Thursday, February 5, 2015

Finding The Osage Orange

This long winter nap thing is getting old.  Winter and discontent, as Shakespeare observed, are closely linked.  What to do?  Weekday getaway, that's what.

To the far northeast corner of Maryland we go.

Nancy found Elk Forge, a 250-year old manse turned B&B, and we lit out during a little break in the relentless waves of frozen precipitation coming from north, west and south.  As we expected, hardly any guests were there and the wind chill and mud on the walking trail kept outdoor activities to a minimum (except for a dip in the hot tub the first evening; feet almost froze to the deck but a Sonoma Cabernet made things much better).  We were lodged on the third floor, directly below the attic, where the ghosts hang out in Colonial-era buildings.
The Osage Orange, not a great choice for your yard

There is a large water feature behind the wedding reception hall, valiantly flowing through mounds of ice, and many signs of deer.  We asked the handyman what the piles of tropical-looking rotting fruits were, and he pointed to the witchy tree centered on the rear lawn, identifying it as an Osage Orange.  The fruits, it turns out, though produced in abundance, are useless.  I recall the wood is a beautiful orange-flame color, but anything that has lived this long deserves not to become a dining table just yet.

We had a few nearby places to visit on our list; first was the ghost town of Frenchtown, to the south and by the Elk River.  It had been a small but busy port and depot before being burned by a British Admiral named Cockburn in 1813.  The C&D Canal and the railroads made its comeback a non-starter.  Today the road to it is lined with homes, all of the white, but a gate where the pavement gives way to dirt and gravel keeps curious folk like us out.  A large tavern lived on after the town disappeared, and was said to have been particularly ghost-ridden, but it burned down in the 1960s.

The woods are full of abandoned farm buildings and homes

We proceeded on to a charming town we had never heard of, Chesapeake City, on said C&D Canal, and reached over a bridge so tall (so shippng can clear it) anyone who dislikes heights would have been shaking.  It resembled our recent discovery of Niagara-On-The-Lake in Canada: water and wineries nearby, more Victorian architecture than you can take in, and several alluring dining and watering holes.  The single-digit wind chill, despite a brilliant sun, kept our tour a short one; in fact, we didn't see one other person out.  I found a summertime picture on the internet of where we parked alone, and it was jammed with cars everywhere, as you would expect.  We'll be back -- it's only two hours away -- to spend a full day in the Spring before the summer crowds arrive.  I almost hate to publicize it!

Cecil County (that far northeastern corner of Maryland) has an impressive industrial history, but it's mostly expressed now in stone ruins and the hundreds of simple worker homes that remain, as it is history by now, dying out after 1930.  Famous for mills of all types (saw, textile, flax, paper and more), the county's glory was the iron industry, particularly the Principio furnace and specialized offshoots such as a nail factory.  In the 19th century, slave labor replaced that of the indentured servants who had moved on to be landowners and farmers.  Old atlases show hundreds of dwellings and farms that are lost in the woods today.

Charmer on the C&D Canal

You can almost hear the echoes of a vitally busy past, like the footsteps of the entire Continental Army going down the Old Post Road south to Yorktown in Virginia and...into history.


1 comment:

  1. Always the adventurers seeking the mysterious wonders.