Potomac Legacy Loop
Highlights: A scenic drive in Loudoun, Va., Frederick and Washington, Md., with a stop in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Cross the Potomac River at the site of a Civil War skirmish, then take a scenic drive upriver to Brunswick, Md., and on to Harpers Ferry, W.Va. The return passes through the historic Loudoun villages of Hillsboro and Waterford, with stops at three vineyards.
Distance: 50 miles
Travel north on Route 15 out of Leesburg, taking a moment to investigate the Civil War Trails marker on Tutt Lane, north of the bypass junction—turn left and drive a quarter mile to the marker. Back on Route 15 North, you will pass through the crossroads village of Lucketts, where antiques and collectable shops draw you to stop a while. Four miles further, cross the bridge into Point of Rocks, Maryland, named for the striking outcrop that captures your view as you cross the river. Point of Rocks Railroad Station. Built in 1875, the station demonstrates the primacy of railroads in the decades following the Civil War. It ranks among the best examples of Victorian Gothic Revival public architecture. The station is a commuter stop on the MARC line to Washington, D.C. Although the interior of the building is not open to the public, the exterior calls out for a photograph.
Continue on Route 15 one mile, and turn left onto Route 464, Point of Rocks Road, en route to Brunswick. Halfway there, if you turn left onto Lander Road, you can visit a bit of history along the C&O Canal. Lander Lock House, Lander, Md. During the canal era, from 1828 to 1924, lockkeepers were on duty twenty-four hours each day, seven days a week. They received a small salary and small house. This house was restored through the efforts of volunteers, who also have raised money to maintain the structure. Take a walk or a ride along the C&O Canal towpath while you’re there. The lock house is open and staffed by volunteers on weekends in summer only. You can see it from the outside daily. 2800 Lander Road on the C&O Canal.
Continue on Route 464 to the outskirts of Brunswick. Turn right at the traffic light by the high school, then left at the next light onto Route 17, Petersville Road, which leads to downtown. Brunswick Brunswick is an old railroad town that doesn’t make its way into many travel guides. Too bad. In addition to having the C&O Canal and a lovely train station (now serving MARC passengers), Brunswick has a walkable Main Street and an increasing number of stops to please travelers—including a café in a former church building. The Brunswick Railroad Museum alone demands a detour into town. There are a handful of antique and second-hand shops that are, like the rest of the town, unpretentious and priced just right.
Brunswick Railroad Museum. Once a canal town called Berlin, Brunswick was built around one of the largest rail yards in the B&O system. At one point, every freight train passing through the region came first to Brunswick for “sorting,” kind of like today’s overnight delivery service sending every package to one airport. It is somewhat limiting to refer to this as a railroad museum because it is as much a glimpse into early twentieth- century America as it is a recollection of the role of rail. The museum is welcoming to kids, too. The “Hands on History” exhibit lets young kids run the railroad—and lets parents look at other exhibits while they’re at it. Anyone interested in regional history can while away hours at the scale model of the B&O metropolitan subdivision. 40 West Potomac St. Open Fridays, 10 to 2; Saturdays, 10 to 4; Sundays, 1 to 4.
C&O Canal National Historical Park . Truly one of America’s most interesting national parks, it is rich in history and offers easy, barrier-free hiking and biking. The towpath is just beyond the train station, and the visitor center for the C&O Canal is adjacent to the Brunswick Railroad Museum; open during museum hours.
Distinctive Shops and Stops
Antiques, etc. Talk about recycling! There are three shops in town, with the tone set by Antiques n’ Ole Stuff, 25 E. Potomac St. Although you can find fine antiques on the floor, there is nothing highbrow going on here, just quality old furniture, books, record albums, lamps, and other things. Cripple Creek Antiques, 24 W. Potomac, and Past and Present, 20 W. Potomac, offer similar, albeit fewer bargains.
Beans in the Belfry. The kind of place everyone wants in their neighborhood. Set in a historic church building, there are comfy chairs, conversation areas set apart by old doors and windows, a choir loft, and historical relics lying about for your examination. The coffee is organic, and there is a fine menu of soups, sandwiches, and pastries. It’s a kid friendly place (and, dude, it’s got free wireless internet). Perhaps best of all, there is live music on weekends and a Sunday jazz brunch.
This charming shop is in the old downtown pharmacy. The proprietors have retained the original cabinetry, counters, tile floor, and other accouterments of a trusted local druggist’s shop. Just as they did in generations past, Brunswick youngsters still wander in for candy after school, now stored in the old wooden drawers. Visitors to Brunswick appreciate the café seating for sipping tea or a freshly brewed cuppa while browsing periodicals or combing through the books on local history or by local authors. If you’re visiting Brunswick to take your kids to the Railroad Museum, stop by Book Crossing to see if the shop has any children’s programs scheduled for the day.
