No Wine, Lots of Snow–A Tour of Northeast Maryland

 

On February 21, I managed to fit a Z4 trip in-between mountains of snow and even more mountains of work. With all the bad weather for the prior few weeks, I was anxious for the chance to get out again and to explore Northeast Maryland. Despite a month’s layoff, the Z4’s tires were at the correct pressures, and the engine started immediately. The car seemed just as eager to hit the road as I was.

Leaving the Baltimore area on Harford Road, it wasn’t long before enticing snow scenes began to appear, including this wintry hilltop…

…and this little stream that refused to succumb to winter and freeze over.

My first destination was an 1850 school for boys, which is now a “juvenile training school” (a euphemism for a detention facility, which is itself a euphemism for a jail). Upon arrival, I was met with yards and yards of razor wire, dull institutional-looking detention wards, and no sign of the historic school. Ignoring various signs that suggested I ought to be some other place, I set off along a very narrow road bordered by tall snowbanks to see if I could locate the original buildings. Failing miserably, I instead located a power plant with a closed gate across the entrance—and no place to turn around. Accordingly, I carefully backed my way out of the mile-long drive and tried the other direction. There, I promptly encountered a manned checkpoint, Major Guns and all. The helpful guard told me that I ought to be some other place. So far, my trip was not off to a good start.

Next stop was the Boordy Winery. The vineyards in this part of Maryland date back as far as the late 1600s, and the Boordy Winery is world famous (just ask them!). I found it without difficult and enjoyed looking around—but it didn’t open for another 2 1/2 hours. So much for my intent to buy a few bottles of their wine, and Strike Two for the trip! Fortunately the rest of my Northeast Maryland was just fine. At least the winery was stately looking…

…had scenic old dwellings nearby…

…and, with no one else around, offered plenty of parking despite all the snow.

Continuing on, I ran across this beautiful old home. It was representative of the dozens of stone mansions that I would encounter that day.

Of course, not every place has held up quite so well. I’m not sure what this brick structure in Fallston, MD used to be—but it certainly fit right into its bleak, winter surroundings.

Despite the snow and the Dread Fact of Winter, the morning had warmed up to a good 40 degrees, and I’d had the top down since backing out of the juvenile detention power plant driveway. Every so often, a stiff breeze would blow overtop of all the snow and find its way directly into the cockpit of the Z4. I missed my nice, warm Arai helmet and Gerbings heated jacket liner!

Next, I was in search of the Bonair mansion, reputed to resemble a chateau on the Loire River in France. It was built in 1794 by a French officer who had come to America with General Rochambeau in support of the American Revolution. He apparently liked it here. There was no sign of the home from the road, but on my second pass I spotted what looked like a public road (path, really), disappearing over the top of a steep, muddy hill. Once I was on said path, there was no turning around. It was hard enough in places just to make forward progress.

Eventually, I came to Bonair itself. Since it’s a private residence, I quickly turned around (in the owner’s driveway, I’m afraid), grabbed a hasty picture, and slogged back through the mud. It was a nice-looking mansion but didn’t exactly resemble Chambord, Chenonçeau, or other Loire castles. Here’s the actual Bonair:

And here’s what I’d imagined:

But who knows what I’d find lurking around the next corner, right? On my way to see Medical Hall, what I found lurking were snowbanks that towered over the diminutive Z4. I’m glad I came long after the plowing was finished!

Medical Hall was built by Dr. John Archer in the late 1700s—after he had raised a company of men to help fight in the American Revolution and after he’d served in the U.S. Congress and run a medical school. These 18th century folks were no slackers.

Even more imposing, the Liriodendron mansion in Belair was build by another doctor, Howard Kelly, as a summer home. It’s now an upscale wedding and conference facility. Dr. Kelly went on to help found the Johns Hopkins medical school.

Tudor Hall proved to be much simpler and less ostentatious. It was the home of Junius Brutus Booth from its construction in 1846 to his death in 1852. Junius was a notable actor in his own right, as were his sons Edwin Thomas and John Wilkes… Ironically, Tudor Hall was built for Junius Brutus Booth by a James Gifford—who also built Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.

Passing south through Churchville, MD, on my way to Creswell, I happened upon an early Methodist meeting house, dating to 1821. As churches go, it was relatively plain, but it was also in excellent condition and holds regular services.

