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Maryland's National Register Properties



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Catoctin Mountain Park Historic District
Inventory No.: F-6-147, WA-IV-269
Other Name(s): Catoctin Recreation Demonstration Area
Date Listed: 8/7/2014
Location: Thurmont, , Frederick County, Washington County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 3000 B.C. to 1954 A.D.; 1942-present
Description: Catoctin Mountain Park lies primarily in Frederick County, Maryland, with approximately 300 acres in Washington County. A portion of the park is set aside as a retreat for the President of the United States and to house the associated military support services. Catoctin Mountain Park (CATO) Historic District covers approximately 5,770 acres of land. Located in a rural setting in northwestern Maryland, the park, under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, is owned by the Federal government and managed as a recreation and conservation area. Human exploitation of the resources within the CATO landscape began in prehistoric times, when Native Americans used Catoctin Mountain as a short-term encampment for rhyolite quarrying, hunting, and processing activities. The current east-west road crossing the mountain, Maryland State Route 77, possibly originated as an Indian trail which provided access to the bands of rhyolite on the park's west side. The quarried stone formed the basis of a regional trade network. European settlement began in the mid-18th century, primarily on the west side of Catoctin Mountain along the north-south running valley drained by Owens Creek. This was the same location where Native Americans quarried rhyolite. The underlying basalt and rhyolite formed soils conducive to agriculture where slope permitted. The two stone types provided fieldstone used as building materials for chimneys, fences, and building foundations and piers. In the late 18th century, timbering, charcoaling, and charcoaling roads developed throughout the region to support the burgeoning iron industry. By the 19th century small sawmills, and possibly a gristmill, were located on the mountain streams. Regional roads tended to conform to the underlying geological structure, following ridges, streams, and shoulders of the broader uplands. Park development, beginning with a Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA) during the 1930s, made use of many of the same locations as previous occupants, because these areas were the most adaptable. The flatter landscape near the Native American rhyolite quarries and the later agricultural fields became the site of the RDA headquarters and maintenance area. The broad and somewhat drier central plateau, never a farming area, had a few openings where two of the final three cabin camps were located. A sawmill, in the early 19th century, existed where the contact station at Blue Blazes, the present day Visitor Center, is sited today. Blue Blazes was also where the east-west road, Route 77, intersected with the major charcoaling road. Natural features and the exhausted condition of the land contributed to the selection of the Catoctin Mountain for the site of the RDA. However, among more important criteria for selection of a potential RDA site, was the availability of building materials and the presence of natural water resources for recreation. The chestnut blight, introduced to North America around 1900, killed large chestnut trees in the park. The dead timber and local stone provided requisite construction materials for park facilities. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built in-stream structures to enhance conditions for trout fishing, and the state-instituted tradition of trout stocking continued. Catoctin Mountain Park reduced brook trout stocking by the 1980s in an effort to encourage growth in the population of native brook trout. The natural features of the landscape, its outcrops, and streams provided recreation enticements before the establishment of the RDA. By the late 19th century, trails led to the east side outcrops and to Cunningham Falls and, since the early 20th century, the mountain trout streams drew people for sport. Significance: There are two primary periods of significance for Catoctin Mountain Park. The first phase begins in the Late Archaic Period (circa 3000 BC), with the earliest verifiable use of park lands, and ends in 1954, with the creation of the current boundaries of the park. The second period of significance starts in 1942 with the creation of the presidential retreat, originally known as Shangri-La, and runs to the present. Significant dates within the pre-park landscape include 1770 when land was purchase for the future Catoctin Iron Furnace, and 1903 when Catoctin Iron Furnace closed. Significant dates for the New Deal era and beyond include 1936, when construction of the RDA began; 1937, when the first group camp opened; 1939, when the CCC began work in the park; 1941, when the park closed to the public and the United States Army set up training; 1942-1945, with the war efforts, that included OSS training, Army training, and the creation of a presidential retreat for FDR; 1947 when the park was reopened for public use and group camping; 1949, when the RDA was transferred to the National Capital Parks; 1954, when Catoctin RDA was divided and became Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park with present-day boundaries; 1959, when leader of the Soviet Union, Nikia Sergeyevich Khrushchev (1894-1971) and Present Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969) met at Camp David, forging the "Spirit of Camp David;" and in 1978, when President James "Jimmy" Earl Carter, Jr. (1924-) hosted the meeting with Egyptian President, Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat (1918-1981), and Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin (1913-1992), resulting in the Camp David Accords. Catoctin Mountain Park (CATO) Historic District is a complex geologically, ecologically, archeologically, and historically layered area covering approximately 5,770 acres. Evidence of prehistoric occupation includes a rockshelter site and rhyolite workshop. Later cultural remains include road traces, farmstead sites, and stone walls that delineated property boundaries. The archeological resources which communicate the history in this area date from the late Archaic Period (circa 3000 BC) through the early 20th century. Creation of the Recreational Demonstration Area (RDA) by the Federal government during the 1930s and early 1940s altered the existing landscape and left a tangible record of New Deal era idealism. Use of the park by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II, as well as the development of the presidential retreat, also marked the landscape. The park is considered historically significant from the Late Archaic Period (ca. 3000 BC), when the earliest known datable prehistoric artifacts show use of park lands, through 1954, when the present day boundaries of the park were established. Events associated with the area known as Camp David support an argument that the park be listed as historically significant at the national level from 1942 through the present, even though security concerns limit direct access to those resources.
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