Civil War News
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Kyd Douglas Home Open This Summer
By Deborah Fitts
August 2002

SHARPSBURG, Md. — Ferry Hill, the home of Stonewall Jackson's staff officer Henry Kyd Douglas, has been opened for the first time for interpretation to the public.

The landmark 1850 structure, which stands 100 feet above the Potomac River opposite Shepherdstown, W.Va., is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through mid-August. The house served until recently as the headquarters of C&O Canal National Historical Park. The park moved in early April to offices in Hagerstown.

Aware that Douglas has "a lot of fans," Bill Justice, C&O Canal's chief of interpretation, said the park decided to let visitors have a look. Public response this summer may help the park determine the fate of Ferry Hill, Justice indicated, including the extent of restoration and public access.

"We'll decide to treat it as a historic house-museum, or open it up only occasionally to the public," he said.

Ferry Hill got wide attention following the posthumous publication of Douglas's memoirs, I Rode With Stonewall. A successful staff officer under Jackson — and Jackson's youngest — Douglas was later wounded at Gettysburg and toward the end of the war was given command of the Stonewall Brigade.

After the war Douglas worked as a lawyer in Hagerstown, Md., and was active in the Maryland National Guard. A lifelong bachelor, he was known to walk the streets of Hagerstown with a rose clenched in his teeth, to demonstrate his aristocratic flair, according to local historian Tom Clemens. Douglas died in 1903 and is buried in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Clemens said he was "tickled" that Ferry Hill was being opened to the public. One of his high-school students is serving as the on-site interpreter.

Ferry Hill's proximity to an early 1800s ferry crossing — later supplanted by a bridge spanning the river — as well as to Blackford's and Boteler's fords and the C&O Canal, put it at the center of action even before the war.

Douglas recounted in I Rode With Stonewall how, as a teenager in 1859, he inadvertently helped abolitionist John Brown below the house with boxes of "farm tools" that turned out to be weapons. Douglas brought Jackson to Ferry Hill during the 1862 Maryland Campaign. On another occasion, Douglas's father was arrested by Union troops and imprisoned when he was suspected of sending signals from the house to Confederates on the far shore.

Ferry Hill was serving as a restaurant when the National Park Service purchased it. It became part of the C&O Canal system in the late 1970s, according to Justice. The decision to move the headquarters elsewhere resulted from concern that the structure was being abused, he said.
Although a sizeable farmhouse, "It was never designed to handle the floor loads that modern offices impose on a structure," he said. "Partly for efficiency and partly for preservation, we had to get out."

Justice said he hopes to commission a historic structures report, "getting every document that we can get our hands on" going as far back as the Blackfords, the owners who sold to Douglas's father shortly before the war. Architectural historians will also study original paint and other clues to ascertain the house's appearance at the time of the war.

Justice said Ferry Hill lends itself to a variety of historical interpretation, including its own history, the history of the ferry and the fords, and the history of Henry Kyd Douglas and the Civil War. Also of interest is farming history, he said: as was not uncommon in that part of Maryland, white and slave labor worked side by side in the fields of Ferry Hill.

Questions about access to Ferry Hill may be answered at the park at (301) 739-4200 (dial zero). Ferry Hill is on Route 34 about 4 miles from Antietam battlefield, just before the Shepherdstown bridge. From I-70 take Route 65 to Sharpsburg and turn right on 34.

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