Back before air-conditioning, western Maryland's Garrett County served as a sort of a hill station for Washingtonians who could afford to escape the summer swelters. The B&O extended its tracks to Oakland in the 1850's, built luxury resort hotels and promoted the area as the "Switzerland of America." Although the old resort palaces such as the Deer Park Hotel, are long gone, the 2,500-foot-high plateau still offers relief from the heat.
Nor do Garrett County's attractions end with Labor Day. The big event on the western Maryland calendar is the 13th annual Garrett County Autumn Glory Festival, which will be held in Oakland October 9 through 12. A parade, fiddling and banjo contests, and turkey dinners at local firehouses will highlight the weekend.
In the gilded age, guests arrived by train at Oakland, whose well-preserved landmark station is a fine example of the Queen Anne style, and continued by carriage to the Deer Park Hotel, built by the B&O in 1873 and frequented by Presidents Grant, Harrison, Cleveland and Mckinley. The hotel, with its mineral baths, cricket fields and tennis courts was demolished in 1944, but one of the opulent cottages around its grounds remains. Built by prominent Baltimore architect Josias Pennington, the 14-room gingerbread structure is now up for sale (asking price: $120,000, antiques included). [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] when next summer's tenants will be chosen by lottary (write Department of Natural Resources, Anna Annapolis 21401). Off-season -- until the second weekend in October -- the demand is not so great and you can try to reserve one by calling Miss Brown at 301/269-3771. Herrington Manor has its own lake and beach, and public access to Deep Creek Lake is provided by another state park. We also found some beautiful swimming places along the Youghiogheny River, with deep pools, rapids for body surfing, and rocks for sunbathing.
The Youghiogheny -- known as "the Yock" by the whitewater in-crowd -- tum- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
Amtrak now makes tracks from Washington to Oakland once a day, but most visitors make the four-hour trip by car, via I-270, and most are drawn by Deep Creek Lake, Maryland's largest, created in 1923 as a hydroelectric project. There is nothing so grand as the Deer Park Hotel anymore, but the county promotion bureau will steer you toward a motel or help you find a lakeside cottage to rent.
We stayed at nearby Herrington Manor State Park, where furnished log cabins for six rent for $31.50 a night, including firewood. During the summer, these cabins are so popular that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources advises that you have your summer application in by December, [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] bles spectacularly down a cliff to form Swallow Falls, raison d'etre of the 9,000-acre Swallow Falls State Forest. An easy hiking trail leads from the parking lot through a forest of hemlock, ferns and moss to the falls, then loops around to Muddy Creek Falls, a 51-foot cascade at the confluence of the swamp-fed creek with the river. Back in 1918 and again in 1921, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison camped here in an effort to get back to nature. The expedition is documented by a photograph in Michigan's Ford Museum of the great auto tycoon washing his laundry in the creek.
Encouraged by our own successful family expedition from the parking lot to the falls, we planned a more ambitious hike -- about three miles uphill to the Snaggy Mountain Fire Station. We found blackberries and wild-turkey feathers along the way, but the snag came at the top. The fire tower, which would have provided a panoramic vista over Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, was missing some flights of stairs, making it unsafe to climb.
If you want to cap your weekend in Garrett County with Sunday church weekend in Garrett County with Sunday church-going, there are historic possibilities. St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, across the street from the railroad station in Oakland, is known as the "Church of the Presidents," Grant, Garfield, Cleveland and Harrison having worshiped in the old stone building. On Route 135, between Oakland and Deer Park, stands "Our Father's House," one of the last log chuches still in use.