That opportunity occurred just this month, when I was able to clear my schedule for a long weekend to see what Boonsboro had to offer.
Arriving in Town
When we arrived in town, our first stop was Vesta Pizza, which I learned is owned by the NY Times bestselling author Nora Roberts and her husband Bruce Wilder. The back of the building beckons with a cheery mural which seems to invite visitors to step inside where they serve pizza, burgers, salads, sandwiches and pasta.
It doesn't take long for out-of-towners to realize that Nora Roberts is big here and that the quaint little town is quite proud of the prolific author who lives in nearby Keedysville.
We learned later that the brightly colored Vesta pizza building has a colorful past as well. Built in 1811, it was used as a residence by Dr. Silfer, then later as a female seminary. During the Civil War, it operated as the U.S. Hotel where a Confederate officer by the name of Bassett French was surprised by Union troops as he hid in the coal bin in the basement.
|Vesta Pizzeria welcomes visitors with a cheery mural.|
A Walkable Downtown with Plenty of Shopping Opportunities
Downtown Boonsboro is home to a number of boutiques, which offer everything from gifts, to apparel, jewelry, books, home decor and more.
|The Robin's Nest carries jewelry, gifts and more.|
|Gifts Inn Boonsboro works with 75 artists to bring unique gifts to the consumer.|
|Turn the Page bookstore operates from a Pre-Civil War townhome located just off the square.|
If you just happen to be hungry and in the market for rifles and ammo, you can kill three birds with one stone at Crawford's Restaurant, Guns and Ammo. The sign gave me a chuckle, so of course I had to venture in. I later learned that plenty of visitors take a moment to stop, smile and snap a picture of the popular sign. When I asked the lady behind the 50s-era counter the age of the business, she said that she didn't know, but that she had been with them for over four decades.
|Since my visit, I learned that this is the most oft-photographed sign in town.|
|Old-school dining, with prices to match.|
|A weathered trunk and a story I'll never know.|
I particularly enjoy viewing old houses and imagining the lives of those who came before, which is just one reason why I was so delighted to find walking tour pamphlets in a weather-proof box in downtown Boonsboro. On the map are 34 places, each with a paragraph or two detailing a few interesting facts about each structure. We split the tour into two during our three-day visit, which made viewing and photographing each place more manageable.
Among the most interesting were the two log homes. The first, located at 14 South Main, seems to sigh with the burden of age, but has nonetheless managed to withstand the test of time. It operated as a grocery in 1802 until it shuttered its doors in 1983, which I find pretty incredible.
|This structure operated as a grocery from 1802 to 1983.|
|The Bowman House was built in 1826 and now serves as headquarters to the Boonsboro Historical Society.|
|Dr. Edgar T. Smith's house was built in the late 1880s.|
Visiting the Pry Field Hospital Museum
|The Pry House Field Hospital Museum tells the story of a family whose life was upended by the Civil War and the soldiers who were treated there at the time.|
The Pry house Field Hospital Museum is located between Boonsboro and Sharpsburg, MD and is on the outskirts of the Antietam Battlefield near the town of Keedysville.
What was once a peaceful farm turned out to be a scene of chaos for Philip, Elizabeth Pry and their six children, whose lives were forever changed when General George B. McClellan came knocking, making the fateful decision to use the house as his headquarters for the Union Army of the Potomac. During this time, Pry's best parlor furniture was thrown out into the front lawn, fences were knocked down, loads of hay confiscated and livestock was taken to feed the army. One of the exhibits memorializes the family’s extensive war claims, which were never fully paid.
The museum inside the well-preserved home focuses on both the history of hospitals and medical care during the Civil War. On the second floor is a collection of graphic photos taken in the aftermath of the battle by photographers working for Matthew Brady.
The medical exhibits show the dreadful injuries caused by the bullets used in the war (called “Minie” bullets) and the ghastly treatments that were administered during that time. Common myths like "biting the bullet" are dispelled and we learn that the property was also headquarters for Dr. Jonathan Letterman, Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac, who stayed at the house throughout the battle.
|A doctor tends to a soldier's wounds.|
The family barn, located a short walk from the house, offers a glimpse into what took place during the occupation of the Pry property, with common items used to transport the wounded, like stretchers and a Civil War ambulance on display.
|A Civil War ambulance is kept in the Pry barn.|
The C&O Canal
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park is yet another attraction in Washington County, with a visitor’s center in Williamsport, MD, just on the other side of Hagerstown.
Ground was broken for the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal in 1828 to create a navigable waterway from tidewater at Georgetown to the Ohio River. Before construction ended in 1850, however, the canal was rendered obsolete and replaced by the faster and much more efficient railroad, which completed the link to the West, while the canal stopped far short of the Ohio River in Columbia, MD.
Today, guests can traverse the towpath by foot, or by bicycles, which are available for rent at the Visitor's Center.
Take a short walk up the hill past the Visitor's Center to view several educational exhibits that help further explain the canal system, from the importance of locks, to the lives of the locktenders and the dependence on the mules that pulled the boats.
|Models demonstrate the system of locks and how they worked during the days of yore.|
To learn more, download the C&O Canal Explorer Mobile App to become familiar with all 184.5 miles of the C&O National Historical park, which has over 600 points of interest, from hiking trails, to campgrounds, trailheads and more.
