As you gaze upon one of the most beautiful plantation homes in this area, you are not just looking at bricks, mortor, and polished wood, you are seeing the accumulation of labor, profit and loss, sorrows, hopes, dreams, and even war. A visitor or traveler approaching Ferry Hill from Sharpsburg or Shepherdstown in the early years of the 19th Century would see a thriving 700-acre plantation. The plantation was owned and managed by a man named John Blackford. As a wealthy businessman from nearby Boonsboro, Blackford wore many hats. In addition to overseeing his plantation, he was a stock holder in the Boonsboro Turnpike and later a stockholder in the C&O Canal. Why, he was even a justice of the peace! Prior to coming to Ferry Hill, Blackford served in the War of 1812 and lead a group known as the Bladenburg Racers. After building his house he acquired interest in a ferry across the nearby Potomac River from in-laws of his first wife, Sara Van Swearingen, who had died in 1805. Looking for an ideal location to build a home for him and his new wife, Elizabeth Knode, he decided to build a house high on the bluff overlooking the Potomac. The land was fertile, and the nearby river, with a convenient ferry crossing, would make it easy for Blackford to get his crops to market. This location also provided easy access to towns on both sides of the river including Charles Town and Harpers Ferry, Virginia and Hagerstown, Frederick and Baltimore, Maryland. During Blackford’s time at Ferry Hill he maintained a daily journal of events which included business, weather, sicknesses, and visitors. In his journal on September 25, 1838, part of Blackford’s entry said:
James Moore Caroline and Isaiah commenced to grinding apples and pressing cider. Adley resumed the fence making Murfey plowing. Breaking stubble. Will and Enoch sowing and plowing in Rye in the cornfield. J.Ks wife came up and helped to pear apples. Mrs. Swearingen and her Daughter Mary Quigley came in the afternoon Weather has changed cloudy and cooler. Mrs. S and Daughter supped with us and returned home….
The plantation was unique because others in Washington County would generally be about 250 acres. A 700 acre plantation like Ferry Hill was quite uncommon in western Maryland. It also varied from a typical one-crop plantation such as those on the eastern shore of Maryland or farther south. This area was well suited for growing a diverse range of crops from wheat, grains, corn, and apples. There was also a cement mill, timber business, and livestock. Until the Civil War, the success of Ferry Hill depended on the labor of 18 enslaved African Americans who toiled alongside free African Americans and white workers. Ferry Hill would serve as residence for many years and six generations of the same family would live here until it was sold in the 1950s. You are now going to enter a journey through six generations of families, civil war, economic ups and downs and follow in the footsteps of 200 years of visitors. Please proceed to the front lawn for stop 2.