There is a compulsion in man to go to the source, and that includes rivers.

Sometimes the drive is financial. Lord Fairfax commissioned a survey to find the headwaters of the Potomac, since his land grant included all the lands south of its headwaters.

Which may explain why the surveyors followed the north branch to the "headwaters." If the surveyors, including one George Washington, had followed the south branch instead, the Fairfax domain would have been considerably smaller and Lord Baltimore's much larger.

For anyone who spends much time on the Potomac, on the other hand, going to its source becomes something of a religious pilgrimage. Whatever the case, if you've got the urge, you can find the starting point just a few hundred yards across the West Virginia line from Garrett County. It can be reached by a gravel road that runs off U.S. 219 and cuts straight through the Buffalo Creek Coal Company's strip mine.

The spring trickles from beneath a flat stone marked by a metal plaque. An obelisk-shaped stone put up in the early 1900s marks the spot.

The site is a haven of green grass and trees surrounded by active and former strip mines. Silver beech and turkeyfoot grow along the edge of the small ravine below the spring.