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Things to See While in the Thurmont Area

Catoctin Iron Furnace

A good grade of hematite ore was discovered in the Catoctin Mountains in the 1770's by Thomas Johnson Jr., who later became the first governor of Maryland. Thomas Baker and Roger Johnson constructed the Catoctin Furnace to produce pig iron. In 1776, the production of pig iron began. The fuel for the furnace was initially charcoal and the Catoctin forest provided the fuel for the furnace until 1873. Then the furnace was converted from charcoal fuel to coal. The remains of these iron works still lie at the base of the Catoctin Mountains in Cunningham Falls State Park, in Frederick County, Maryland.

Catoctin Mountain Park

Catoctin Mountain Park lies within the mountainous area known as the Blue Ridge Province. This 5,810-acre hardwood forest park, with its refreshing streams and scenic vistas, offers a rare haven in a rapidly developing area of the country. However, Catoctin Mountain Park hasn't always looked this way. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the land now known as the Catoctin parks was extensively logged to support local agriculture practices and to produce charcoal for the nearby iron works furnace. In 1933, the land was set aside as the Catoctin Recreation Demonstration Area with its purpose being to rehabilitate "sub-marginal" farmland. In 1954, the Recreation Demonstration Area was divided, with half of the area becoming Cunningham Falls State Park and the remaining half becoming Catoctin Mountain Park. This venture, known as the Catoctin Project, was an example of a cooperative effort between State and Federal officials.

Since then, the land has rejuvenated itself, transforming a disturbed environment into an excellent model of a second growth forest ecosystem. Today, a mixed hardwood forest covers nearly 95% of the park. Catoctin Mountain Park is also part of a larger forested public lands complex that includes Cunningham Falls State Park, Frederick and Thurmont Watersheds, and Gambrill State Park. Many plants and animals, including several Maryland Threatened and Endangered species, thrive within this forest sanctuary. The high gradient streams, Big Hunting Creek and Owens Creek, run clean and support healthy populations of "wild" brown and brook trout.

Catoctin Mountain Park is a very diverse place that offers respite to the plants and animals that depend on its existence. Its peaceful environment also provides a needed escape from the everyday hustle and bustle of city life for all people, including, on occasion, the President of the United States.

Cunningham Falls State Park

Cunningham Falls State Park, located in the Catoctin Mountains, is known for its history and scenic beauty, as well as its 78-foot cascading waterfall. The Cunningham Falls is located one half mile from the lake in the Houck Area via the Falls Trail.

Before the first Europeans arrived, many small Native American tribes farmed, hunted and fished the area. Tradition says the name Catoctin came from the tribe, the Kittoctons, who once lived at the foot of the mountains near the Potomac River. By the time the settlers began to arrive in the Monocacy River Valley, Native Americans were seldom seen.

Early settlers used timber from the forests to make charcoal to fuel the Catoctin Iron Furnace. Too many years of clear-cutting and unscientific farming practices contributed to the overuse and destruction of the land.

In 1954, the area was divided into two parks, divided by Maryland Route 77. The northern 5,000 acres is now Catoctin Mountain Park, a unit of the National Park Service. The remaining 5,000-acre parcel was named Cunningham Falls State Park.

There are two main developed areas in the park, the William Houck Area and the Manor Area.

National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes

The National Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, located behind Mount Saint Mary College and Seminary, is a replica of the famed Grotto of Lourdes in France and is the oldest such shrine in America. A place of pastoral beauty and spiritual inspiration, the Grotto draws approximately 500,000 religious pilgrims and tourists annually.

Above the lovely valley of Emmitsburg, situated high on the mountainside where nature displays itself in all its wild and picturesque glory, sits the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes, a shrine that traces its linage to the very beginnings of the spread of Catholicism in America.

Indelibly linked with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the Shrine is one of the oldest American replicas of the revered French shrine, dating from about two decades after the apparitions at Lourdes (1875)--although the site had been known for its earlier "Grotto," which had already been in use for more than seventy years as a place of prayer and devotion.

This holy mountain sanctuary of historic importance has been devoutly tended thought the years and attracts thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the world for prayer and meditation.

Fallen Firefighters' Memorial

Conceived as a tribute to America's fire service, the National Fallen Firefighters' Memorial is one of this country's most beautiful monuments to courage and unselfish service. It was constructed in 1981 on the campus of the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland, just 10 miles north of Thurmont. NETC houses (on the former campus of St. Joseph College) both the National Fire Academy-now renamed the United States Fire Administration (USFA)-and the Emergency Management Institute (EMI). The Memorial was officially designated by Congress in 1990 as the national Memorial to career and volunteer fallen firefighters. It is a symbol of honor for those who carry on the tradition of service to their communities.

The highlight of the Memorial is a sculptured bronze Maltese cross. Throughout the centuries, the Maltese cross has been adopted as a symbol by groups who provide aid in times of distress. The cross rests atop a 7-foot stone cairn, denoting its importance as a landmark monument. An eternal flame burns at the base of the cairn, representing the spirit of the firefighter-past, present, and future. A plaza in the shape of a Maltese cross surrounds the Memorial. Plaques listing the names of firefighters killed in service to their communities since 1981 encircle the plaza. The area is framed on two sides by a 6-foot stone wall that dates back more than 100 years.

The Memorial is open to the public throughout the year. Thousands of students attending classes at the USFA and EMI visit the Memorial each year. When a firefighter dies on duty, local fire officials notify the USFA. A notice of the death is immediately posted on the Memorial grounds, and the flags over the Memorial are flown at half-staff in honor of the fallen firefighter. If the established criteria are met, the fallen firefighter is honored at the annual memorial service.


Located 20 miles north of Thurmont, the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of the largest American Civil War battle and the largest battle ever waged in the Western Hemisphere. The Battle of Gettysburg opened on July 1, 1863, and closed two days later with the climactic "Pickett's Charge." It resulted in a Union victory for the Army of the Potomac and successfully turned back the second invasion of the North by General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. Over 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. It was also a major turning point in the war. Historians have referred to the Battle of Gettysburg as the "High Water Mark of the Confederacy." It was the last major effort by Lee to take the fighting out of Virginia and into northern states. The Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg contains more than 7,000 interments including over 3,500 from the Civil War. It was here that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.

Post-battle preservation efforts saved small portions of the battlefield as a memorial to the Union victory. On February 11, 1895, congressional legislation was signed to establish Gettysburg National Military Park as a memorial dedicated to the armies that fought that great three-day battle. Gettysburg National Military Park incorporates nearly 6,000 acres, with 26 miles of park roads and over 1,400 monuments, markers and memorials.