Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Present-day Catoctin Mountain Park encompasses 5,770 acres, nestled in the hills of western Maryland. To visitors the site is both majestic and serene. No matter how crowded the park, a hiker can always find long stretches of trail to him or herself. The quiet and peace of the park today, however, masks a long and complex history. Since settlers first arrived in the region in the 1740s, the park area has witnessed both subsistence and commercial farming, industry, tourism, recreational hunting, and military usage (both during the Civil War and World War II).

Over the years, the National Park Service has made numerous efforts to document and interpret the history of the park. The lost art of charcoal making and the workings of an early sawmill, for instance, are on active display for interested park visitors. This historic resource study is part of that continuing effort to better understand and interpret the abundant cultural resources present within the park boundaries. It seeks to "address the relevant contexts for the park" and to offer "an historical framework for future interpretive and preservation efforts, and to provide baseline information for development of the Park General Management Plan."

The six chapters presented in this study depict the several overlapping phases of mountain development. The first chapter treats the Native American presence and the early, largely German, settlement of the region. Chapter 2 introduces industry to the area in the form of the Catoctin Iron Furnace. Included is a discussion of the presence of slavery at the furnace. The third chapter, focusing in particular on the Civil War, the slow decline of the iron furnace, and the emergence of a tourist industry, carries the story to the end of the nineteenth century. The mountain area on the eve of acquisition by the federal government is the subject of the fourth chapter.

The narrative takes a new direction in Chapter 5. In 1935, as part of a New Deal program to develop recreation areas near urban populations and address the problem of farmers working "submarginal land," the federal government began purchasing mountain land for a planned "recreational demonstration area." The acquisition and construction process, chronicled in Chapter 5, was anything but smooth. The final chapter treats the military's use of the park during World War II as well as the establishment and early use of the presidential retreat President Franklin D. Roosevelt called Shangri-La. Finally, tensions between the state of Maryland and the federal government over the fate of Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area are described. In the end, a compromise allowed the National Park Service to retain a large portion of the originally-purchased area, while the state of Maryland took over the southern portion of the park. This compromise between two opposing forces might be seen as representative of the many compromises and accommodations made over time—all of which ultimately shaped the present-day park.

My study comes of the heels of others, including historical work by Former Park Superintendent Frank Mentzer and author Dale Nelson. Barbara Kirkconnell's excellent administrative history of the park, covering in detail many of the important decisions that shaped the park offers an excellent companion piece to this HRS.

In the preparation of this report, I was especially indebted to members of the Catoctin Mountain Park staff who gave generously of their time, in particular to James Voigt, Roger Steintl, Sally Griffin, and Park Superintendent J. Mel Poole. Gary Scott, regional historian for the NPS, National Capital Region, proved a helpful and patient overseer. Among the many archivists and libraries who have generously of their time is Ann Cissel of the Thurmont Historical Society, as well as Louis O'Donoghue and Mary Mannix of the Frederick County Public Libraries Maryland Room. Janet L. Davis, historical preservation planner for the Frederick County Planning Commission provided expert counsel and opened her files for my use. In addition, the staffs of the Maryland Department of National Resources, the Maryland Hall of Records, the Maryland Historic Trust, and the Frederick County Historical Association proved particularly helpful. Special thanks also goes to Judith Early, of the NPS, National Capital Region, who generously read and edited draft chapters of this report.

While these individuals gave kindly of their time, and while their insights and help have made the study richer, any oversights remain the responsibility of the author.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003