A Z4 Tour of Maryland Relics


Well, yes—I suppose I do qualify as a “Maryland Relic” myself… 😮 But that’s not the point of this report. This is about a BMW trip through some lesser-known parts of Maryland and the numerous old places that are rapidly disappearing. And a few that are still thriving.

I made this trip back on July 22, but work pressures have kept me from writing it up until now. I started in the vicinity of Randallstown, MD, darting off of Liberty Road in my never-ending search for scenery and history (or what was left of it). Although Maryland is a relatively prosperous State, as States go these days, there were still plenty of signs of abandonment, including houses, barns, and even entire industrial plants.

On the other hand, the Moses Brown house has survived intact from 1785 (the log section on the left) and 1814 (the stone part on the right). The addition was presumably built to help accommodate Moses, his wife, and all 10 of their children without undue crowding. (Historical photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Near Eldersburg, I was pleased to find the 1822 Wesley Chapel in fine shape and complete with a well-tended cemetery. Carroll County, MD was the birthplace of Methodism in the U.S., back in 1760, and this chapel was built by one of the first Methodist congregations in the county.

I next went in search of the historic Andrew Frizzell house—but all I could see without Serious Trespassing was its historic driveway and barn. The house sits a ways south of Frizzelburg, which, in case you were wondering, was named after early resident Nimrod Frizzell in about 1814. Despite an epic effort, I was unable to determine the family relationship between Nimrod and Andrew (but I’m sure it would make a wonderful musical).

And did you know that Frizzelburg never appeared on any maps until 1952, when Pappy Berwager’s house was struck by lightning, burned down, and was rebuilt by the friendly townsfolks, leading to an article in the Baltimore Sun, and broader recognition of the town? (Honest—I wouldn’t make up something like that. 🙂 )

Carroll County has many farms, and it’s not unusual to find scenic spots such as this one:

A slight detour from my planned route brought me to Unionville (not to be confused with the nearby Uniontown, Union Bridge, or Union Mills). It was a pleasant-enough little place, and I parked next to the abandoned Unionville Creamery while I walked around for photos. I soon found a combination of imposing stone homes and collapsing wood frame buildings. Did I mention that on the Fourth of July in 1956, 1.23 inches of rain fell on Unionville in the space of a single minute, setting a world’s record that stood for many years? (The Caribbean island of Guadeloupe now holds it, for 1.50 inches in 1970.)

I’d previously been to the stately LeGore Bridge across the Monocacy River, with my motorcycling buddy Tim. But I wanted to return and see whether I could get a photo of it from either upstream or downstream. Here’s the “normal” photo, from the bridge itself:

And here’s the path I took—just for all of my faithful readers!—to reach an upstream vantage point. No, I didn’t drive the Z4 through this mud pit, but I did walk there. Hmmph—I hope you’re grateful!

As you can imagine, it had rained heavily in this area on the prior day. There were still lots of slightly ominous-looking clouds rolling through, but that’s a plus. Photos are far more interesting with lots of clouds in them.

It’s well known that most West Virginia homes have junk cars in their front yards. Maryland, being so prosperous, generally has junk Porsches in people’s front yards.

By now I’d moved into Frederick County, as I continued westward. Many of its hundreds of dairy farms are still active.

I grew up in Frederick, MD, not far from Creagerstown. Somehow, though, I’d never toured C’town before. In the space of a little over one block, I found the 1866 Union Bethel Chapel, which has not been used in many decades but which still has electric candles burning…

…and also the original 1834 St. John’s Lutheran Church and cemetery. This church’s Lutheran and German Reformed congregations divided in 1916, with the latter building their own church right next door to the existing one. (And I thought only Baptists did that sort of thing…)

The Moravian Church was formed by the Hussites, who were followers of Jan Hus, a Czech Roman Catholic priest who was burned at the stake in 1415 for heresy in the Kingdom of Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic). In 1735, Moravian missionaries came to America, founded Bethleham, PA, and established other church-based settlements in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland. One such settlement was Graceham, MD, created by George Nieke and his wife in the 1740s. The front part of this church was built in 1797 and served as the community’s meeting house, kitchen, and a residence. The larger part was added in 1822. Graceham remains the only active Moravian community left in Maryland.

Back when I was growing up in Frederick, it was a Spring ritual for 6th graders to spend a week at Camp Greentop in the Catoctin Mountains. During my week there, in 1960, we all had a great time—until one of the camp counselors brought an incredibly virulent stomach virus to Camp Greentop from nearby Thurmont, MD. It rapidly spread throughout the camp, affecting roughly two-thirds of us. I was so sick that I literally wanted to die. Thankfully, we all survived and even felt just fine after 24 hours or so.

