Sunken Ships and Fossils in Colonial So. Maryland

In this part of Maryland, the state’s 18th century past comes alive. You can go much further into the past on this sojourn when you explore for shark-tooth fossils along the river’s edge. Or zoom to the not-so-distant past, when dozens of wooden ships were intentionally sunk into Mallows Bay, where they remain today.

What you will see: The restored Colonial homesteads of two prominent Marylanders, the remains of another Colonial homestead, and incredible views of the Potomac River–with a ship graveyard just offshore.

Things to do: Hunt for fossils on the Potomac shoreline, wander the grounds of Thomas Stone Historic Site.

In this part of Southern Maryland, the Potomac Heritage Trail today is a network of natural and historic sites. In a day of exploring, you can visit sites interpreting the earliest days of America, and see the river in its natural splendor. The trip begins at Nanjemoy Natural Environment Area. It’s where worm-eating warblers go to live and wooden ships went to die. It’s more than a mile of lower Potomac River shoreline surrounded by nearly 2,000 acres of
woodlands, wetlands and creeks. It’s also a terrific place to take the kids to hunt for fossils.

Travel south on Route 6, then left on Route 425. Turn right to rejoin Route 6, then left at Rosehill Road to reach Thomas Stone National Historic Site. The site preserves the homestead of Thomas Stone, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and among those framing the Articles of Confederation. Exhibits chronicle archeological information and plantation life in the colonial and federal periods. There is also a bookstore with material focusing on colonial life on the Potomac River, the Declaration of Independence, and the Revolutionary War. Footpaths provide the primary access through the estate.

Turn left leaving Thomas Stone NHS, then turn left onto Route 225. At Poorhouse Road turn right and follow to Smallwood State Park, a great spot to watch the sun setting. This 628-acre park was the homestead of William Smallwood, fourth governor of Maryland and a major general of the Continental Army. Smallwood’s restored 18th century home, which he called Retreat House, and 19th century tobacco barn are open to public tours on Sundays May through September. Camping and cabins, some with views of Mattawoman Creek, are available by reservation. Canoes can be rented Wednesdays through Sundays, May—September. There are two miles of hiking trails and a children’s playground.


Region: Southern Maryland
Activity: Birding, Hiking, Historic Site

Last updated: April 10, 2015

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Potomac Heritage NST Office
P. O. Box B

Harpers Ferry, WV 25425


(304) 535-4014

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