Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park


History & Culture

Catoctin's diverse cultural resources provide several vignettes of our nation's history in one small location. Native Americans quarried rhyolite for the production of lithic tools. A charcoal and iron industry is still visible today, along with smaller industries including farms, sawmills, and an old moonshine still. Historic structures and products of the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps, along with the site of our nation's firstJobCorpsCenter, are tangible reminders of the capability of vigorous youth programs to strengthen the nation's economic and social fabric. The totality of resources found inCatoctin Mountain Park reflects much of the early fabric of our country.


Charcoal and Iron Industry

The trees that posed a major obstacle to the settler were of extreme value to the burgeoning industrial revolution. The production of charcoal was a major enterprise employing over 300 woodcutters and consuming timber from 11,000 acres of company land during peak years (1859-1885). Charcoal fueled the Catoctin Iron Furnace which separated out the iron from the raw iron ore. Approximately 80 bushels of charcoal were burned for every ton of iron manufactured. It took a cord of wood to manufacture 6 bushels of charcoal.

The woodcutters entered a forested area and cut every live standing tree. One or two trees were left to re-seed the forest. The resulting logs were carried downhill by horse or mule drawn sleds to the hearth where the wood was charred.

The collier supervised the orderly stacking of the wood. First a chimney was built in the center of the hearth; then 30 to 50 cords of four foot logs were stacked around this chimney in concentric circles. The finished stack was covered with leaves and dirt. This controlled the amount of air that reached the fire. Hot embers were dropped into the chimney on a cool, humid night. Tending the fire was a round-the-clock job so the collier lived nearby in a simple hut. He watched up to seven hearths that smoldered for two weeks until charring was complete.

The charcoal was raked into small piles so that it could cool. This way any fires that would flare up would destroy only a portion of the finished product instead of the entire stack. The collier was responsible for the charcoal unit until it was delivered to the furnace. Since he was paid by the bushel, any charcoal that accidentally burned was his personal loss.

Sawmill Industry

The exact date of construction and first operation of the vertical sawmill near today's Owens Creek Campground is unknown, but it is shown on an 1857 map with the same area indicated as deeded back to 1808, mentioning rights to water ways. The same 1857 map also shows 4 additional sawmills on Owens Creek and one on Big Hunting Creek near the present day Visitor Center.

The sawmill near the present day Owens Creek Campground probably operated until after the late 1890's. A reconstruction of the mill was built by the Youth Conservation Corps on the site of the original sawmill. Construction of the campground eliminated the possibility of water power operations, but the gears and what would have been underwater works are all visible from an accessible boardwalk.

Whiskey Still Industry

Farmers of the Catoctin Mountain area were faced with a number of problems in marketing the crops they produced. The most profitable market for their goods were in the more populated areas of cities and towns. In the days before good highways and before rails had been laid, the rugged mountains presented a barrier for horse drawn transportation. Products such as grain, meat and lumber were too heavy to be transported to the more profitable markets in the larger cities. Corn and rye were also very bulky to transport but when converted to whiskey, they became a better profit.

While the average horse was capable of hauling only 4 bushels of corn at a time, the same horse could haul the equivalent of 24 bushels if the grain was manufactured into whiskey. The liquid whiskey occupied less space and was easier to carry to market. The price of whiskey depended on a number of other factors as well. The better the grade of corn, the better the whiskey. The more plentiful the spring water happened to be, the better the whiskey produced with it. Finally the more skilled the distiller, the finer the blend of whiskey he could manufacture.

Conversion of rye and corn into liquor probably began in Frederick County with the harvest of the first crop, somewhere around 1734. Until Congress passed the 1791 Excise Tax, every farm probably had it's own still. For the next 128 years it was legal to own a still--provided you paid the tax. Not until the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was possession of a still an offense.

The problem with the 1791 Excise Tax was that it took the profit out of making liquor. For mountain people, the liquor concentration of rye and corn was the most practical way to get crops to market. So rather than pay the tax they went underground, operating by the light of the moon.

