Historic Sites In Maryland. More Than Just Parks has 10 incredible must-see sites for you.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the Top 10 Historic Sites in Maryland that you’ll want to see. We’ve got amazing monuments, fascinating exhibits, historic parks, legendary trails and so much more.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Historic Sites In Maryland
10. Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
We begin our top 10 countdown of the best historic sites in Maryland with the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail.
George Washington’s ultimate success against the British was made possible through an alliance with France.
On July 11, 1780, 55-year-old General Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau arrived with an army of 450 officers and 5,300 men in Narragansett Bay off Newport, Rhode Island.
From New Hampshire to Virginia, the Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail connects major metropolitan areas, state and national parks, historic and scenic trails, and countless other historic sites.
The rout is a 680-mile series of roads used in 1781 by the Continental Army under the command of George Washington and the forces under the command of Admiral Rochambeau during their 14-week march from Newport, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia.
9. Monocacy National Battlefield
At #9 on our list of Best Historic Sites In Maryland is the Monocacy National Battlefield.
By the summer of 1864, Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia is being besieged by Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Potomac.
To relieve the pressure on his army, Lee launched another of his daring plans.
Lee ordered General Jubal A. Early to take his corps and advance up the Shenandoah Valley, cross the Potomac, then turn to the southeast to threaten Washington, D.C.
After scattering the few Union units that lay in his path, Early was primed to march on Washington with little to impede him.
News of the Confederates’ approach quickly spread and this put Washington into a state of panic.
Grant had to detach an entire corps from the forces besieging Petersburg to protect the capital. The problem was that Grant’s forces needed time to reach Washington.
A scratch force of Union troops assembled to meet the advancing Confederates near Frederick, Maryland.
“Early Got There Late”
The goal was to delay Early’s force. The two opposing forces met in what became known as the Battle of Monocacy.
Fortunately for the Union Forces, Early’s arrival was after enough reinforcements were able to reach Washington to repel the threat posed by Early’s army.
So, I guess that you could say that “Early got there late.”
Things To Do At Monocacy National Battlefield
Visitors to the Monocacy National Battlefield will explore 1,647 acres of rolling farm fields, historic buildings, and sweeping panoramas along the scenic Monocacy River. There are seven walking trails. Some provide scenic walks whereas others cover phases of the battle.
You can also take a leisurely 5-mile round trip hike around the northern section of Rock Creek Park.
If you prefer driving, however, there’s a self-guided auto tour. The auto tour has five stops, all of which are key locations related to the Battle of Monocacy. The route follows public roads and totals about six miles round-trip.
RELATED: 10 BEST Civil War Sites In America
8. Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail | Historic Sites In Maryland
Coming in at #8 on our list of best historic sites in Maryland is the Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail.
The 560-mile Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail takes you to battlefields and landmarks of the War of 1812. Points of particular interest include:
- Flag Raising at Fort McHenry
- Star-Spangled Banner Flag House and Museum
- Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum
- Fort Washington
- Concord Point Lighthouse
- North Point Beachhead War of 1812 Historic Sign
7. Clara Barton National Historic Site
At lucky #7, we have the Clara Barton National Historic Site.
Clara Barton is one of the most honored women in American history and rightly so.
During the American Civil War, Barton became known as an “Angel of the Battlefield.” She courageously provided nursing care and supplies to soldiers. She found other ways to help the military too.
With permission from President Lincoln, she opened the Office of Missing Soldiers, helping to reconnect more than 20,000 soldiers with their families.
Clara Barton’s compassion extended beyond the boundaries of her native land. She went on to volunteer with the International Committee of the Red Cross, providing civilian relief during the Franco-Prussian War.
Her greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881.
Clara Barton served as first president of this organization Red Cross for 23 years, retiring in 1904. She died at her home in Glen Echo, Maryland, on April 12, 1912.
6. Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail
We conclude the bottom 5 of our top 10 historic sites in Maryland with the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail.
