Hike the Gathland State Park trails

The ruins of a building with a placard dating the structure as 1887,
West Virginia’s Gathland State Park features several late 19th Century ruins built by the eccentric war correspondent George Alfred Townsend

In 1884, the war correspondent George Alfred Townsend, known by his pen name “Gath” visited Crampton’s Gap for the first time. Weeks later, he purchased the land that straddles the pass and began building his baronial summer retreat.

Mark Twain with “Gath” and another leading foreign correspondent of the day.

Gath wrote for the both The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Herald before becoming washington correspondent for New York World at the time of Lincoln’s assassination.

Soon after the war, he discovered what is now Gathland State Park, above the bucolic fields surrounding Burkittsville, Maryland.

The most notable attraction at Gathland State Park is the War Correspondent’s Memorial Arch, which Gath built and dedicated to journalists on both sides of the Civil War.

It was an original idea, if a bit bizarre in its construction. What do we infer while contemplating the open sky behind the colossal upper story windows? That these noble journalists are now looking down on us from a higher place? Or that this is as far as Gath got on his castle before he ran out of money?

The War Correspondents Memorial commemorates Civil War journalists on both sides of the conflict.
The War Correspondents Memorial at Gathland State Park commemorates Civil War journalists on both sides of the conflict.

Whatever the meaning, it is certainly true that Gath ran out of money before his vision was complete. Although he had intended to be buried at Gathland, the tomb he built for himself is empty because the ‘near penniless’ Gath presumably could only afford a more modest burial closer to where he died, in Philadelphia.

A placard by his empty tomb explains — in what I imagine to be a bluegrass-laced West Virginia accent: “Gath’s empty tomb mutely symbolizes the uncertainties of life, fame and fortune and the certainty of death.”

The ruins of a Norman arch serve as the entrance to the Appalachian Trail at Gathland State Park.
The ruins of a Norman arch serve as the entrance to the Appalachian Trail at Gathland State Park.

Just behind the tomb is another Norman arch, marking the opening of the Appalachian Trail. 2.5 miles to the North (turn left through the arch) is the White Rocks Trail Overlook and the rustic AT lodging at Bear Spring Cabin. 4 miles to the South (turn right) is Waverton Cliffs, which overlooks the rapids near Harper’s Ferry, WV.

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