Blue Blazes Whiskey Still On the last day of July 1929 --Deputy Sheriff Clyde L. Hauver was fatally wounded in a raid on the Blue Blazes Still. It was a large commercial operation, a "steamer" still. More than 25,000 gallons of mash were found in 13 vats of 2,000 gallon capacity each. Police eventually tracked down several suspects, and two moonshiners were convicted in connection with the murder after several days of conflicting testimony.

Tales of a double-crossing informant, a love triangle, arson, and other rumors spread throughout central Maryland. What exactly happened remains a mystery.

Today another still sits on the banks of Distillery Run. It's quite different than the set up found that day. The new Blue Blazes still is more typical of the smaller moonshine still of an earlier day. Even more different -- visitors are welcome -- not challenged. Park Rangers give talks at the still on Sundays in June and September, please write the park for the current calendar of events for specific dates and times.

Civilian Conservation Corps

The first contingent of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers arrived at Catoctin on April 1, 1939. The recruits lived in canvas tents pitched in a wooded area adjacent to the central garage unit in what is today Camp Round Meadow. The transferred to barracks as soon as they built them.

Project Director Mike Williams had developed plans for reforestation of the mountain. He requested that the Maryland Forestry Department provide 100,000 native trees of which a minimum of 25% were to be oak. The state was unable to provide these trees but Williams eventually secured 2,000 red maple and 2,000 pitch pine trees that were planted.

The CCC rehabilitated 800 acres of fields. Strips of lespendeza and grains were planted on the contours for the benefit of quail, turkeys, rabbits, and song birds. Forest encroachment was controlled by planting strips of grain along the edge of the fields. Soon, the diversity and numbers of wildlife increased.

Stream improvement projects on Big Hunting Creek and Owens Creek were initiated in 1939. Pools were deepened to provide cool water and cover for the fish. As a result, sport angling improved. Fishermen were pleased that the natural appearance of the stream was retained.

Native trees, that were obtained later in 1939, were planted to obliterate open areas created by construction and to reclaim old logging roads. In August, the corpsmen dug the water system for the visitor center, built the dry stone walls behind the building, built guardrails and landscaped the area. Director Mike Williams considered this project to be the finest work completed in the park.

Gettysburg National Military Battlefield was undergoing a period of restoration at this time. The CCC retrieved old wooden fences from deep in the forest to assist in this effort. These aged rails gave a realistic appearance to the battlefield scene.

The corps helped nature tighten her grasp on the area as the program wound down in 1940 and 1941. Over 75 openings created by man's intrusion were blocked and made inaccessible to vehicles. Old roads were broken up and covered with topsoil. As a result, rubbish dumping in the park was reduced.

The Catoctin CCC unit completed their final project in 1941 with the construction of two trailside shelters. These shelters were built along the Appalachian Trail in nearby Washington County. The numbers of young men seeking employment dwindled in 1941 with the onset of World War II. The Catoctin CCC Camp closed November 7, 1941.

Works Progress Administration

Initial employment to construct the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was provided through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Bids were taken on a sawmill, rock crusher and tools in the fall of 1935. Plans for a residential work camp were scrapped when sufficient numbers of workers were found within commuting distance. The WPA construction started in 1936 with the central garage unit, located in Camp Round Meadow, and ended in 1941 with the Blue Blazes Contact Station which is now the park visitor center.

Park structures and facilities were built using the rustic arch style characteristic of National Park Service buildings of that era. The buildings were in harmony with nature, using natural colors and few straight lines. Horizontal lines were emphasized to blend in with nature and the settings. The rough stone and logs were characteristic of the structure in the local area. The local workers were familiar with the necessary construction methods and the materials used.

Initial construction utilized dead, standing trees. Only 40% of the logs could be used for boards. The remaining timber was hewn into logs, pinned with locust and fashioned into rustic cabins. Chestnut was the preferred building material. Red oak was rived into shingles. Interior siding was fashioned from chestnut, oak, or hemlock. Horses pulled the logs from the forest to prevent the soil from being compacted by tractors. Eventually, live trees were harvested for construction under the guidance of Maryland foresters.

