By Francis "Champ" Zumbrun
Describing a place as "one of Maryland’s best kept secrets" is over-used, but in
the case of Point Lookout at Green Ridge State Forest, it is true - it really is
one of Maryland’s best-kept secrets. Not to be confused with the better-known
southern Maryland state park of the same name, visitors are always pleasantly
surprised by Point Lookout’s spectacular view over the ancient Potomac River
valley in Maryland’s Ridge and Valley Province.
The overlook is accessed from Oldtown Road, the oldest colonial road in eastern
Allegany County. In 1758 during the French and Indian War, Colonel Thomas Cresap,
Maryland’s great pathfinder, blazed this road to improve and shorten the route
between Fort Cumberland and Fort Frederick.
It is believed that the name "Point Lookout" originated during the Civil War
when Union troops stationed at neighboring Little Orleans were assigned to
protect the C&O Canal and Railroad from Confederates intent on destroying the
bridges and aqueducts along the Potomac River. Lookouts were established at
Point Lookout and other nearby ridges from which Union troops could observe the
canal, railroad and Confederate movements through the valley.
Visitors to Point Lookout today can enjoy the same view that the Union troops
had 140 years ago. From the overlook can be seen 243 acres of land that was once
owned by George Washington. The father of our nation traveled back and forth
over what was then trackless wilderness more than 16 times as a surveyor,
landowner, military officer, and later as the President of the United States. In
the 1840s, this serpentine section of the river was appropriately known as
"General Washington’s Horseshoe Bend".
In the early 1800s the ownership log becomes a bit more complicated: Partners
Richard Caton of Catonsville lore and William Carroll of Rock Creek owned much
of the land that is today Green Ridge State Forest, including Point Lookout.
Caton was the son-in-law of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the
Declaration of Independence, while (William) Carroll was the grandson of Daniel
Carroll, a framer of the U.S. Constitution. Located near Point Lookout off
Carroll Road are the ruins of Carroll Chimney, built in 1836 as one of the
nation’s early steam-powered sawmills. It is the only surviving structure
remaining from the period, as the duo’s business ventures into iron ore and
timber cutting eventually proved unsuccessful.
In the late 1800s, the Merten family of Cumberland acquired Point Lookout and
the Green Ridge property from the Carroll family. The Mertens cut, burned and
converted the forest into an apple orchard, which they promoted as "the largest
apple orchard in the universe". They then subdivided the land into more than
3,000 ten-acre lots and sold each lot to individual owners all across the
To impress potential buyers, the Mertens’ first stop on their orchard tour was
Point Lookout. The family proclaimed the overlook as the most beautiful spot on
the East Coast: "I can say that from Point Lookout is the most beautiful view my
eyes have ever fallen upon. It excels Pike’s Peak or any other.... There is no
view equal to it." However, in 1918, the Mertens fell into bankruptcy and
abandoned the orchard and Point Lookout.
Green Ridge State Forest came into being in 1931 when the State of Maryland purchased just over 2,000 acres of the old orchard lands; more than 70
years later the forest has grown to 43,000 acres and includes Point Lookout. The Department of Natural Resources established the area around Point Lookout as wildlands, thus protecting the view on the Maryland side.
Point Lookout, once part of the "largest apple orchard in the universe", is now
part of Green Ridge State Forest, Maryland’s largest contiguous block of
forestland within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As one of the Merten family’s
publicity men described the area roughly 100 years ago, "Tourists have traveled
thousands of miles and then pronounced it the most beautiful view in the United
States...[Yet] there are few people in Maryland who know the place exists".
Still not well known, it is just one more reason Point Lookout is one of
Maryland’s best-kept secrets.
Consider a visit and enjoy its scenic wonders yourself.
Note: This article originally appeared in the Winter 2004 issue of the The Maryland Natural Resource magazine.
Francis "Champ" Zumbrun...
is the forest manager at Green Ridge State Forest. He has worked as a
professional forester for DNR since 1978. He is currently researching the life
of Thomas Cresap (1694-1787), Maryland's great pathfinder, pioneer and patriot.
In 1733, Cresap cleared the Old Conestoga Road between York, PA and Union
Bridge, MD. Francis is interested in hearing from anyone who has information
about this colonial road and its original alignment. You may contact him at
580 Taylor Ave, Annapolis MD 21401