The town of Thurmont in the U.S. state of Maryland is located on U.S, Route 15 between Frederick to the south and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to the north. The town’s claim to fame is the home of Camp David, the famous retreat of the President of the United States of America. (Camp David is not open to the public.) Just south of this town is the ruins of an old iron furnace known as the Catoctin Iron Furnace. The furnace gets its name from nearby Catoctin Mountain. What is special about these ruins? Well, of course, it was once a working iron furnace. It was originally owned by Thomas Johnson and his brothers. Who was Thomas Johnson? He was the former governor of the U.S. state of Maryland. It was here where shells were made and sent to Yorktown, Virginia and were used to secure the victory for the United States of America during the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Yorktown. Today, the ruins of the furnace is part of a village that also includes the ruins of the Ironmaster’s Mansion, the Collier’s Log House which houses the headquarters of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society the runs the site, a restored Forgeman’s House, the Museum of the Iron Worker housed in a restored iron worker’s house, and the Harriet Chapel which is still an active church today. Today, you can visit the furnace and museum and get a great glimpse into the life of the furnace.
Some of you are saying, “This is nice. A furnace that helped America’s independence. With all of this, there is one problem. There is no railroad here. Therefore, I will not be forging a visit here.”
Today, there is no railroad here. That was not the case when the furnace was in operation.
As you arrive at the ruins of the furnace, you will see, of course, what remains of the furnace. You will see the remains of the mansion. You will not see train tracks. On the grounds itself, it will be hard to find evidence of a railroad bed, but on the east side of Maryland Route 806, you will see power lines that go along what looks like an old railroad bed. This is the old railroad bed of the Monocacy Valley Railroad. The railroad paralleled present day Maryland Route 806 running north and south with a short spur line that went to the furnace. The railroad which was built specifically for the Catoctin Furnace connected to the Western Maryland Railroad in the town center. (That line is still in use today.) The line was doomed when a railroad line was built between Frederick and Gettysburg giving quicker access between Washington D.C. and Gettysburg. There was also a small railroad that connected the furnace to a nearby ore pit.
Today, as mentioned, the furnace is in ruins. It is located on Maryland Route 806 just of U.S. Route 15. The grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. The Museum of the Ironworker is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00am to 2:00pm. (Wednesday to Sunday during the summer.) Inside, you will see the rails used on the ore pit railroad and the cart that was pulled on the rails. It is owned and operated by the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. Admission is free, but they will gladly accept any donation to keep the museum operational for many years to come. You can learn more about the furnace and their upcoming events at www.catoctinfurnace.org.
When enroute between Frederick, Maryland and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, make a detour to see the Catoctin Iron Furnace. It may not be as ruined as you think.
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