Captain John Smith was an English explorer who played an pivotal role in America’s founding. Smith served on the governing council of Jamestown, Virginia He led two voyages on the Chesapeake Bay.
Smith’s contact with native tribes and his Chesapeake Bay voyages, documented in maps and journals, helped early English colonists learn about the region that became their new home.
Things To Do On The John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail
The trail commemorates Captain Smith’s exploration of the Bay in 1607 through 1609, and is the nation’s first all-water national historic trail. It stretches over 3,000 miles and traverses most of the Chesapeake’s great rivers.
The trail is administered by the National Park Service. It connects with 16 National Wildlife Refuges, 12 National-Parks, and three other National Trails.
Trails I would recommend exploring include the following:
- The Billy Goat Trail-It’s a popular trail near Potomac, Maryland. This is a protected area designed to preserve the remains of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canals with the original structures still intact. The trail offers spectacular views of the Potomac River.
- Scott’s Run River Trail-It’s a wonderful area for nature trips, walking, and running. It features a beautiful waterfall. This is a beautifully wooded trail with a mix of inclines, flat areas, and areas with loose rocks.
- The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail-It’s a popular trail that leads up to an overlook of the Great Falls. You will have wonderful views of the water and rock formations.
Top 5 Historic Sites In Maryland
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
Kicking off our list of the top 5 historic sites in Maryland is the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.
Before the railroads took passengers and freight across the nation, before the interstate network of highways made America easily accessible by car or truck, the canal was a lifeline for communities.
In the 19th century, along the Potomac River, coal, lumber, and agricultural products floated down the waterway to market.
Today the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is 184.5 miles of adventure. Originally, the C&O Canal was a lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, grain and other agricultural products floated down the canal to market.
Visitors hike or bike the C&O Canal each year to enjoy the natural, cultural and recreational opportunities available.
RELATED: 5 MUST-SEE Historic Sites In Ohio
4. Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
We’re on to the final four best historic sites in Maryland.
At #4 we have Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine.
What a story this Maryland National Park site has to tell! Immortalized by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. “O! say can you see . . .“
Key did see! He saw the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814.
American forces resisted the dramatic British bombardment of Fort McHenry and proved they could stand up to a great world power.
Key was inspired upon seeing the American flag still flying over the fort at dawn and wrote the poem “Defense of Fort M’Henry.”
His poem was published and its stirring lyrics became known as the Star Spangled Banner.
This song was America’s unofficial national anthem until President Herbert Hoover made it the official national anthem over a century later.
Let’s Take A Closer Look At The War Of 1812
The War of 1812 was crucial for the successful development of the United States. Why you might ask? Allow me to give you three important reasons.
- First, it effectively destroyed the Indians’ ability to resist American expansion east of the Mississippi River. General Andrew Jackson crushed the Creek Indians at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, while General William Henry Harrison defeated Indians in the Old Northwest at the Battle of the Thames. Abandoned by their British allies, the Indians reluctantly ceded most of their lands north of the Ohio River and in southern and western Alabama to the U.S. government.
- Second, the war allowed the United States to rewrite its boundaries with Spain and solidify control over the lower Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Although the United States did not defeat the British Empire, it had fought the world’s strongest power to a draw. Spain recognized the significance of this fact, and in 1819 Spanish leaders abandoned Florida and agreed to an American boundary running clear to the Pacific Ocean.
- Third, the Federalist Party never recovered from its opposition to the war. In December 1814, delegates from New England gathered in Hartford, Connecticut, where they recommended a series of constitutional amendments to restrict the power of Congress to wage war, regulate commerce, and admit new states. (Source: Digital History)
Take a deeper dive into history
As a retired history teacher, I love to make book recommendations for those of you interested in taking a deeper dive. In the case of the War of 1812, I have three:
The War of 1812: A Forgotten Conflict, Bicentennial Edition by Donald R. Hickey.
1812: The War That Forged a Nation by Walter R. Borneman.
