large red brick house with a columned front porch. Ferry Hill was once a
plantation and from 1948 until 1974 a popular restaurant.
early 1900’s the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal running along the northern bank of
the Potomac River bustled with the commerce of goods traveling by boat past
Ferry Hill from the west to Washington D.C.
Mary Bender’s family made a living operating a boat.
Today the C&O Canal National Historical Park operates the house as a center
where visitors can see exhibits and meet interesting people from the past, like
Mary Bender, who is portrayed by Shepherd University student Claudia Paycheff.
takes visitor back to 1915, when she was 16, and worked as a crew member on her
father’s canal boat.
“My name of course is Mary Bender and I grew
up in Sharpsburg which is just down the road here,” Paycheff tells a group
of visitors. “Now my father is a canal boat captain and my older sister Rachel
and my younger brother William and I are my father’s crew.”
tells the group that Bender spent the months of April to November hauling coal
from Cumberland Maryland to Georgetown in Washington D.C. Dressed in period
clothing, a straw hat, dressy white shirt and long skirt, and carrying a
horseshoe, Paycheff as Bender, talks about her three U’s.
so my first U is unpredictable,” she says. “When you’re traveling on the Canal
things can come up at a moments notice and you just have to deal with it.”
became acquainted with Mary Bender two years ago when she had to choose someone
to portray for a living history class at Shepherd University.
some research on canalers and trying to select a character I stumbled upon some
of Mary’s stories that had been recorded by the Park Service in an oral
history,” Paycheff said. “So I actually obtained that oral history and the
transcripts from the archives in Hagerstown, and Mary just has really great
stories about living on the Canal and she’s very interesting so that’s why I
said she supplemented the information from Bender’s oral history with her own
research. That includes information on how women of that time period dressed
when visiting a formal place like Ferry Hill.
“And I was
working on the assumption that if she would have visited Ferry Hill she
probably would have tried to pull out her best skirt, a nice shirt and probably
tossed her filthy apron so that’s sort of the dress that I went for,” Paycheff
was not able to find evidence that Mary Bender ever actually spent time in the
have a tight schedule when they were on the Canal and if she would have seen
Ferry Hill, it is a very distinguished house, so she probably would have been
curious but I’m not sure if her father would have actually allowed her the time
to come up here,” Paycheff said.
Canal was built between 1828 and 1850 Ferry Hill was a successful plantation.
The house was built 200 years ago by John Blackford.
plantation was strategically located on the road between Sharpsburg, Md., and Shepherdstown, Va., overlooking the Potomac River. Park Ranger Kurt Gaul said the
house was named Ferry Hill because at the time, there was no bridge and a ferry
took people, livestock and goods from one bank to the other.
Canal was right there by the ferry so you could have a clear vista of the ferry
operation going along the bottom of the hill here,” Gaul said.
Blackford recognized the significance, and the income, the commerce that was
going to come to the site because of this new canal and he stepped right in,” Gaul said. “He (Blackford) was an
investor; he willingly sold property for the canal to cut through his property
at the bottom of the hill.”
Gaul said records kept by Blackford show
his connection to the Canal and detail the goods his family shipped on it.
“His son I
believe might have had some boats that were operating on the canal so there
were definitely connections,” Gaul said.
definitely the canal helped perk up the economy here in the area,” Gaul said. “There was also a river lock
where canal boats could go from the Canal just below Ferry Hill over to the Virginia side, or later the West Virginia side, of the river and that would
expand the commerce in this area likewise.”
this is the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Park Service
gave the C&O Canal a grant to create new exhibits for
Ferry Hill telling the story of the house, which was the boyhood home of Henry
Kyd Douglas, who served under Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War.
Douglas’ memoir from his time in the
Confederate Army was published as a book I
Rode With Stonewall after his death.
will pay another visit to Ferry Hill this Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.-
2 p.m. and
a few more times during August.