We begin this trip report with a pop quiz. In Washington, there are two bridges that cross the Potomac River with Virginia on one side and Maryland on the other. Of course, that one is easy, the Wilson Bridge and the Legion Bridge.
Widening the lens, where else are there are a pair of bridges that also span the Potomac with Virginia on one side and Maryland on the other?
I have to admit. Before I started planning out this trip, I did not know the answer. Now that I have, I can say with a discoverer’s pride, the answer is Point of Rocks and Brunswick, about 50 miles from the District.
So how did I come across this bit of geography trivia? With over a dozen road trips under our belt, and pickings getting slimmer, I went back to my old reliable method this time, browsing the map. My original intent was to go to Adamstown and that portion of Frederick County. Then I noticed these two towns below Harper’s Ferry.
Serendipity, I love you.
There are several options for getting to Brunswick from Alexandria. We took 495/66/15/287. The latter road, one we had never been on, is named “Berlin Pike,” a nod to the Germans who came down from Pennsylvania in the early part of the 18th Century.
On the approach to Brunswick, we passed through Lovettsville, a stop on the “Hee Haw” salute parade – population 853 (I mean that fondly ya’ll). Founded in 1733 by German farm families, this is the northern most town in Loudoun County. I added it to our itinerary because it has a museum, but unfortunately, their opening hour of 1 pm did not work for us.
A few more miles and we crossed the Potomac, a breath-taking gateway to Maryland’s Piedmont Plateau region. With a population of 6,000, Brunswick is Frederick County’s second largest city. A significant portion commute to Northern Virginia and DC on the Brunswick Line, a MARC commuter rail line. Like other towns, Brunswick has revitalized with the help of the Main Street program.
The action is on Potomac Street. Our first stop was, “Beans in the Belfry.” I knew with a name like that it had to be good, and I’m pleased to say they proved my guess right. Best chili we’ve had in a while and what comfy digs they have created.
Our next stop was the town’s great double play, the Brunswick Railroad Museum and the C&O Canal Visitor Center. The former has three floors including an extraordinary model of the train, track and route all the way from Washington. The Canal Museum is also impressive.
We were greeted by a friendly and knowledgable lady behind the desk who turned out to be the Mayor, Karin Tome. Don’t want to stick my nose into local politics but I would vote for her! Walt Stull, Council Member was equally kind and courteous. In one of his observations about the town, he said, “We…” His choice of pronouns reflects the bonds between the town and its people.
With more time, we would have walked down to the C&O Canal path. It’s Mile 55 of the 184-mile long historic National Park, and Lock number 30. Even though it is that far from Washington, I’m guessing more cyclists from our area come here than those like us in a vehicle. We noticed a bike repair store and shop.
The Historical Marker Database tells me that a handful of markers by the canal summarize the history of the town. One notes its first name was Berlin, then Barry, and finally Brunswick in 1890. That was the year the B&O Railroad built freight yards and maintenance shops here. The town’s population swelled from 200 to an estimated 5,000. The boom ended in the 50s when the railroad moves its operations elsewhere.
Our second and final stop was Point of Rocks, about five miles below Brunswick. This town is smaller than its upstream counterpart. Nevertheless, Point of Rocks did have a hey-day during the railroad and canal era, and it’s some kind of a Mecca for railroad buffs. Point of Rocks is also a passenger stop on the MARC Brunswick Line. But it’s the inactive train station that draws photographers. Built in the 1870s in the Victorian way, the station was originally called, “Washington Junction.” As Wiki notes, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and marks the junction between CSX’s Metropolitan Subdivision Line and the Old Main Line Subdivision.
Both the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad desired to build on this thin strip of land. When the B&O realized that the canal was moving ahead with its construction at Point of Rocks, it filed an injunction effectively stopping the construction, demanding that the railroad had the right of way. In 1832, after four years in court, the right of way was given to the canal with the C&O next to the river and the B&O forced to hug the mountain above the canal.
Leaving the town, we crossed over the Potomac once again, our unique interstate voyage complete save the drive home. Like much in life, this pair of “canal towns” demonstrates a little can go a long way. The trick, of course, is finding them.