Ferry Hill Plantation (built between 1812 and 1817) sits on the hill directly across the Potomac River from Shepherdstown, WV, and I can’t count the number of times that I’ve driven past it on the way to the parking lot down by the towpath. I guess my excuse has always been that I was too busy riding my bike. Sure, the C&O Canal NHP is a great place to bike, hike, or view nature, but there’s another side of the park that’s equally as important. That, of course, is its history.
Today, we were fortunate to talk to a friendly, knowledgeable ranger, as well as Jack Beckenbaugh, a volunteer whose family lived in the house from 1930-1952. Mr. Beckenbaugh was well-versed in the history of the plantation and told us that the mansion was once the centerpiece of a 700 acre farm that produced such staples as wheat, apples, and corn. I do like history, but I was equally as fascinated by his childhood and family stories.
As a child, Mr. Beckenbaugh used to sled ride down the hill and swim in the Potomac River. He also recalls stories his father told him about swimming in the canal! 1924 seems like a long time ago, but we’re only a few generations removed from the days when mule-drawn canal boats plowed through the C&O’s waters. Also, as late as the mid-1970s the building served as a restaurant, and it was the headquarters of the C&O Canal NHP until 2001. We heard lots of interesting stories today, but they weren’t all good news. Sometime after the Beckenbaughs sold the house, the slave quarters were torn down. Of course, nobody can be blamed, but the sad part is that one never knows when he’s inadvertently destroying history.
Beside the friendly people telling what they know, there’s plenty on display at Ferry Hill Plantation. Candee was particularly impressed with a display showing the original hardwood flooring. I’m more hands-on–meaning I like to play with things–and a tabletop display of how boats got through locks kept me amused for several minutes. The setup is really easy to understand, and anybody can become an expert on lock operations in one easy lesson.
I think we both agreed that the most interesting display in the house is an old fireplace mantlepiece that was removed from the mansion in the 1950s when it became a restaurant. In 2002, it turned up in an antique dealership in Shepherdstown and was purchased by the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal NHP. Now that’s a happy ending! In all, I would highly recommend a trip to Ferry Hill. There’s plenty of history for everybody, and there are books and gifts for sale that will please people of many interests. The plantation is open every day from Memorial Day through mid-August and Friday to Tuesday from mid-August through mid-September (10-4). Call 301-582-0813 for more information