Historic Western Maryland town a delightful gateway to the past DISCOVERING FREDERICK

September 18, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

When people think about visiting Frederick, they think about seeing the Barbara Fritchie house and the grave of Francis Scott Key.

But as Frank and Justine Griffin of Newark, Del., discovered during an afternoon stopover here, Frederick is home to a whole lot more, including several unusual museums and a 33-block historic district.

The Barbara Fritchie House and Museum drew the Griffins off Interstate 70 while en route to Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

After touring the Civil War heroine's red brick cottage, the Griffins strolled through the city's historic district -- a mix of stately Greek Revival and Italian Renaissance buildings, 19th-century churches, brick town homes, tree-lined streets and courtyards.

"We really didn't know what was here," Mrs. Griffin says. "We made a special stop in Frederick just to see the Barbara Fritchie house because we've heard about her all our lives."

(In the famous poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, Barbara Fritchie -- or Frietchie -- was said to have snatched the Union banner and defied Confederate troops marching through Frederick with the words:

Shoot if you must this old gray head

But spare your country's flag.)

The Griffins plan to return to see the city's other museums, which include the Roger Brooke Taney House and Francis Scott Key Museum, Rose Hill Manor and the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum.

"Once people come here they go to all the museums," says Kay Graf, a volunteer docent at the Schifferstadt Architectural Museum. "They find out there's more in Frederick than the

Barbara Fritchie house and the grave of Francis Scott Key."

Indeed. Frederick's museums and historic streets make for a pleasant day trip from Baltimore, about an hour away by $H Interstate 70.

The downtown features small specialty shops, antiques stores, art galleries, a variety of restaurants -- everything from Italian to Japanese -- a bed and breakfast and even a small brewery that is open for tours and tastings on weekends.

First-time visitors should check in at the Frederick Visitors Center on East Church Street. Here, sightseers can pick up a walking guide to the city's historic district or join a guided 90-minute tour (tickets are $4.50 for adults; children 12 and under are free).

The Barbara Fritchie House and Museum and the Roger Brooke Taney House and Francis Scott Key Museum are within walking distance of the visitors center. The other museums require some driving.

Two museums worth checking out while visiting Frederick are outside the city but within a short driving distance.

The Brunswick Railroad Museum is about 20 minutes away in Brunswick, southwest of Frederick. The other, the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, is 30 minutes north in Emmitsburg.

Here's a sampling of what you'll find at some of Frederick's museums:

* The Roger Brooke Taney House and Francis Scott Key Museum: The small, brick home of the Supreme Court Justice is a pleasant surprise for those familiar only with Mr. Taney's authorship of the Dred Scott Decision in 1857. The decision -- which later caused Mr. Taney great anguish -- said that blacks had no constitutional rights.

Docents such as Elizabeth Speciale paint an intimate portrait of Mr. Taney, who was the brother-in-law of Francis Scott Key, writer of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Taney and Key practiced law together in Frederick. Their office still stands on nearby Court Street.

Personal belongings of both men can be found at the Taney house. Of particular interest are 18th- and 19th-century law books used by Taney and a Queen Anne chair used by Key. A second-floor room is devoted to Key, and exhibits display letters and other mementos.

The Taney home, built in 1799, also contains one of the few existing slave quarters in the Frederick area.

* Schifferstadt Architectural Museum: This architectural gem was spared from the wrecking ball two decades ago after preservation-minded citizens mustered financial support to buy the 1756 stone structure, once the home of German immigrants.

The home, the oldest dwelling in Frederick, is considered one of the finest examples of German architecture in Colonial America.

And it's architecture that is on display here. Visitors wander through mostly barren rooms to see exposed walls and other structural details. The sandstone walls, for instance, are 2 1/2 feet thick. Hand-hewn beams in the house are pinned together with wooden pegs.

"A lot of men tend to appreciate this museum," Mrs. Graf says. "They get tired of old houses and polished furniture. They tend to appreciate the workmanship and the condition of this house."

* Rose Hill Manor: This is the place for the kids.

Built in the 1790s, Rose Hill Manor is an example of rural Georgian architecture. The stately mansion was once the home of the first elected governor of Maryland, Thomas Johnson.

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