Our family has come to the opinion that the state park land where our farm is located, is the most interesting Maryland State Park to hike and explore. As curators of the Mackintosh Farmhouse we felt that it was important that we find out the history of the Monocacy Natural Resource Management Area (MNRMA). We did not expect to find much. What we found is fascinating. The MNRMA is a treasure for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
By a casual observation of the property, it appears to be an undeveloped woodland in the Washington DC metropolitan region, that was saved from development by the park system. However, unlike most of the metropolitan area that is more developed today than any time in history, this area was much more densely populated 200+ years ago. It was a thriving community completely cleared of trees. At least five old roads dating back to the late 1700’s can still be seen in the woods on the east side of the Monocacy River. Most of the current trails follow some of these old roads. As you hike the old roads you realize that this land was touched by other human beings hundreds of years before. What was life like for them? What did the area look like then?
Monnockessy Indian Towne
In 1712, the Tuscarora Indians built a large town on the southern part of the Monocacy Natural Resource Management Area (MNRMA) south of Route 28. This is one of the few known Indian towns located in Maryland. The town was located on the west bank of the Monocacy river and spread 1 1/2 miles to the west. Most of the lodges in the village were round forms constructed of poles covered with birch bark and pine branches. Some of the Indians lived in wigwams. They planted lots of maize (corn) with some of the lodges having as much as 300 bushels at a time. The Tuscarora Indians were traders. They traded with other Indian tribes and traded the skins with white traders. There were often 3-5 white traders living in the village. By 1738, the Tuscarora Indians had moved out. Our family has not yet explored this area of the park.
Indian Camp Sites?
Hiking through the woods, not following any trail, we found what are possible old Indian campsites located along Furnace Creek which is on the opposite side of the Monocacy River from the Monnockessy Indian Towne. They are huge rock outcroppings near the creek.
Johnson Iron Furnace – Maryland Historical Trust site #F-7-9
The Johnson Iron Furnace site is located in the MNRMA close to the parking lot on Route 28. All that remains now are some holes in the ground and some terracing into the hillside. The Johnson Furnace was built in 1787 by the Johnson brothers who also owned the Catoctin Iron Furnace which is also part of the Catoctin State Park. The Johnson Furnace produced 12-15 tons of iron a week, and employed both free and slave blacks, and also white men. About one acre of woods was required per day to make charcoal to feed the furnace. The furnace continued operation until about 1822. By the time the furnace ceased operating, several thousand surrounding acres had been totally cleared of trees.
There are numerous old roads that can still be clearly seen in the woods that probably date back to the late 1700’s or before. Along some of these old roads, we found what appears to be old house sites. The same year that the Johnson Furnace started, 1787, the Amelung Glass factory, four miles north, also started production. The Amelung Glass factory employed 340+ workers, had several stores, a doctor, and a blacksmith. The Johnson Iron Furnace employed probably over 100 workers. This accounts for the numerous roads. The road that went from the Johnson Furnace to the Amelung Glass factory, went past the Mackintosh Farmhouse (our house). You can see the old road bed between our house and the red shed. It is over grown with brush and we would like to clear it out at some point.
There is a stone structure that some call a lime kiln, others call it a furnace. It is in need of identification and preservation. To the best of our knowledge, it is not listed on the Maryland Historic Trust list of historic structures. The Lime Kiln is located some distance from the Johnson Iron Furnace.
Old School Site
The C.O. Titus map of 1873 shows a school located in the MNRMA. We found a stone wall in the woods located next to the old school site. There are no visible remains of the school.
There is also the remains of an old school at the end of Ed Sears Rd. across from our lane. It is located on private property about 100 feet from the road just outside the MNRMA. The presence of two schools located about a mile apart, shows that there was a much larger community that existed years ago.
Quarry for the Monocacy Aqueduct
There is a quarry site located in the MNRMA where stone was quarried to build the Monocacy Aqueduct on the C&O canal. You can still see channels cut into the rock where they drilled to blast the rock and cut it into big blocks.
One of the First Railroads In America
The site of one of the first railroads in America is located in the MNRMA. A railroad was built from the stone quarry to the Monocacy Aqueduct to transport the huge blocks of stone. It was a horse drawn railroad.
At the end of Dr. Belt Road on another curatorship property owned by the park system is a unique stone silo. It has a ring of holes two thirds of the way up the silo. Holes in a silo will cause the silage to rot. Therefore these holes are not there because it is a silo. It appears to have been built as a lookout/fort during the civil war. It is located on a high spot overlooking the Potomac River and into Virginia. It would have had a clear view for quite a distance up and down the Potomac River.
There is much more to research and to find out. Unfortunately, the history of the Monocacy Natural Resource Area has not been documented with signs for anyone hiking in the park. Most people probably hike through not realizing what all is there. But then it also means that this is a place to explore and discover its hidden history. For pictures of the structures and old roads we found, you can visit the photo gallery on our farm website.
Trail maps can be found on the following web pages: http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/MonocacyNRA_8872.asp and http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/MonocacyLongTrail_8872.asp
The history of the MNRMA is not the only only reason that we think that this is a very interesting park to hike and explore. As we mentioned earlier, there are a lot of different kinds of birds, especially in the area surrounding our farm. We never had this many birds at our other farm. Most of the trails are fairly easy to hike. Very few people know about this park and the trails here, so it is a great place to get alone and enjoy the woods, the wildflowers, wildlife, etc. and many times never see another human being. All this, so close to Washington DC.