Astride the ridge known as South Mountain, near Burkittsville at Crampton's Gap, lies Gathland State Park. The home of an unusual man, Gathland was an architecturally unique estate made up of as many as 20 structures, many of them built of rugged stone, individual in purpose and design. A number of buildings still stand, and the remains of others may be seen by visitors to the park.
Born on January 30, 1841, George Alfred Townsend became the youngest war correspondent of the Civil War. He served both at home and abroad, and later became one of America's most important journalists and novelists of the Reconstruction Era. His pen name, Gath, from which the park derives its name, was formed by adding an H to his initials and was inspired by a biblical passage: (II Samuel 1:20) "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon."
In 1884 Townsend purchased a tract of land on South Mountain, an area particularly attractive to him because of its proximity to Antietam and other historical sites of the Civil War. Gathland State Park was the scene of a little known yet quite noteworthy confict, the Battle of South Mountain. Closely associated with this historical aspect, the natural beauty of the site and the imposing views of the valleys appealed to him.
Probably Townsend's most unique and certainly his most lasting architectural endeavor at Gathland is an unusual monument erected in 1896 as a memorial to his fellow war correspondents, featuring tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative and picture almost all the events of the four years of the war. The unusual monument was dedicated by Governor Lloyd Lowndes on October 16, 1896, and in 1904 was turned over to the U.S. War Department and later transferred to the National Park Service.
The planning, design and construction of buildings was a hobby with Townsend, and he pressed forward with plans to convert his mountainside into a retreat from the pressures of his strenuous writing schedule. Among his first efforts was Gapland Hall, built in 1885, soon after Townsend acquired the land, and enlarged at one time to include 11 rooms. Probably occupied by his wife, Bessie, this building was partially restored in 1958. The Den and Library Building was erected in 1890 -- it contained a large library, a study and writing room, and 10 upstairs bedrooms. The foundations of this building are still intact, but the walls have long since crumbled, and only fragments of the original building remain.
Gapland Lodge, built in 1885, was a stone building thought to have been used as servants' quarters. West of Gapland Hall are the remains of a mausoleum, built by Gath in 1895. A large bronzed dog graced the top of the tomb, and a white marble slab over the door bears the inscription "Good Night Gath." This building was perhaps intended to become Gath's final resting place but the dog was stolen. The mausoleum still stands. Townsend himself died in New York in 1914 and was buried in Philadelphia.
After Townsend's death on April 15, 1914, his daughter sold Gathland. In 1943 the property was purchased by a church group and used as a summer conference site. Later it was acquired by members of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc. On May 13, 1949, it was deeded to the State of Maryland to be administered as a State Park by the Department of Forests and Parks.
The park's museum includes exhibits on Townsend's personal life, Gathland's past and tells the story of the Battle of Crampton's Gap. A self-guided walking tour of the estate is available by contacting the park.
The Friends of South Mountain State Battlefield was formed to support the state's effort to protect, preserve and interpret the Civil War and other cultural and historical heritage sites associated with the South Mountain State Battlefield. They raise money and rally volunteers. New members are welcome by contacting:
Gathland State Park is located in Washington and Frederick counties, one mile west of Burkittsville, off MD Route 17.
Gathland State Park
580 Taylor Ave, Annapolis MD 21401