During our visit, we intended to visit two major attractions on the Appalachian Trail, which runs along the South Mountain Ridge. Instead, a driving rain scuttled our plans. If you happen to find time in your schedule (and weather permits) I suggest visiting these unique landmarks.
The Washington Monument
|The Washington Monument was built by Boonsboro citizens in 1827 and precedes the one on the Washington Mall. Photo courtesy of Thomas Ruhf.|
|The War Correspondents Arch, courtesy of Charissa Beeler Hipp|
Wine Tasting at Big Cork Vineyards
Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Maryland is just a 15-minute drive from downtown Boonsboro and is well worth the visit. From the bucolic setting amidst the rolling hills, to the sleek, contemporary interior decor, to the exceptional wines that you can't find anywhere else, it's a visit that you won't likely forget and one that you'll likely be sharing with your friends upon returning home.
|Big Cork Vineyards held its grand opening in 2015.|
|The business touts a 10,000 square foot winery and tasting room.|
|Stools play on the Big Cork theme.|
|Outdoor area made for socializing.|
Owner Randy Thompson teamed up with seasoned winemaker Dave Collins, to bring the public an exceptional selection of award-winning wine.
|Artist Scott Gundersen created this portrait of winemaker Dave Collins using upwards of 15,000 corks.|
We were informed by Communications Director Amy Benton that we would be hard pressed to find another wine that tastes like "Russian Kiss" in the U.S. because the vines hail from Eastern Europe and were introduced to the winery by viticulturist and small fruit specialist Dr. Joe Fiola, who works at the University of Maryland. Collins liked the grapes so much that he sent several thousand vines off for grafting in California. His instinct turned out to be correct--Russian Kiss has been a hit with the public.
The vineyard also offers quite the lineup of entertainment. According to Benton, there is live music every weekend when the weather warms. On tap for this summer is the"Big Summer Concert Series," with tributes to Frank Sinatra, ABBA and Bruce Springsteen. Visit the event page here to learn more.
Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts of Washington County
|The entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts of Washington County.|
The museum was established in 1931 by Anna Brugh Singer and her husband William H. Singer, who was an artist in his own right. Once you are familiar with his style, you'll easily spot his pieces in the museum.
During our visit, Washington County Public Schools was holding its annual exhibition with impressive pieces created by budding artists.
The generosity of the Singers and subsequent donors has enabled the WCMFA to continue to grow throughout the years. One of my favorite pieces is a more contemporary piece--a bronze created by Antonio Tobias Mendez in 1999 and titled, "Solitaire?"
|Solitaire? by Antonio Tobias Mendez.|
|Diana, by Anna Hyatt Huntington, was presented to the WCMFA in 1941.|
|Saints Mary Magdalene and Paul, by Giovanni Mazone, Italian, ca. 1480s, oil on panel.|
|"The Oculist." Norman Rockwell, 1956, Oil on canvas.|
Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
Dining in an around Boonsboro
|Dan's Restaurant and Taphouse is owned by the son of Nora Roberts.|
For a down-home experience, there's Bonnie's at the Red Byrd on Shepherdstown Pike down the road a stretch in Keedysville. It seems to be a local hangout and it's no wonder. The prices are extraordinary low and the food was good. I ordered a tuna sandwich for a shocking $4.25 and was not disappointed.
|You can't beat the prices at Bonnie's at the Red Byrd, where the locals eat.|
For a more upscale experience, there's the Old South Mountain Inn perched atop Turner's Gap at 6132 Old National Pike in Boonsboro. One thing I can say is that there's no lack of old buildings in the area. The Inn was founded in 1732 and speculation has it that General Edward Braddock, accompanied by young Lt. George Washington, may have passed by on the way to Fort Duquesne.
|The Old South Mountain Inn touts a rich history. It is located at 6132 Old National Pike, Boonsboro.|
In 1859, the Inn was captured and held overnight as an outpost by John Brown's followers and later became the headquarters of Confederate Gen. D.H. Hill during the Battle of South Mountain, which preceded the Battle of Antietam as in fact the first civil war battle fought in Maryland.
Today the Inn is as popular for its food as it is for its history. Visitors come from miles around for old-school favorites like crab imperial, chicken marsala, beef Wellington and pasta primavera.
|The filet mignon at the Old South Mountain Inn.|
|The front dining room of the Old South Mountain Inn.|
|The interesting old bar located in a room to the left of the entrance.|
|The Inn Boonsboro is owned by Nora Roberts and is located on the corner at 1 N. Main.|
The Inn's spacious porch.
We appreciated the opportunity to sit outside on the balcony during a warm May evening. We were also impressed with all of the extra touches, from the scones and cookies available in the dining room, to the soda and water in the refrigerator, to the decanter of Irish whisky available for guests to enjoy a nightcap.
|The Eva and Roarke room from the J.D. Robb novels.|
|Our balcony overlooked the courtyard.|
As with many structures in Boonsboro, the Inn touts a rich history as well. You can read more about the background of the Bed and Breakfast here.
These are just a few recommendations for a long weekend in the Boonsboro area. If you're like me and love walking around small towns, patronizing local businesses and learning about old buildings and the history behind them, you can't go wrong in Boonsboro.