For some reason, I thought it might be fun to see if I could find Camp Greentop on this trip. It was built during the Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration. Greentop was “Camp No. 2,” with No. 1 being Camp Misty Mount for Girl Scouts and No. 3 being Camp Hi-Catoctin due to its elevation. Greentop originally served as a camp for the Baltimore League for Crippled Children, becoming in the process one of the first handicapped-accessible facilities in the country. The dining hall at Greentop used to look like this (which is how I remember it from my misspent youth; it later burned and was replaced by a more modern facility).

I found this photo of Baltimore League children enjoying the camp at the wonderful Robert S. Kinnaird Collection of Historic Thurmont Photographs.

Driving around the old place, I recognized the swimming pool and a number of the cabins. They’re still in use today for children’s groups. (Interior photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Did I mention that Camp No. 3 was later expanded and used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as his “Shangri-La,” and was eventually called Camp David by President Dwight D. Eisenhower after his grandson?

On the other side of the mountain, one can find “Caboose Farm.” The farmhouse was originally a school, from about 1860.

Beautiful old stone houses such as this one show up everywhere you look in rural Maryland. I couldn’t see any signs of active use for this one, but it appeared quite livable.

And that brings us to the mystery of the “Peter of P. Grossnickle Farm.” As shown in the photo, it’s a beautiful old farm dating from the early 1800s, with an elegant stone farmhouse, log outbuilding, and numerous other old barns and other historic structures, all on a rolling hillside setting. Very nice. But who was “Peter of P. Grossnickle”? As best I can tell, he was born in February 1786, died in August 1863, and was named “Peter of P.” to distinguish him from someone (a cousin, probably) named “Peter of John” Grossnickle. I guess back in the days before TV, cell phones, iPods, and Facebook, one of the few entertainments in life was choosing children’s names. Regardless, he seems to have lived a long and prosperous life as a farmer.

Nearby, I was taken by this lily-filled pond and the little smokehouse that seemed to be sprouting trees.

Still being in Grossnickle territory—the family having settled here in 1756 after emigrating from their native Germany—I naturally ran across the Grossnickle Church of the Brethren. It was built in 1889, replacing an earlier meeting house from 1847. I strongly suspect that Peter of P. is buried here somewhere.

Everywhere I looked, I found something interesting—whether a stately hilltop mansion, collapsing barns, a smokehouse, … or the tub of an SCCA Formula Vee race car sitting in someone’s front yard, undergoing repair or renovation.

By now I’d reached Middletown Valley in Frederick County, home of numerous motorcycle jaunts following my graduation from high school. (In fact, one of my high school chums, Carol Grossnickle, used to tease me unmercifully about being 6 feet, 6 inches tall and riding a 100cc Yamaha.) (I should have asked her who the heck Peter of P. was!) Anyway, back in those halcyon days, I “discovered” this very rare steel “bowspring arch” bridge over Catoctin Creek and the long-forgotten, overgrown dirt road that ran straight up the side of the mountain. Back in those days, Catoctin Creek had enough water for canoeing, but those days are sadly gone.

Many of the old estates in this area had carriage houses. This one remains in excellent condition—and even houses a collection of historic carriages.

John Shafer, Jr. and his son Peter Shafer operated mills in the Middletown area in the late 1700s through the mid-1800s. John Jr. built this house in about 1820, and it’s been called “Shafer’s Mill” ever since, even though it is not a mill. The house sat abandoned for many years but now appears to have undergone renovation and stabilization.

Mountville Road outside of Jefferson, MD offers a nice panoramic view of Middletown Valley. That big notch in South Mountain, at the left side of the photo, is where the Potomac River carves its way through the mountain, creating Harpers Ferry in the process.

Among the places I was hoping to find on this trip was the original Carrollton Manor, built by Charles Carroll in 1764. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, “Charles Carroll of Carrollton Manor” never actually lived here except for brief visits. His eldest daughter married Richard Caton—who founded Catonsville, which has been my home now for 41 years—and they in turn produced “the three American Graces.” Their daughters Marianne, Louisa Catherine, and Elizabeth all married British nobles (and, incidentally, made a lot of money from the Carrollton Manor Farms). Charles Carroll’s favorite granddaughter, Marianna, lived in the manor house but for only a few years before fleeing to Baltimore to escape a cholera epidemic. Eventually, the manor became little more than a turkey coop (literally) before Mr. and Mrs. Pascal Renn bought it in 1949 and lovingly restored it to its original condition.

