Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ferry Hill Place visit

Yesterday rangers Clayton, Maura, and I had an experience that would have been certainly unique if not impossible in previous years.  We toured the home of Shepherdstown luminary, Confederate veteran, and staff member to Stonewall Jackson; Henry Kyd Douglas.  His beautiful ancestral home Ferry hill Place, a property of the National Park Service is now open to the public on weekends.  And man, is it a cool place.

The home, now operated by the C&O Canal National Historic Park of the National Park Service, was built around 1810 by a local farmer and all-around wealthy guy; John Blackford.  Mr. Blackford made it big both in farming, at which he was very successful, and in transportation, owning the ferry that connected Sharpsburg (and Boonsboro beyond) with Shepherdstown.

When the C&O canal arrived in the area along with the packet boat traffic on the river Mr. Blackfords' interests and riches increased exponentially.  Needless to say things were going well for him financially.

Upon his death in 1839 the house was bought by son-in-law Reverend Robert Douglas in 1848.  Mr Douglas raised three children in the house including the famous author of "I Rode with Stonewall" Henry Kyd Douglas.  

Upon becoming a Ranger at Antietam the Kyd Douglas' book is one of the first I purchased. It is well written, informative, and must be taken with a large grain of salt.  Seems the very popular and erudite Henry was quite the raconteur after the war and delighted folks with his tales of rebel daring and yankee incompetence, insisting as he did, that the yankees could have crossed Antietam Creek (below) with merely "a hop, skip, and a jump". 

Hmmm. Looks to me like that'd take a heck of a skip not to mention a herculean hop and jump.

Nonetheless, young Henry distinguished himself during the war and when peace returned he became a leading citizen and practitioner of law in nearby Hagerstown.

Anyone who has crossed the Potomac at Shepherdstown has seen the magnificent house that is Ferry Hill, and yesterday was finally the opportunity for we three Antietam Rangers to go have a long-wished-for look inside.  (Clayton and Maura in the yard of the house)

Rangers Leslie and Curt were our gracious hosts (Leslie was our guide) and gave us a wonderful 45 minute tour of the home. Believe me we'd have stayed much longer if we could have.

For as spectacular as the exterior of the house is, including the view from the front yard... the interior is exquisite. 

And begins as soon as you walk through the magnificent front door.

The first thing the visitor is greeted with today, as in the 1850s is that incredible, sweeping staircase that holds court over the front hallway...

here, being ascended by C&O volunteer Mr. Beckenbaugh who is a descendant of Henry Kyd Douglas' sister's family.

Although sans furnishings, the house is filled with the grand detail that one would expect.

From beautifully cast door furniture...

and elegant mantle pieces,

to cast-iron escutcheoned plates within the fireplaces to reflect the heat,

to incredible built ins...  

The house is absolutely a haven of light and elegance (as in simple beauty) for anyone who had been privileged enough to have lived there.

The house is loaded with surprises too, not everything is as it seems:
Faux painting abounds.

From the baseboards painted to look like marble...

to the iron banister spindles with their painted wood grain...

to the very simple mortised and tenioned doors painted to simulate more expensive woods with an even higher degree of craftsmanship. Much, if not all of this work was performed by some of the nearly 25, often highly skilled, enslaved workers that were kept by the household.

Even amid this splendor comes the sobering reminder that its often too easy to forget that much of the magnificence of this country was built on the backs of the disenfranchised.

All of these elements were done extremely well by a very talented artisan. Maura reports that the Sherrick house on the Antietam battlefield has similar such faux embellishments.

Though the house is bare it seems filled with, if not the presence of those who lived and worked there, then certainly, at least, with an aura of history and great and sometimes troubled times.

Walking the hallways, one can just imagine the grand entertaining that this house had become known for.

Here is the childhood room of Henry Kyd Douglas himself, his Confederate leanings doubtless influenced by the detrimental effects of modern fluorescent lighting!

Kyd Douglas' room, though bare, is also filled with history and great character, like this worm scarred floor board:

The Kitchen dependencies and magnificent porch, we weren't able to visit as our time grew so short.

But for vacationers to the Sharpsburg /Shepherdstown area this historic home is waiting for you to come a-calling, every Saturday and Sunday from ten a.m. until four p.m. throughout the Summer months.

The beautiful Ferry Hill Place as well at the wonderful C &O canal below, are simply two more delightful ways for you to...

"Experience Your America"

Now I've got to get back to the battlefield before I start going through cannon withdrawal!

Best wishes from Washington County,

Ranger Mannie


Anonymous said...

Mannie, once again thank you for that behind the scenes look at a great historical structure! I've been there many times but have only walked around the outside of the home. It was really nice seeing your pics of the inside of that great american home!


mannie said...


You're entirely welcome. Here's something that I'm very aware of: I get to routinely have access to some very cool things that for a variety of sound reasons most other people don't get to experience.

One of my goals in writing this blog is to share those experiences, whether its the view from the trap door in the roof of the Pry House or a camera positioned between the wheels of a ten pounder when it fires, those are the types of behind -the-scenes park experiences that I really want to share with readers of this blog.

Do not, however, expect to ever see me on a horse.


Steve Basic said...


Yet another fascinating post on the blog. Had no idea that the NPS ownded the site, and while I can't get down there as I used to be able to, I thank you for posting stuff I have to see.

Not sure if folks remember the CW musical from the late 90's, but one of the songs was "The Day The Sun Stood Still" which alludes to what Henry saw at the Battle of Antietam. Song was recorded bt Travis Tritt, and actually heard it live when I attended a concert of his here in the Garden State a few years ago.

Thanks for sharing your latest adventure with us.

Hope you are feeling better as well.

Regards from the Garden State,

Steve Basic

HankC said...

Ranger Mannie,

I must be wrong, but at some point in his book 'Stonewall rode with me' I thought HKD recounted the burning of his home.


mannie said...


I like your take on autobiography.

It wasn't the family house that was burned, it was a large part of the family livelihood that was put to the torch.

The big, covered toll bridge that crossed the Potomac, within view of the front porch of the house was burned at the very beginning of the war to deny that crossing to the Yankees.

Henry Kyd Douglas' father was the major stockholder in that very profitable bridge.

Henry Kyd Douglas was the dutiful young Confederate who set his father's bridge ablaze.

Way different then the time you put a dent in the fender of your dad's Buick, wouldn't you agree?

Best wishes and thanks for the comment.


Gerri said...

Mannie, you should have seen Ferry Hill Place with furniture when the Morrison family owned it. It was very beautiful. I even had the opportunity to stay over night as a friend in one of the bedrooms. The food at the restaurant was excellent.

Brian Paulus said...

Yes, Rick Morrison is a friend of mine and he lived there from 1951-1978. We stopped by on 1-10-15 and visited his former home and I am very impressed with not only the house but its scenic location, however I just don't understand why the NPS purchased this structure and have now left it unoccupied. The front porch with its towering columns needs work above as birds have taken up refuge as the porch roof ceiling is deteriorating. Trees have grown so high that areas that were once visible from the home when Rick lived can no longer be seen, such as trains across the Potomac. I would think that the NPS would rent out this house(with strict guidelines)like they do with the Moore House that also overlooks the C&O Canal in Oldtown.