Historic Sites In Maryland
3. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
At #3 on our top ten list of historic sites in Maryland is Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Just as the name of Francis Scott Key is inexorably connected to Fort McHenry so is the name of John Brown likewise linked with Harpers Ferry.
In October of 1859, Brown led a raid against the military arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
The raid was intended to be the first stage in an elaborate plan to establish an independent stronghold of freed slaves in the mountains of Maryland and Virginia.
Brown was captured during the raid. He was convicted of treason and hanged, but the raid served as a flashpoint for a national on the brink of Civil War.
In the North, Brown was hailed as a hero while is the South he was depicted as the devil incarnate. This event helped move the two sections of America ever closer to Civil War.
Things To Do At Harpers Ferry
History truly comes to life at Harpers Ferry. There visitors can explore museums and exhibits, hike to overlooks or along Civil War skirmish lines, join a ranger-guided tour or sign-up for a living history workshop.
I recommend beginning your visit at the visitors center where you can pick up helpful information. Rangers are available to answer your questions.
Before heading out to explore the town and its surrounding natural beauty, as a history buff I recommend a stop at the Harpers Ferry Park Association’s Bookshop. It has a wonderful collection of books on the Civil War.
Check Out The Appalachian Trail
If you’re looking to combine history and nature then check out the 22 miles of hiking trails at Harpers Ferry. It happens to be the mid-point of the 2,178-mile Appalachian Trail.
Picnicking is also available at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park at a designated picnic area adjacent to the Visitor Center parking lot. Picnic tables are on a first-come, first-serve basis.
2. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
Coming in at #2 on our lit of the best historic sites in Maryland is the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park.
As one who taught history for almost thirty years, I’m still enthralled today by stories of the Underground Railroad.
The challenge for me was to explain to my students that, despite the fact that those who helped runaway slaves escape to freedom were called “conductors,” this was not a real railroad by any stretch of the imagination.
The Underground Railroad
Instead, The Underground Railroad was a network of people, African American as well as white, offering shelter and aid to escaped enslaved people from the South.
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 empowered slaveholders to pursue these runaways to the northernmost reaches of America and bring them south once again.
This meant that runaways had to escape to Canada to be truly free.
People known as “conductors” guided these fugitives. Hiding places included private homes, churches and schoolhouses. These were called “stations,” “safe houses,” and “depots.”
The people operating them were called “stationmasters.” An estimated 100,000 people were freed by their heroic efforts.
The most famous of the conductors was herself born a slave. In 1849, Araminta Ross, escaped a plantation in Maryland with two of her brothers.
Harriet Tubman became her married name and one by which she would win eternal fame.
Tubman returned to the south to lead her niece and her niece’s children to Philadelphia via the Underground Railroad. She became a dedicated abolitionist who is believed to have personally rescued 300 people.
After the Civil War began, Tubman became head of an espionage and scout network for the Union Army.
She provided crucial intelligence to Union commanders about Confederate Army supply routes and troops and helped liberate enslaved people to form Black Union regiments.
Things To Do At The Harriet Tubman National Historical Park
It’s an incredible experience to adventure to walk into the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center. It’s in the heart of Dorchester County, Maryland, amid farm fields, creeks, and marshes.
You will find exhibits, an audio-visual program, visitor information, a museum store, research library, and seasonal interpretive programs.
While you’re in the neighborhood, you should also head over to Dorchester to see The Harriet Tubman Museum & Education Center. It started in the 1980s. It’s run by dedicated local volunteers who want to share Harriet Tubman’s story and preserve her legacy.
The museum building features a powerful and moving mural of Harriet Tubman that has attracted attention from around the country.
The #1 Historic Site In Maryland
1. Antietam National Battlefield
At #1 on our list of the top ten historic sites in Maryland is the Antietam National Battlefield.
I like nothing better than to pack up my car and go off in search of America’s past. And Maryland’s got a lot to offer in this department!
The Battle of Antietam featured the bloodiest single day in American history. It was one of the pivotal battles of the American Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln was desperate for a Union victory against Confederate General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.
