Ferry Hill Plantation

Ferry Hill Plantation Front View

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.

From the side

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.

A model of the house as it once was

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.

Original flooring on display

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.

Coming Home

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

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15 responses to this post.

  1. I love it when history has a way of coming full circle (fireplace mantle) This is all so interesting. A piece of history preserved and enriched by it’s purpose and significance during its life in time.

    Reply

  2. Posted by LevelWalker on September 9, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    I think the mantle was Mr. Beckenbaugh’s favorite story. He did a great job as a tour guide, and the ranger on duty was very pleasant and told us a lot about what’s in the works for Williamsport. I really enjoyed visiting Ferry Hill Plantation. I should have bought a book though! Darn it!!!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Darrell Helton on October 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    Ferry Hill Plantation was the boyhood home of Henry Kyd Douglas an aide to Stonewall Jackson. I recommend you read his book “I Rode with Stonewall”

    Reply

  4. Posted by LevelWalker on October 23, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    Thanks again, Darrell. It sounds like a good read. If anybody is interested, I remember seeing the book at the Ferry Hill Plantation gift shop. It’s probably closed until spring though. I appreciate your comments, Candee and I like learning new things about the canal and things that are nearby. If you have any ideas for interesting things we can photograph and write up, please let us know.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Gerri on April 10, 2014 at 4:36 am

    I actually slept in the house in 1974. Does anyone know what happened to the Morrison family who owned the property and ran a restaurant? I was a friend of Bobby Morrison. I haven’t seen him in 37 years. I would like to revisit Ferry Hill as I am from Pennsylvania.

    Reply

  6. Posted by LevelWalker on April 10, 2014 at 9:47 am

    Gerri,

    The park service has had the house for a number of years, and I’m not sure about the Morrisons. However, when we visited, our guide was a man of (perhaps) around eighty. He had lived in the house at one point–years ago. He said that as a kid he used to sled ride off the hill toward the river. I don’t recall his name. He may be who you’re speaking of, or he could be from a previous time. I can ask around. I know a man who volunteers at Ferry Hill. I will ask when I see him again.

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    • Posted by LevelWalker on April 10, 2014 at 9:51 am

      Yikes! I reread the post, and I did have the man’s name in it. He wasn’t a Morrison. Nevertheless, I will ask around.

      Reply

  7. Posted by Gerri on May 17, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    Thanks for the info. I know that Bobby’s dad was named Fred Morrison. He might have passed on though as he was a diabetic.

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    • Posted by Pak on May 3, 2015 at 2:06 am

      Gerri, I can help you with your question, Robert lives in Plano TX google and give him a call. Best

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      • Posted by LevelWalker on May 3, 2015 at 9:35 pm

        Thanks, Pak! I can go back and check email addresses for people who have previously commented. I sent Gerri a note, and I certainly hope she can reaquaint herself with her friend. That would be amazing. Your comment is much appreciated.

        Reply

      • Posted by Gerri on May 4, 2015 at 2:07 pm

        Thank you so much for getting back to me. Wow, Plano, TX is really far from his hometown in Maryland. This info was really helpful.

        Reply

        • Posted by LevelWalker on May 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm

          I hope you find him. That would be great! Thanks again to the person who left the info.

          Reply

  8. Posted by LevelWalker on May 18, 2014 at 7:20 pm

    Gerri,

    Sorry that I wasn’t any help. I know a man who volunteers at Ferry Hill, but I haven’t seen him in several weeks. It is an interesting place though. It would be a great side trip for a day in Harpers Ferry or Shepherdstown. It’s also a short trip to Antietam Battlefield.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Sharon on March 8, 2015 at 12:07 am

    I just found out in September 2014 that Col. John Blackford is my 4th great grandfather. For whatever reason my father did not share his family history with me as I was growing up. I am so excited to learn where my roots are and am working to follow all I can in regards to the Blackford history, Ferry Hill and the canal. Who would ever have thought that as I grew up and read about the C&O Canal in history that it would be a large part of my families past. I would love to meet Mr. Beckenbaugh. I have missed so much and am ready to learn as much as I can so I can pass it down to my children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. Will be visiting Ferry Hill for the first time when it opens. What excites me is the fact that my 3rd great aunt was Henry Kyd Douglas’ stepmother. I have soooo much to learn and I will be buying books., lol.

    Reply

    • Posted by LevelWalker on March 8, 2015 at 9:06 pm

      Sharon,

      That’s very cool. I hope Ferry Hill is open more this year. I’ve had some interesting comments and encounters concerning the canal. A lot of families aren’t that far removed from the actual operation period. I read somewhere about a 100 year-old woman passing away recently who spent some time on her father’s boat as a girl. We were also fortunate enough to meet two gentlemen who lived in Lockhouse 56 a few years after the canal closed. There was also a guy who was visiting Lockhouse 68 when Justice Douglas did his thru-hike, etc. It always blows my mind! Thanks for the comment and your goal of keeping the C&O’s history alive and well!

      Reply

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