The Bridges of Washington County

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Sometimes getting there really is half the fun, and with Mother Nature painting the region with a kaleidoscope of colors, now is the perfect time for an off-the-beaten-path adventure.

For those looking for something different this year, nearby Washington County, MD, makes for an easy day or weekend trip with something for everyone to enjoy.

Home to the historic Antietam National Battlefield, Washington County is also home to several other lesser-known historic sites, including over 22 stone arch bridges and structures built before the Civil War.

On a brilliant fall day, its worth the effort to  seek out the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, the only monument in the world dedicated to the memory of war correspondents.

This unusual piece of masonry was erected by George Alfred Townsend, the youngest war correspondent of the Civil War, in 1896 and sits atop South Mountain just a few miles southeast of Boonsboro.

Standing 50 feet high and 40 feet wide, the arch features limestone tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who perished during the Civil War.

Located nearby and providing a spectacular panorama of the blazing fall colors is the other Washington Monument, the nations first built in honor of George Washington and dedicated on July 4, 1827 (Washington, D.C.s famous monument was not completed until 1885).

Situated near the summit of South Mountains Monument Knob, the monument stands 30 feet high with a base circumference of 54 feet and was used as a signal tower during the Antietam Campaign of 1862.

In contrast to its famous namesake, this one is also a lot easier to ascend, with 39 circular stone steps leading to a breathtaking scenic view of the region.

Both the Washington Monument and War Correspondents Memorial Arch are located along Americas famous Appalachian Trail, providing access to easy and popular day hike routes. The two sites have picnicking facilities and restrooms as well as parking for backpackers making longer treks.

Dotting the landscape throughout the region are the magnificent stone bridges that were critical to maneuvers in the region during the Civil War.

Some of these historic bridges are still used as roads today, like the Antietam Iron Works Bridge, which spans the mouth of Antietam Creek at the juncture of Antietam Creek with the Potomac River.

This four-arch stone bridge, located on Harpers Ferry Road just south of Sharpsburg, was built in 1832 at a site that is legendary as the battleground of the Catawba and Delaware Indian tribes.

Just west of the Iron Works Bridge is the Antietam Aquaduct. Not visible from the road, it sits along the C&O Canal at the mouth of Antietam Creek. With easy access and parking, the aquaduct gives a spectacular view across the Potomac and makes a convenient starting point for hikes or bike rides along the canal or river.

When youre ready for a break, take the kids over to South Mountain Creamery for some of their world-famous pumpkin ice cream.

The dairy gives tours during the week ($5) that allow visitors to watch cows being milked and to help feed the baby calves, and everyone gets some of the home-made ice cream before they leave.

If you happen to go this weekend, the creamery is having their yearly Harvest Celebration, with hayrides, ice cream making demonstrations and live entertainment.

South Mountain Creamery is also one of the last dairies in the area to provide home delivery service (including to Alexandria) for its milk, cheeses, ciders and other products, and, yes, the pumpkin ice cream alone is worth the trip.

Also this weekend is a special performance by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra at the historic Maryland Theatre in Hagerstown, with special pricing of $5 for student tickets.

If youre looking to make this an adventurous overnight excursion, try camping in a treehouse at Maple Tree Campground.

Located near Harpers Ferry, the unique campground includes tree cottages, tree houses and tent sites and is popular with scouting and youth groups from across the region.

So if youre a leaf-peeper, a history buff or just want to enjoy the change of seasons without having to battle the congestion of Virginias own famous byways, grab a map and enjoy the backroads and beauty of the other side of the Potomac in Washington County.

For more information on things to do in Washington County, visit www.marylandmemories.com or call 1-888-257-2600. For information on the South Mountain Creamery, including their upcoming Harvest Celebration, visit www.southmountaincreamery.com or call 301-371-8565. For information on the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, visit www.marylandsymphony.org or call 301-797-4000.

For more information on The Maple Tree Campground, visit www.thetreehousecamp.com or call 301- 432-5585.

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