civil War enthusiasts off the highway and explore the back roads and experience the Civil War history that is often written about, but seldom explored.
The Antietam Creek begins in Pennsylvania where the East and West Branches come together to form the larger Antietam Creek that flows to the Potomac River. Marching off of South Mountain after the Battle of Gettysburg, several thousand Confederate troops, wagons, and some artillery marched through Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and crossed the Mason Dixon Line near Leitersburg. The Leitersburg Bridge was visible to Confederate troops as they sloshed through the muddy country side. The Leitersburg Bridge was first built in 1829 and spans the Antietam Creek. There is no definitive documentation that any Confederate soldiers crossed the Leitersburg Bridge.
A few miles to the southeast of Leitersburg is the Old Forge Bridge. On July 6th, General Robert E. Lee ordered the destruction of Old Forge Bridge to slow down the advancing Union cavalry. Pressed against time, the Confederate army could not afford to use its resources for such a task. The Old Forge Bridge was just built in 1863 and spans over the Antietam Creek.
To the south of Hagerstown there are several stone bridges. Two of them span the Antietam Creek in Funkstown. Funkstown witnessed a battle that was fought on July 10th, 1863 as the Confederate army was concentrated in Hagerstown. Located on the National Pike is the Funkstown Turnpike Bridge that was built in 1823. The second bridge, which was built in 1833, is located on East Oak Ridge Road just east of the National Road.
Located to the south of Funkstown there are three more bridges that span over the Antietam Creek. Claggett’s Mill Bridge built in 1840, Claggett’s Mill Race Bridge built in 1841, and Rose’s Mill Bridge that was built 1839. Although there is no documentation of any major actions occurring near these stone bridges, it wouldn’t surprise me if Union cavalry or Confederate cavalry patrols made their way over these bridges following the Battle of Gettysburg.
Located near Boonsboro, Maryland are three other bridges that span over the Antietam Creek. The Devil’s Backbone Bridge, where Union General George Meade encamped at is only a few miles from the site of the Jones’ Crossroads skirmish site. Devil’s Backbone Bridge was built in 1824 and is a regional Washington County Park. Booth’s Mill Bridge was built in 1833, and is located near the Devil’s Backbone Bridge. Also located in this vicinity is Roxbury Mills Bridge that was built in 1824.
Keedysville, located south of Boonsboro, is home to three bridges that span the Antietam Creek and were used during the Maryland Campaign of 1862. Many of the grist mills and saw mills were used as make-shift hospitals after the Battle of Antietam. The Hitt Bridge, known as the upper bridge, was built in 1830, and is located just west of Keedysville. The Pry’s Mill Bridge was built in 1858, and the Felfoot Bridge was built in 1854, both are located in Keedysville.
Two bridges near Sharpsburg soon saw the wrath of the Civil War battle known as the bloodiest single day of the Civil War, the Battle of Antietam. The Burnside Bridge as it is known today, was called the Rohersbach Bridge that was built in 1834. Outside of Sharpsburg on the Harper’s Ferry Road is Antietam Ironworks Bridge that was built in 1832. South of Antietam Iron Works is the Antietam Aqueduct that was built in 1834.
Located west of the Antietam Creek is Conococheague Creek. This creek comes down from Pennsylvania and enters Maryland where is flows under five stone bridges in Washington County Maryland. Just as those stone bridges where the Antietam Creek flows, these five bridges also bare witness to Civil War activity. Located on the Greencastle Turnpike near Cearfoss is the Price’s Ford, or Greencastle Bridge that was built in 1822. It was reported that Confederate soldiers marched across this bridge on July 5th with General John Imboden’s wagon train of wounded. However, this bridge is located a short distance from the turnpike that many Confederate soldiers marched upon as they were preparing to enter Pennsylvania.
Although too far from the line of the Confederate Retreat from Gettysburg, Broadfording Bridge built in 1829, and Wilson’s Bridge built in 1819 may have witnessed troops moving over them during other times of the Civil War. The last two bridges I want to briefly go over are located near Williamsport, Maryland.
The Conococheague Bridge built in 1829, was one of the most strategic bridges in Washington County during the Civil War. From here one can clearly see the city of Williamsport. From here the Potomac River is about one mile away. The Conococheague Aqueduct Bridge was built in 1834. This bridge has overcome many odds including a Confederate bombardment.
Sometimes to fully experience Civil War history, you need to leave the battlefield and see those sites and areas that so many soldiers vividly describe in their letters. Bridges do just that. Listen to the creek flow, enjoy the peace that the scenery has to offer, and imagine for one minute that there were several hundred troops marching across that same bridge.
Before these bridges were built, and fords were used, these areas also hold roots in the French and Indian War. The areas where the Devils Backbone Bridge and Hitt Bridge are located at were where General Edward Braddock and Colonel George Washington crossed the Antietam and the ford located near Felfoot Bridge was a staging area for supplies for Braddock’s Army.
Images courtesy of the LOC