The 125 men who began cutting timber and clearing for camps swelled to 500 by April 30, 1936. Peak employment was reached in May, 1936, when 595 men were employed, mostly as unskilled laborers. The number decreased to 250 workers of various skill levels who built the administrative area and cabins, ran the sawmill and built roads.

The Project Headquarters was finished in July 1936. This building served as a planning, construction and operating center, and later as a residence. Today, it is utilized as a Resource Management Center. Plans for the blacksmith shop were rejected by the technical staff. The found it to be "out of scale." the original plans called for a rectangular building estimated to cost $612 for labor and materials. A design compromise was reached allowing construction of an "L" shaped building with a final cost of $920. A local blacksmith was hired in November 1936. The blacksmith shop remained in operation for the duration of the program. The smith fashioned hardware for the buildings, and manufactured and repaired tools and machinery.

The focus of operation shifted to public facilities upon completion of the shops. A total of four cabin camps and two picnic areas were proposed. The camps followed standard configurations. Natural features were preserved and cabins situated to take the best advantage of the terrain when placing foundations. Trees were left in place when possible and protected by boxing. Steps were taken to preserve the precious topsoil. The first picnic area, situated east of Cunningham Falls on the banks of Big Hunting Creek was ready for public use in June 1936. It was used until submerged by the construction of the lake at the William Houck Area of Cunningham Falls State Park.

Construction of Camp Misty Mount placed $5,843 in the hands of WPA workers who were paid for harvesting timber for the project. The 30 acre camp was completed in 1937. Camp Greentop was finished in 1938, and Camp Hi-Catoctin in 1939. The fourth camp was never built.

Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area

Establishment of the Recreational Demonstration Area Program

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated to the Presidency of the United States on March 4, 1933, bringing with him a hope for better times in the midst of the Great Depression. In May of 1933 the Federal Emergency Relief Administration was allocated $500,000,000 in direct relief of money to be spent by the federal government through state and local agencies. The National Industrial Recovery Act passed by Congress and signed by FDR on June 16, 1933, supported an enormous appropriation of money in the sum of $3,300,000,000 for relief through public works to be dispensed at FDR's discretion.

By January 1934, a Land Planning Committee had been set up within the Federal Emergency Relief Act to consider the problem of land utilization in the country. Land use and maintenance had become an important economic topic during the New Deal, since the income from poor lands was less than the cost to maintain services such as roads and schools for the residents of the land. Conrad L. Wirth, Assistant Director, Chief of the Branch of Planning of the National Park Service (NPS), became the Department of the Interior's representative on the Land Planning Committee. He was in charge of the State Park Emergency Conservation Program and he also had administrative oversight of all the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps operated by the NPS.

Wirth was familiar with the 1928 report of the Joint Committee on Recreational Survey of Federal Lands that revealed an "urgent need" for natural areas near large cities for recreation. Mr. Wirth proposed a program to buy land near metropolitan areas no longer suitable for agriculture, in order to "provide quality outdoor recreation facilities at the lowest cost for the benefit of people of lower and middle incomes." Farmlands sought for this program were those abused by erosion and poor farming practices and labeled with the phrase "submarginal land."

As a result of the Land Planning Committee's recommendation and approval of President Roosevelt, the Secretary of the Interior and head of the Public Works Administration transferred $25 million from the Public Works Administration tot he Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Five million dollars of that figure was to be used to purchase submarginal lands for recreational demonstration areas. Catoctin's mountainous land had been ravaged by years of industrial and agricultural abuse. Hunting Creek and Owens Creek tumbled through picturesque valleys, providing water based activity areas for sportsmen and families from the population centers 55 miles away in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, MD. Blighted chestnut trees and field stone provided building materials and the former Catoctin Furnace, closed in 1903, provided historical interest.

Catoctin was placed into this new program on January 7, 1935 and was titled the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area by August 8, 1936.

African Americans

The African American influence on the Industrial Revolution in the Catoctin Mountains was in the form of labor. Free and runaway blacks and slaves in the area worked as laborers in the many realms of iron making. They worked as woodcutters, cutting, hauling and stacking the wood for the collier. They also transported charcoal to the furnace, packed and fired the furnace, and worked in the molding shed with the molten iron. There is also evidence that prominent families in the area also had slaves and/or servants assisting with household chores and tasks.

