You have heard of Gathland State Park in Burkittsville, Maryland. You probably would not think you did, but if you have heard of the Blair Witch Project, then you have heard Gathland State Park as this is where the Blair Witch Project took place. It was the mountain home of George Alfred Townsend, a Civil War journalist who bought the land in 1884 because of its proximity to the Antietam Battlefield and because of the South Mountain Battlefield of which a portion of the battlefield is within the park boundaries. The property consisted of close to twenty structures. The name of the park comes from his initials ‘G.A.T.’ with the ‘H’ on the end. Today, two of the remaining structures are a museum depicting the Battle of South Mountain, the first major Civil War battle in the state of Maryland that is often overshadowed by a more famous battle at Antietam which is to the west. There is also the Civil War Correspondents Memorial Arch which is the main attraction to the park. There are also a few ruins of structures to include a mausoleum, and for you hikers you can walk the Appalachian Trail which passes through the park right past the historic area. Everywhere you step in this park you will be stepping on history.
Now some of you are saying, “That is so amazing. There is so much history here, but there is no railroad here. With the Blair Witch here and no railroad here, you will not see me here either.”
You have a great point. With all of the history in this park, there is no railroad. There is just the main road that runs through the park plus a road that runs north plus the Appalachian Trail, but there is absolutely no railroad in this park. Therefore, you have no reason to visit this park, and, of course, the famous Blair Witch will frighten you away anyway, but since there is no railroad here, you will not be coming here anyway.
What does the railroad have to do with Gathland State Park or with the Battle of South Mountain? That is a very interesting question. There was never a railroad here nor are there any future plans to build one here. Here is the answer to the question.
Gathland State Park is on Gapland Road with Arnoldtown Road running north. Go east on Gapland Road, and you will come to the town of Burkittsville. It is a small town with few people. Go west and you will cross Maryland Route 67 and find yourself in the small town of Gapland. Other that a small park, the town does not look like it has much of anything, but you drive on, and you notice a little long hump with trees growing on top. You begin to think that it looks like it may be a railroad bed. That is because it is a railroad bed.
When George Alfred Townsend traveled to and from his mountain home, he did so by way of the railroad in Gapland. He would ride down to the town and take the train to anywhere he needed to go. The line was a spur line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that eventually connected to a main line that ran through Maryland. Today, it is mainly overgrown with trees, but you could visit the town of Keedysville and see the ruins of one of the trestles.
Gathland State Park is located on Gapland Road one mile west of the town of Burkittsville and Maryland Route 17 and town miles east of Gapland and Maryland Route 67. The museum is open in the spring, the summer and the fall but closed in the winter. The park itself is open year around with the Appalachian Trail accessible day and night. Admission to the museum is free, and parking is available on site. You can get more information about the park and the history at http://dnr.maryland.gov/publiclands/Pages/western/gathland.aspx.
The next time you are driving around and see signs for Gathland State Park, do not think of it as another state park. Think of it as a home of a man who made great use of the railroad. Oh! Do not worry about the Blair Witch. She will not bother you.