Leave Brunswick by driving out West Potomac Street. Pass through the crossroads village of Knoxville, and take the ramp onto Route 340 South—watch for high-speed traffic on the right as you enter. Ahead of you are terrific views of the Blue Ridge at Harpers Ferry Gap. To visit Harpers Ferry, continue on Route 340, cross the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, and proceed to the traffic light at the top of the hill. Turn left into the visitor center for a quick shuttle ride to the town. Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Harpers Ferry, W.Va. A unique park in a dramatic setting, Harpers Ferry shows how one town came to play a significant role in history. There is a long list of historical figures with a Harpers Ferry connection, from Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington to John Brown, Frederick Douglas, and W.E.B. Du Bois. At the same time, the everyday lives of the town’s inhabitants become the backdrop for stories of industrial history, the Civil War, and civil rights. The park itself is housed in a collection of historic buildings, each an exhibit on one element of the town’s history. For example, the John Brown museum traces the history of slavery and the raid on Harpers Ferry; the Industrial Museum describes early manufacturing that took place here. You can cross the footbridge into Maryland to walk along the C&O Canal towpath or hike up Maryland Heights for distant views of the surrounding countryside. The park is located in an extraordinary setting where the Piedmont meets the Blue Ridge, at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The park and commercial establishments comfortably share the Lower Town to promote the experience that you are actually walking around in a living historical space.
After touring Harpers Ferry, retrace your driving route across the Shenandoah River. Just before the Potomac (at the gas station), turn right on Route 671, Harpers Ferry Road. This scenic valley between Short Hill and the Blue Ridge is called Between the Hills. If you haven’t had a proper walk yet, you can stop at the Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship, where there are ten miles of trails (see Loudoun County, Outdoor Recreation). At the end of Harpers Ferry Road is the first of three wineries.
Three Hillsboro Wineries
Breaux Vineyards. The Breaux family began producing wines as a hobby and realized they had a hit on their hands; it was time to produce commercially. The wines produced at the 404-acre estate have become some of Virginia’s best known, as have the popular events. The annual Cajun weekend is one of the larger draws in the region. Located one mile from the intersection of Routes 9 and 76. Leaving Breaux Vineyards, turn left toward Route 9. At the traffic light, turn left. Hillsborough Vineyards is about a half mile on the left.
Hillsborough Winery. The tasting room in the 1840 stone barn is a captivating spot. Full of light and wood, it’s a difficult place to leave. Get a bottle and a couple of glasses, and head outside to a pond with the sound of trickling waterfalls. Go left from the winery and pass through the tiny villageof Hillsboro––the home, says the sign at the edge of town,of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s mother. Turn left on Mountain Road and go about a mile to the winery.
The tasting room is in a barn set in a scenic valley. From the glass-enclosed porch grounds you see beautiful views of a pond and Short Hill. There are twelve acres of vineyards on this five-hundred-acre farm, an inviting place for a picnic and to watch the birds from the deck. The cabernet franc is especially popular.
Back on Route 9, travel east five miles to the blinking light at Hamilton Station Road. Go left and drive to the end of the road. Turn left. At the entrance to Waterford, turn left on Factory Street and proceed into the village. Waterford. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Waterford is that it exists at all. The village grew up around Amos Janney’s mill on Catoctin Creek, after Janney and other Quakers arrived in the early 1730s. Remarkably, the integrity of the village is still intact, looking much the way it looked in the mid-nineteenth century. But it’s a lot quieter now than it was then. By the 1830s, there was a tannery, chair maker, boot manufacturer, shops, and a tavern. Today, behind the houses on Second and Main streets, instead of a grid of early twentieth-century streets or a cluster of twenty-first-century cul de sacs, there are sheep grazing on the famed grasses of Loudoun. The town is a National Historic Landmark. If you stop at the offices of the Waterford Foundation at the corner of Second and Main, you can pick up a walking guide to the historic buildings—which in Waterford, means all the buildings. You can also pick up a copy of Share With Us, a walking guide to the village’s African American history. As a Quaker town espousing freedom and equality, most of Waterford’s black population was not enslaved. Officially, the village did not secede from the Union at the outbreak of the Civil War. Instead, it eventually recruited Virginia’s only unit to serve in the Union army. The only commerce in town is a tiny grocery, which means don’t drive into Waterford looking for dinner. Come for an afternoon stroll through a peaceful historic village. The main event in town is the annual Waterford Homes Tour & Crafts Exhibit the first weekend each October, billed as the oldest juried craft show in Virginia.
From Waterford, retrace your route out of the village. Instead of turning right onto Hamilton Station Road (Route 662 south), continue to the traffic light at Route 9. Go left and reach Route 7. Leesburg is a couple of miles east on Route 7.