I tried finding Carrollton Manor from the south without success. Then I tried from the north. I was closing in on it, when a long turnpike-style metal pole blocked my way. From at least a quarter mile away, I managed this photo of the northern end of the manor. The manor pales in comparison to Doughoregan, the Carroll family’s 1727 masterpiece, but it’s still an important part of the family history.

St. Joseph’s church has served the Carrollton Manor area since the early 1800s. The present church was built in 1871 with funds donated by Charles Carroll’s great-granddaughter, Emily Louisa Harper. Unlike the manor, which is now owned by the Alcoa aluminum company, the church welcomes visitors.

These railroad tracks lead away from the Alcoa plant. It’s as far as I got in my attempt to reach the manor.

I had a lot more luck with Buckingham House. Originally a large plantation dating from the mid-1700s, an industrial school was built here in the 1870s and trained Frederick County boys until its closure in 1944. A number of prehistoric Native American archaeological sites from as early as 4000 BC have been found on its grounds. The complex now serves as a educational and recreational facility for disadvantaged kids in Maryland. On the day I visited, its staff was having their annual summer picnic. They welcomed me to the school, offered me fried chicken and other goodies, and invited me to look around to my heart’s content. Was I a happy camper or what!

The original Buckingham plantation house is situated on the east side of the main school building.

Buckeystown, MD was once a prosperous mill town. It’s much quieter today, but its numerous mansions remain, as does its old general store.

The Buckeystown Dam was built long ago to help supply a steady stream of water power to the town’s mills. By the late 1950s, floods had largely destroyed the dam. In an historical conservation project, the Monocacy Canoe Club rebuilt the dam—with the help of an 11-year-old me, my older brother Curt, and our Dad Wally, who co-founded the canoe club. The reconstructed dam is still doing nicely after all these years, although the heavy rains from the prior day raised the Monocacy’s water level to the point that it largely covered the dam. It seems to have made for a great day of tubing, for the sufficiently brave.

As I wended my way back toward Catonsville, I passed through Urbana, MD on route 80 and decided to try to find the historic Stancioff House. It was originally located near Fredericksburg, Virginia, on the banks of the Rappahannock River. In 1846 it was disassembled, floated on a barge down the Rappahannock, then up the Potomac, and reassembled at its present location by the Reverend R.H. Phillips, who used it to establish a women’s seminary. In an odd Twist o’ Fate, it soon became a men’s military academy for a while and then reverted to the female seminary. It was occupied by both Confederate and Union troops within a few days of each other during the Civil War, with each set of troops writing insulting messages on the walls regarding Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, respectively.

On this day, I fruitlessly circled the busy Urbana streets multiple times, looking for any sight of the house. Eventually, GPS in hand, I parked at the back of a shopping center, hiked up and along a ridge, and—surprisingly—found the Stancioff House exactly where I hoped it might be! Of course, I was now at the back of the house, which isn’t nearly as scenic as the front, but I found it all the same.

From Urbana, I passed by another site of my misspent youth—the once-famous 75-80 Drag-a-Way. I was surprised to find that the dragstrip, which had closed its doors several years ago, was now open for business again. Not only that, the gates were open. I didn’t take the Z4 on any quarter-mile runs, although I admit to being tempted since no one was around!

As I hurried on home, I tried to find the 1740 Peacefield House or “Round About Hills” as it is also known. The Evil Twins (Garmin and Google) helpfully routed me to the official address, where I could find no sign of it. Later research indicates that it’s actually a good quarter mile south of where I expected to find it. Anyway, I never did locate it, but I found these interesting sights in the process:

With a slight detour from home, to seek out my all-time favorite abandoned mansion, I first happened across the Beatty-Cramer House. It’s one of the very oldest buildings still standing in Frederick County, on the banks of Israel Creek. The Beatty portion of the house dates back to 1732, while the Cramer addition came along in 1855. (Both parts are enclosed within the current siding.) It’s now owned by the county and available for tours, but it could use a bit of renovation. The spring house is visible in this picture to the left.

As longtime readers may remember, my favorite abandoned mansion sits on the banks of Sam’s Creek. It’s a very large parcel of land, with the mansion, an annex-like house, and numerous barns and other outbuildings. This is what the place looked like some years ago, in winter.

On this trip, however, all I could see was a gigantic, vine-covered, near-invisible structure. If you look carefully, you’ll see the front of the entranceway—and that’s about it! I’m afraid this place will soon be pulled to pieces by the vines, but I’ll be back again to check on its status.

All told, the trip was roughly 200 miles of pure motoring pleasure, on a perfect day, and with beauty everywhere I looked. And what better way to pursue such a day than with a “proper motorcar,” as the Brits would say: A BMW Z4 roadster!

Rick F.


Written by Rick

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