Iron making was practiced long ago in West Africa. Many slaves brought to America carried the knowledge and skill of his trade with them. It has been suggested that American ironmasters may have deliberately sought Africans with ironmaking knowledge and that they were the "backbone" of the American iron industry. It is known that iron work slaves were able to gain positive incentives through the overwork system. A slave could earn extra food, clothing, credit at the company store, rum and whiskey, and free time on holidays. Owners and managers recognized the overwork system as an alternative to physical punishment to motivate their workers. It is through this overwork system that some slaves, both skilled and non skilled, were able to somewhat improve their quality of life.

Slaves employed permanently at the Catoctin Iron Furnace were few in number when compared to the slave population at other furnaces. This would not rule out the use of large numbers of freed slaves and other blacks, especially in the cutting of large quantities of timber needed for charcoaling. The census and personal property records portray a mixed picture of these slave holdings.

A quote taken from the book,Faith in the Furnace - A History of Harriet Chapel Catoctin Furnace, MD, by Elizabeth Anderson footnoted as a translated entry from the German diary of John Frederick Schlegel in 1799, provides insight to the life of slaves.

By 1830, it appeared that Brien and McPherson had as many as 20 male slaves of mature age who could have been employed at the Catoctin Iron Works. This figure dropped off considerably in 1835 and again in 1841. Those few remained may have been either highly skilled artisans or house slaves. None of these slaves appears to have been transferred to the subsequent furnace owner, Peregrinn Fitzhugh, who owned only domestic slaves.

There was a pronounced shift in labor from black to white workers during the years the furnace was owned by Fitzhugh (1843-1856). During the Brien years (1820-1843) the large percentage of workers were black with a few white European immigrants. The cost of buying and maintaining good slaves was high and it became much more economical to pay wages to white immigrant laborers.

By 1860, only 21 slaves were listed in the entire Mechanicstown (Thurmont) census district. J.B. Kunkel, who succeeded Ftizhugh as owner of the Catoctin Iron Works, owned four slaves, all under seven years of age. The pattern established in the Catoctin area seemed to have been followed approximately that of Frederick County. Slaves doubled in Frederick County between the years of 1790 and 1820, peaking that later year at 6,685. The decade 1830-1840 was one of decline in slave population, from 6,370 to 4,445. At the same time, the free black population increased from 2,716 to 2,985, which would hardly account for the large drop in slaves reported. There was an equally severe decline in the white population in that same decade, possibly indicating a migration of slaves and their owners westward. Slave holdings continued to drop, with 3,913 reported in 1850 and 3,243 by 1860.

Job Corps

A rising level of unemployment and social unrest developed in the early 1960's as the nation's economy experienced a downturn. President Lyndon B. Johnson proposed the Job Corps as a partial solution to this problem and his War on Poverty. This program, patterned after the Civilian Conservation Corps, recruited economically deprived young men between the ages of 16 and 21, most with a ninth grade education level. The goal was to teach work habits and attitude along with vocational skills.

Investigation of Catoctin as a potential Job Corps site began in May 1964, six months before passage of the Economic Recovery Act. A site within Camp Round Meadow was chosen for the site of the nations's first Job Corps Center.

Eighty five young men arrived at Camp Round Meadow on January 15, 1965. The early months of 1965 were spent completing the camp, building sidewalks, underpinning trailers, and landscaping. In the winter, corpsmen spent half their day at work and half their day in classrooms. Full days of work and education were altered in the summer. First year projects included trail repair, construction of 150 picnic tables and 2 fire circles for the organized camps.

As the corpsmen became more skilled, staff members developed more complex projects. Corpsmen developed and scheduled a production line that produced 225 signs for Catoctin Mountain Park, Greenbelt Park, Antietam National Battlefield, and Cunningham Falls State Park.