If there’s anything lonelier than a graveyard, it can only be a graveyard in winter…

Heading back north (in what was a somewhat random route), I encountered my favorite site of the trip—and entirely by accident. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a stately mansion in the distance. Doubling back, I discovered this stunning mansion on the grounds of the Harford Community Church. Despite my best efforts, however, I’ve not been able to find out anything about the place, other than it appears to be rented out by the church for conferences. Regardless of who built it and who lived there, it was magnificent.

As an unplanned part of my trip, and given that I was behind schedule, I decided to take a shortcut. Needless to say, I promptly took a wrong turn and ended up on another dirt road. Scenic, you understand, but dirt nonetheless.

Proving my hypothesis that “There’s No Old Road in This Part of Maryland That Doesn’t Have Something Interesting On It,” I discovered what looked to be an unusually elaborate mausoleum, sitting in a field of deep snow. It was marked “D.H. 1816.” After considerable Internet research, I learned that it’s the “D.H. Springhouse,” with a springhouse (naturally) downstairs and a one-room schoolhouse upstairs. It’s considered particularly notable because of its fine workmanship and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back on my proper route (the otherwise-uninteresting Route 1 toward the Conowingo Dam), I managed to locate the mid-1800s Wildsfell home near Darlington, MD. If you look carefully, you’ll see that it is octagonal and features an octagonal widow’s walk. Darlington itself looked interesting and deserved exploration, but I was running late and merely drove through it on the way to the Susquehanna River. Next time…

I made quick stops at the Deer Creek Friends Meeting House, with its separate doors for men and women…

…and Wilson’s Mill, which still stands proudly on the banks of Deer Creek. The exit of the mill race can be seen to the left of the mill. The miller’s house sat on the hill overlooking Deer Creek and the mill.

Further pleasant surprises appeared as I worked my way to Susquehanna State Park, including the impressive Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1817.

I went looking for the hexagonal stone Prospect Schoolhouse on Green Spring Road, but could not catch a glimpse of it anywhere. My exploration was rewarded, however, by this snowy stream and dam. (But I really wanted to see the schoolhouse. After all, how often would anyone run across an octagonal house and a hexagonal school all in the same day?)

The mighty Susquehanna River was clearly evident once I arrived at the state park. The deep snow made hiking along the old Susquehanna and Tidewater Canal banks quite difficult, but I made it as far as the toll house. (Okay, so it was only 100 feet or so…)

Rock Run Landing used to be a thriving community in the late 1700s, and a number of the old buildings still exist. The toll house adjoined the first bridge across the Susquehanna River—actually a series of four covered bridges that crossed the canal, the river to Wood Island, then more of the river to Kerry (Roberts) Island, and finally the rest of the river to Cecil County, MD, near Port Deposit. The whole works, including the roads across the islands, was approximately one mile. Many of the bridge’s stone support piers are still visible in the photo above, but the bridge itself was swept away by ice flows in 1856.

Rock Run Manor House was built by John Carter in 1804. It was later the home of General James J. Archer, before he resigned his command with the U.S. Army and joined the Confederates. He proved to be a fierce fighter and commander, despite poor health, but was captured at Gettysburg by the Union forces. He never made it back to Rock Run, dying of disease shortly after being exchanged back to the Confederacy. He was fortunate to have lived that long—16 years earlier, he had fought a duel in Texas and was wounded. His “second” at the duel was Thomas J. Jackson, later known as “Stonewall.”

This mill was built in 1794 (replacing an even older one) and, remarkably, kept operating until 1954. The water wheel weighs 12 tons but is so perfectly balanced that a force of only 2 pounds is sufficient to turn it.

After hiking around Rock Run Landing, it was time to head back to Catonsville. Despite the snowy breezes, it was a very pleasant day for top-down motoring (with the heat cranked up), and I had a great time looking for history and beauty among the snowbanks. When I arrived home, however, the poor Z4 practically begged me to wash off all the water, mud, and (egads) salt that had accumulated during the trip. When I finished, a satisfyingly handsome sports car emerged.

Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour, and let me know if you’re interested in the MapSource route.

Rick F.

Rick

Written by Rick

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