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Biography of George Alfred Townsend

A Man and His Mountain Astride the ridge known as South Mountain, near Burkittsville, MD at Crampton's Gap, lies Gathland State Park. The home of an unusual man, "Gapland" was an architecturally unique estate made up of as many as twenty structures, many of them built of rugged stone, individual in purpose and design. Several buildings still stand, and the remains of others may be seen by visitors to the Park.

Born on January 30, 1841, George Alfred Townsend became one of the youngest war correspondents of the Civil War. He served both at home and abroad, and later became one of America's most important journalists and novelists of the Reconstruction Era. His pen name; "Gath', from which the Park derives its name, was formed by adding an H to his initials and was inspired by a biblical passage: (II Samuel 1:20) "Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askalon."


George Alfred Townsend,
known as "Gath."

In 1884 Townsend purchased a tract of land on South Mountain, an area particularly attractive to him because of its proximity to Antietam and other historical sites of the Civil War. Closely associated with this historical aspect, the natural beauty of the site and the imposing views of the valleys appealed to him.

The planning, design and construction of buildings was Townsend's hobby, and he pressed forward with plans to convert his mountainside into a retreat from the pressures of his strenuous writing schedule. Among his first efforts was Gapland Hall, built in 1885, soon after Townsend acquired the land. It was enlarged at one time to include eleven rooms Occupied by his wife, Bessie, this building was partially restored in 1958. The Den and Library Building was erected I 1886. It contained a large library, a study and writing room and ten upstairs bedrooms. The foundations of this building are still partially intact, but the walls have long since crumbled, and only fragments of the original building remain. Gapland Lodge, built in 1885, was a stone building, used as servant's quarters and dining room. West of Gapland Hall are the remains of a mausoleum, built by Gath in 1895. A large bronzed dog once graced the top of the tomb, and a white marble slab over the door bears the inscription "Good night Gath." This building was intended to become Gath's final resting-place but the dog was stolen, the building deteriorated and there is no evidence that the tomb was ever used as the burial place. Townsend himself died in New York in 1914 and was interred in Philadelphia with his wife Bessie.

Gapland Hall.

Probably Townsend's most unique and certainly his most lasting architectural endeavor at Gathland is an unusual monument erected in 1896 as a memorial to his fellow war correspondents. Ruthanna Hindes, in her book "George Alfred Townsend" describes the monument in some detail:

"In appearance the monument is quite odd. It is fifty feet high and forty feet broad. Above a Moorish arch sixteen feet high built of Hummelstown purple stone are super-imposed three Roman arches. These are flanked on one side with a square crenellated tower, producing a bizarre and picturesque effect. Niches in different places shelter the carving of two horses' heads, and symbolic terra cotta statuettes of Mercury, Electricity and Poetry. Tables under the horses' heads bear the suggestive words " Speed" and "Heed": the heads are over the roman arches. The three roman arches are made of limestone from Creek Battlefield, Virginia, and each nine feet high and six feet wide. These arches represent Description, Depiction and Photography. The aforementioned tower contains a statue of Pan with the traditional pipes, and he is either half drawing or sheathing a roman sword. Over a small turret on the opposite side of the tower is a gold vane of a pen bending a sword. (Note: A replica of the weather vane may be seen in the Park Museum.) At various places on the monument are quotations appropriate to the art of war correspondence. These are from a great variety of sources beginning with the Old Testament verses. Perhaps the most striking feature of all are the tablets inscribed with the names of 157 correspondents and war artists who saw and described in narrative and picture almost all the events of the four years of the war."

The unusual monument was dedicated by Maryland Governor Lloyd Lowndes on October 16, 1896, and in 1904 Townsend deeded it to the War Department. It is now maintained by the National Park Service as a national monument.


Townsend's Monument to War Correspondents.

After Townsend's death on April 15, 1914, his daughter sold Gathland. In 1943 the property was purchased by a church group, intended as a summer conference site. Later it was acquired by members of the Frederick Chamber of Commerce and the Historical Society of Frederick County, Inc. On May 13, 1949, it was deeded to the State of Maryland to be administered as a State Park.