Today, a form of the original Job Corps still exists. The National Park Service operates a Job Corps Center at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Young men and women are taught vocational skills along with teamwork and work ethics, and leadership. Their newly developing job skills are often utilized at area National Parks on new construction and other projects, providing meaningful opportunities in the workforce in addition to the classroom experiences.

Presidential Retreat

Catoctin Mountain Park was originally submarginal land purchased by the government in 1936, to be developed into a recreational facility. The facility was to demonstrate how rough terrain and eroded soil could be turned into productive land again. The New Deal's Works Progress Administration, WPA, began the work in the newly created Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area, joined by the Civilian Conservation Crops, CCC, in 1939. Camp Misty Mount was first used by the Maryland League for Crippled Children. After the first year, the League moved to a second camp in 1938, Camp Greentop, because Camp Misty Mount's terrain was difficult to negotiate in a wheelchair. A third camp, Camp Hi-Catoctin, was completed in the winter of 1938-1939 and was used for three years as a family camp for federal employees.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was accustomed to seeking relief from hot Washington, D.C. summers and relaxing on weekends, aboard the presidential yacht "Potomac" or at Hyde Park, NY. In 1942 the U.S. Secret Service were very concerned about the President's continued use of the "Potomac." World War II had brought an attack on Pearl Harbor and German U boats close in Atlantic waters. Presidential safety was a concern and Presidential health was also a concern. The muggy climate of Washington, D.C., was considered detrimental to his health, affecting his sinuses. A new retreat, a place to relax, within a 100 mile radius of Washington, D.C. and in the cool mountain air was sought. Several sites were considered but Camp Hi-Catoctin in the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was selected after the President's first visit on April 22, 1942. A camp was already built on the site and the estimated conversion cost was $18,650. It was also almost 10 degrees cooler than Washington. The camp for federal employee's families became the camp of one federal employee, the President of the United States. Roosevelt quickly renamed the camp to "Shangri-La" from James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon.

At the close of World War II, there was some debate over the future of Shangri-La. Should it be returned to the National Park Service? Should it be maintained as a national shrine or monument? Should it be transferred to the Maryland State Forest and Park System as was the original plan of the demonstration area? In a letter to Maryland Governor Herbert R. O'Connor, President Truman wrote:

Camp David continues to serve as the Presidential Retreat today. It is a private, secluded place for recreation, contemplation, rest, and relaxation. Many historical events have occurred at the Presidential Retreat; the planning of the Normandy invasion, Eisenhower-Khrushchev meetings, Camp David Accords with Menachem Begin of Israel and Anwar Sadat of Egypt, discussions of the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam War discussions, and many other meetings with foreign dignitaries and guests. Maintaining the privacy and secluded atmosphere of the retreat is an important role for Catoctin Mountain Park. The Presidential Retreat still remains within park boundaries but is not open to the public. It is a place where presidents can relax, unwind, contemplate, entertain distinguished guests in an informal setting, and cope with the pressures of modern day society. We hope that you will also understand the value of a place of privacy for the President and accept that the retreat is not open to visitors.

Native American Indians

Archeologist have found evidence of rhyolite quarry sites and base camps related to hunting or kill sites in Catoctin Mountain Park. The mountain's resources provided Native Americans with materials for tools, animals for food and clothing, and a variety of nuts and berries that were gathered as an additional food source.

Catoctin Mountain became an important source of rhyolite, a valued material in making lithic tools, during the Archaic Period, 8,000 to 1,200 B.C., with the most active period during the Woodland Period, 1,200 B.C. to A.D. 1600. Between 200 A.D. to 900 A.D. Catoctin experienced a very active period in stone quarrying and the production of lithic tools. There were no year round residences in the area, temporary base camps were used where a source of potable water was relatively near a quarry site. Usually large rough "blanks" were taken from the quarry site and finishing work was performed by the flint knappers at the base camps.

Rhyolite tools have been found as far away as coastal Virginia and New York. The closest source of rhyolite is a belt that runs from Gettysburg, PA., through Catoctin, to Harpers Ferry, WV., indicating that people traveled great distances to quarry stone and practiced trade.