Many historians consider this battle to be a stalemate. Lee’s invasion of the North was stopped, however, and this was decisive enough for Lincoln to move forward with his historic Emancipation Proclamation.
Six Other Ways That Antietam Changed The Course Of History
- Robert E. Lee is the military genius who confounded one northern general after another. Lee was fresh off of his victory in the Second Battle of Bull Run. At Antietam, his plan was to invade the north. He was repelled, however, and would not attempt another invasion of the North until the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.
- A string of Confederate victories in the summer of 1862 had brought France and Great Britain close to recognition of the Confederate States of America. This would have been devastating for the Union cause. Lee’s inability to win a decisive victory at Antietam halted this momentum towards diplomatic recognition.
- The Union’s ability to stop Lee and force him to withdraw lifted northern morale.
- Antietam was one of the first battles in history to feature photographic images of twisted bodies littering the devastated landscape and stacked in heaps like slaughtered livestock. These images brought the horror of war home to the civilian population.
- The Union’s ability to stop Lee helped President Lincoln’s Republican Party in the 1862 elections. Democrats had been highly critical of the President’s conduct of the war. They were hoping to make significant political gains. Republicans, however, actually gained seats in the Senate and maintained a majority in the House.
- While Lee was stopped, Union Commander George McClellan refused to pursue Lee’s Army as Lincoln felt he should have. For McClellan, this was the beginning of the end as Lincoln began to search for a new commander.
Things To Do At The Antietam National Battlefield
If you’re a first-timer then I definitely recommend beginning your trip at the visitor center. The Newcomer House and Barn are positioned at the eastern gateway to the Antietam National Battlefield.
The Newcomer House serves as Visitor Center for the Heart of the Civil War Heritage Area. There you can see museum exhibits about the battle.
There is a self-guided 8 1/2 mile auto tour through the battlefield. The tour has 11 stops and begins at the Dunker Church.
Or, if you prefer walking to driving then you can hike the Bloody Lane, Cornfield, Final Attack, Union Advance, Antietam Remembered, Sherrick Farm or Snavely Ford Trails.
I recently traveled to Antietam with my wife and son. While there, I picked up A Fierce Glory: Antietam–The Desperate Battle That Saved Lincoln and Doomed Slavery by Justin Martin. It’s a thoughtful examination of how this battle changed the trajectory of the conflict.
The Pry House Field Hospital Museum | The Birthplace Of Modern Emergency Medicine
Another place that you should check out is the Pry House Field Hospital Museum. The Pry House sits on Antietam National Battlefield near Sharpsburg, Maryland. It was built in 1844 as the home of Phillip and Elizabeth Pry and their six children.
During the Battle of Antietam in September 1862, the house served as headquarters for General George McClellan, as well Major Jonathan Letterman, the army’s medical director.
Antietam is the birthplace of modern emergency medicine. It was here that Letterman developed an efficient system for securing, evacuation, and treating casualties. Now called the Letterman Plan, it remains the basis of medical response on battlefields and in disaster situations around the world.
Today the Pry House is home to the Pry House Field Hospital Museum, a satellite museum of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine. The museum includes two floors of exhibits with original artifacts and text panels discussing battlefield medicine and field hospitals of the Civil War, especially Antietam.
Visitors will see fascinating exhibits including a re-creation of an operating theater, interpretive panels and objects relating to the care of wounded and the effects on the civilian population in the area as well as information about the Pry House.
There’s a wonderful book that I recommend regarding this fascinating topic. It’s Surgeon in Blue: Jonathan Letterman, the Civil War Doctor Who Pioneered Battlefield Care by Scott McGaugh.
Map Of Historic Sites In Maryland
List Of Historic Sites In Maryland
- Antietam National Battlefield
- Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park
- Harpers Ferry National Historical Park
- Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine
- Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park
- Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historical Trail
- Clara Barton National Historic Site
- Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail
- Monocacy National Battlefield
- Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks.
I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks.
I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested joining the adventure, sign up below!