Journey Through Hallowed Ground
The beautiful and tragic land of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground is a National Heritage Area and Scenic Byway that moves through some of the most significant countryside and towns of early American history. The scenic byway can be travelled from the north or south, depending on where your trip starts, and moves between Charlottesville, Virginia, home of Jefferson’s Monticello, through Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, to the battlefields of Gettysburg.
American colonial and civil war history is concentrated in the lands of the original thirteen colonies, but many of the most significant extant historical sites are around the nation’s capital, in Virginia and Maryland. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area has been the focus of historical preservation efforts, in an attempt to protect the small towns, country roads, historical homes and battle fields from the development sprawl from Washington DC. It’s designation as a National Heritage Area and scenic byway has done much to protect this living historical land from development.
Civil War Battle Sites
The scenic byway moves through some of the most significant battle sites of the Civil War, from Antietam, Manassas, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness, and Gettysburg, as well as smaller, less-known sites like Goose Creek Bridge and Kettle Run. Gettysburg is a National Military Park, with an excellent visitor and research center, and hiking, biking, and horse trails. They can provide self and moderated tours through the battlefield sites. Gettysburg has one of the most significant historical collections of civil war artifacts in the nation, and is a leader in historical interpretation. The Soldier’s National Cemetery, once a union army cemetery and now a cemetery for all veterans, is the place where President Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address.
The Antietam National Battlefield commemorates the battle of Antietam, also called Sharpsburg. Famous for witnessing some of the most savage fighting of the war, the battle, with 23,000 dead, wounded, or missing, and Lee’s Army of Virginia on northern soil for the first time, was the direct catalyst for President Lincoln issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. The park rangers give battlefield walk and talks; there are also self-guided walking and driving tours.
Manassas, also called Bull Run, was the site of two civil war battles. First Manassas was the opening battle of the war, fought close enough to Washington, DC, that picnickers came to watch the battle from the hills over the battlefield, and fled when the fighting spilled over and began heading their way. Thomas Jackson, the famous southern general, brought his cadets from Lexington to fight, and earned his nickname ‘Stonewall’. The battlefields can be explored through self-guided walking or driving tours. There are a number of historically significant homes and bridges still standing, with interpretive signs.
Harper’s Ferry, in West Virginia, is a National Historical Park, and the site of several significant Civil War actions, including John Brown’s revolt against slavery in 1859. Harper’s Ferry is the site of Storer College, one of the first integrated schools in America. At the head of the Shenandoah Valley, Harper’s Ferry today is a charming town with a number of museums and living history displays. Harper’s Ferry is also on the Appalachian Trail, and the beginning of Skyline Drive, the national park and scenic byway that moves into the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge mountains.
The Hallowed Grounds are home to some of the nation’s earliest plantation homes, both stately mansions and restored farms. In Charlottesville, the homes of Presidents Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and James Monroe at Ash Lawn-Highland are beautifully restored, and feature historical interpretation, living history displays, and self-guided walking tours. Both homes are famous for their gardens. Historical varieties of fruits and vegetables can be found in Monticello, including seeds and seedlings from Jefferson’s favorite varieties. The antique cider-apple varieties can be taste-tested with farm-made cider and ginger cookies.
In Orange, Virginia, near Culpeper, is James Madison’s home Montpelier. The home and farm feature interpretation and living history, and have changing exhibits in the museum, as well as walks in the forest. Visitors can see the archeology center, with numerous archeological sites being excavated. The Gilmore Cabin, on the site, is the homestead of George Gilmore, formerly enslaved at Montpelier. He built the house and purchased the farmland from the Madison family after the Civil War. The rolling foothills around Montpelier are lush with fiber animals-sheep, Angora goats, alpaca, and the area is a hot-bed for fiber artists, hand spinners and weavers.
Located near the Gettysburg park, the home and farm of President Dwight Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie is now a National Historical Park. The farms and grounds served as a weekend home and the meeting place for world leaders. Rangers provide tours and interpretation, and the museum has historical exhibits of President Eisenhower’s military career.
The historic villages along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground heritage area are particularly lovely and charming. With many of the villages and downtowns on the National Register of Historic Places, the charming, walkable villages are a history buff’s delight. With living history displays, antique shops, small museums, historical gardens, and walking tours with interpretive displays and guides, the villages and towns on the scenic byway are not to be missed.
Visit downtown Charlottesville, with its historical pedestrian mall. Main Street, in downtown Charlottesville, was a heavily used road in 1730. The Marquis de Lafayette used Main Street to block General Cornwallis during the Revolution. Today the restored downtown features shops and open air restaurants that have been restored and are beautifully maintained.
Harper’s Ferry is one of the most fascinating small towns for the African-American history buff. From John Brown’s revolt to the beginnings to the NAACP by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, as the Niagara Movement, Harper’s Ferry is a must-visit town. The historical downtown has remained beautifully preserved.
Fredrick, Maryland was at the crossroads of early American history, both colonial and civil war. Fredrick has a 50 block downtown full of fine restaurants, public art, and history from Colonial through the contentious Civil War, when Confederate General Jubal Early threatened to torch the town unless a ransom of $200,000. was paid. The ransom was paid, so we still have beautiful Fredrick.
Many of the areas covered by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground are part of the National Parks System, so the America the Beautiful Pass is a very good idea. The scenic byway is also a good jumping-off point for several other touring areas, including a trip down Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and visits to other Civil War trails and battlefields. The area is also close to Yorktown and Williamsburg, for touring the Colonial city and visiting the new American Revolution museum.
The scenic byway is 180 miles long, and visitors who drive the byway are treated to relaxing vistas of rolling green foothills and Blue Ridge mountain views. The scenic byway is part of US 15, US 15 business, and Virginia 20, 231, 22 and 53. Route maps can be downloaded from the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area website, or the National Park Service. Most of the National Park Service areas, such as battlefields, historical homes and visitor centers, are open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Spring and fall have lovely weather and beautiful views; summer can be hot and humid, and historical sites tend to be more crowded. During the winter, there is always the possibility of snow in the mountains. The presidential homes, such as Monticello and Montpelier, are operated by local historical societies, and have entrance fees.
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