After 900 A.D. the quarrying of rhyolite in Catoctin abruptly ends. At the same time, there is evidence that permanent, year round residences begin to appear in the area, although there had been no evidence discovered to indicate there were any year round residences in the park.

Catoctin Iron Furnace

A good grade of hematite ore was discovered in the Catoctin Mountains in the 1770's by Thomas Johnson Jr., who later became the first governor of Maryland. Thomas Baker and Roger Johnson constructed the Catoctin Furnace to produce pig iron. In 1776, the production of pig iron began. The fuel for the furnace was initially charcoal and the Catoctin forest provided the fuel for the furnace until 1873. Then the furnace was converted from charcoal fuel to coal. The remains of these iron works still remain at the base of the Catoctin Mountains in Cunningham Falls State Park, in Frederick County, MD.

Iron from this furnace was used in the manufacture of car wheels and for foundry rolling mill purposes. Also produced during the beginning of the nineteenth century were the "Catoctin Stove," also known as the "Ten Plate Stove," and the "Franklin Stove." It is reported that during the Revolutionary War, cannons and cannonballs were cast at the furnace for George Washington's Army when the Johnsons owned the furnace. Simple machinery for James Rumsey's steamboat was made at the Catoctin Furnace Iron Works in the 1780's. Robert Fulton is credited with building the first successful steamboat, but he was not the first to apply steam power to boats. Rumsey began his invention before 1785. Iron produced at the Catoctin Furnace during Jacob Kunkel's ownership was used to make the plates on the famous Civil War vessel, the Monitor.

To reduce this raw ore into a usable product, a great amount of heat was required. The raw materials for the production of charcoal was obtained from nearby forests. The furnace owned thousands of acres of forest, but still found it necessary to buy charcoal to meet its needs. The production of charcoal was a major enterprise employing over 300 woodcutters and consuming timber from 11,000 acres of company land during peak years.

The operation of the furnace was a simple one involving several steps. The stack was filled with a layer of charcoal, a layer of limestone, and a layer of iron ore. Transportation of the iron ore to the furnace from the mines was by way of ore dump cars whose contents were dumped directly into the stack of the furnace.

Fire was applied and kept burning by a natural draft. As the fire burned, the different layers settled and additional layers of charcoal, limestone, and ore were put into the stack until sufficient iron melted to draw off or be cast. A clay valve on the bottom of the furnace permitted flow of molten iron into shallow channels furrowed in the ground which were sprinkled with sand to prevent the iron from adhering to the ground. The end product called "pig" iron got its name from the sucking sound it made flowing through channels.

A charcoal iron furnace was a community of many skills. Some skills, such as woodcutting, were easily learned and relatively low paid. Other skills were more complex and represented knowledge passed on within the trade over many years. Among these skilled workers were the charcoal makers; miners who dug the iron ore and later, coal; founders who operated the furnace, and molders, who cast the hot iron into stoves, pots, firebacks, and other objects for sale. Most furnaces had a clerk who kept accounts and ran the store, and every furnace was headed by an iron master, whose financial, marketing, and managerial skills were needed to make the whole enterprise a business success.

After changing hands several times, the Catoctin Iron Furnace was blown out for the last time in February 1903. The ore blanks were still mined for several years after this and sold elsewhere. The remnant of this thriving industry remain a stark reality to the life and death of a part of history; a part of history eliminated by technological advances and the economics of business.


Catoctin Mountain Park has a relatively small museum collection. A very few Native American projectile points have been catalogued. There is an example of the "Catoctin Stove" produced at the Catoctin Iron Furnace during the early 1800's. Several blacksmith shop tools and other tools related to the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps are also in the collection. Some of the cultural artifacts are on exhibit in the Park's Visitor Center.

In addition to cultural artifacts, Catoctin has a natural history collection consisting of a small lepidoptera collection, specimens from a small mammal survey, and an herbarium used in local park research projects.

The park's museum and artifact collection is available for viewing by appointment only. Written requests should be sent to: Catoctin Mountain Park, c/o Chief Ranger, 6602 Foxville Road, Thurmont, MD 21788-1598.