In the Great Appalachian Valley, with mountains on the horizon, Hagerstown is a city that has long been affected by its geography.
The nickname Hub City, goes back to the 19th century when no fewer than five railroads converged in Hagerstown.
Earlier, the city was in the crosshairs of the Civil War, at the boundary between North and South, and witnessed numerous engagements. None was bloodier than the infamous Battle of Antietam in 1862, fought just ten miles to the south.
Modern Hagerstown is blessed with an effervescent cultural scene, underpinned by the Maryland Theatre downtown, and the exceptional Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in picture-perfect City Park.
1. Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA)
Fronting City Park’s Lower Lake is a national standard art museum, with a tremendous collection of 18th, 19th and early 20th-century American painting.
The bulk of this inventory was donated to the city by William Henry Singer, Jr. (1868-1943) and his wife Anna Brugh Singer (1873-1962).
A few of the many celebrated artists represented in the collection are Thomas Sully, Benjamin West, Rembrandt Peale, Childe Hassam and several noted landscape painters from the Hudson River School, like George Inness.
Exhibits drawn from that catalog are also enriched with Old Masters, 19th-century European art (Courbet, Rodin and more), oriental art and a wealth of American decorative and folk art.
The WCMFA stages world-class traveling exhibitions, and has a percolating schedule of classes, lectures, music recitals, film screenings and events for children.
2. Hagerstown City Park
The park surrounding Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is on the National Register of Historic Places and touted as one of the country’s most beautiful urban parks.
One key feature is Lower Lake, framed by the museum, and created by draining a swamp in the park in the early 1920s.
The lake is flocked by ducks, geese and swans, and sets the scene for Hagerstown’s spellbinding Christmas light show.
There are several smaller visitor attractions to check out, like the Hager House (more later), and the City Park Train Hub, paying tribute to the city’s important railroad history.
Many of the exhibits at this museum, such as the 1875 Velocipede and 1885 pump car, are sourced from the Western Maryland Railroad Company.
A headline is the marvelous, 77-foot Steam Engine 202, built in 1912 and in service until 1953. Also noteworthy is Mansion House, a Georgian-style residence from 1846, now home to the Valley Art Association (VAA), with members’ work on show at the gallery here.
3. Maryland Theatre
One of the state’s top performing arts venues is the pillar of Hagerstown’s Arts and Entertainment District.
The Maryland Theatre was built in 1915, and one of the architects was Thomas W. Lamb (1871-1942), who worked on the third Madison Square Garden.
The building was badly damaged by fire in 1974, but the historic 1,293-seat auditorium, complete with its Wurlitzer organ, survived intact and the theatre reopened after thorough reconstruction in 1978.
There are some 250 performances each year at this venue, with musicals, plays, dance, live music, comedy and concerts by the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, which is headquartered at the theatre.
4. Antietam National Battlefield
The bloodiest day in American history took place about ten miles south of Hagerstown at the Battle of Antietam on September 17, 1862.
The battle resulted in 22,717 dead, wounded or missing. Despite the extraordinary toll (12,410 Union casualties), this hard-fought victory helped turn the war in the Union Army’s favor, and gave Abraham Lincoln the basis to announce his Emancipation Proclamation.
The Antietam National Battlefield is on more than 3,200 acres, and you can visit the key sites where these 12 hours of brutal combat played out.
The 800-yard sunken road, Bloody Lane witnessed unimaginable carnage in the morning, with some 5,600 casualties, and you can walk along this route, between the two positions.
Later there was a grim tug-of-war for Burnside’s Bridge (1836) on Antietam Creek, taken by Ambrose Burnside after several hours, under fire from Confederate sharpshooters who held the high ground on the opposite bank.
5. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Regional Park
Downtown Hagerstown is little more than ten minutes from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, which hugged the bank of the Potomac River for more than 180 miles.
Replacing the earlier Potomac Canal, this waterway was built between 1828 and 1850 and was a mammoth project, involving no fewer than 74 locks, 11 aqueducts, 240 culverts and the Paw Paw Tunnel, more than 3,000 feet long.
The waterway and towpath have been preserved as a national regional park, showcasing those 74 locks, the broad waters of the Potomac and riveting history on this once crucial artery for coal, lumber, grains and livestock.
Some interesting sights close to Hagerstown are Williamsport’s Conococheague Aqueduct (1835) and the Cushwa Basin, where there’s a visitor center in a restored 19th-century warehouse.
6. Discovery Station at Hagerstown
An historic bank building downtown has been transformed into a hands-on museum with exhibits founded in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) principles.
Across two floors, the Discovery Station is always adding new experiences, all designed to foster curiosity for exploration, discovery and ongoing investigation.
A few of the exhibits when we made this list were Little Sprouts Grocery, Exploration Rainforest, Dinosaurs, Space and Beyond, Discovery Town, Robotics & Coding, Sustainability and the Imagination Station, a cozy reading area.
Discovery Station has a schedule of programs, with hands-on animal encounters, science experiments and story times.
7. Jonathan Hager House Museum
At the north end of City Park you can step back to Hagerstown’s mid-18th century origins at the preserved house built by the city’s founder.
The German immigrant, Jonathan Hager (1714-1775), constructed this Colonial-style house around 1740 on the site of two springs.
The two-story building, composed of flagstone, is open to the public, April through December and is an anchor for a series of events throughout the year, including City Park Fall Fest.
On a visit you’ll pick up lots of interesting titbits, such as how the two springs helped cool this dwelling in summer, while the unusual central chimney provided extra insulation in winter.
The house also had a key defensive purpose, testified by the basement walls, which are 17 inches thick and feature an embrasure similar to a Medieval arrow loop.
8. Pennsylvania Dutch Market of Hagerstown
Western Maryland is one of three areas in the state with significant Amish and Mennonite populations.
These communities are renowned for their prowess in furniture making, baking, home cooking, handicrafts and more.
To save you the trouble of tracking down Amish and Mennonite businesses, you can simply head for the homey Pennsylvania Dutch Market, which opened in 2007 and has a wealth of mainly Amish-owned merchant shops.
You can come for high-quality handmade products, an in-house bakery, a full-service restaurant, enticing deli food and a huge range of produce, meats and poultry.
9. Price-Miller House
Just along from the Discovery Station on Washington St is a preserved Federal-style townhouse, built in the mid-1820s.
The first owner was William Price, a renowned attorney, who used the building for his law practice and family home, and later became the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland.
The Price-Miller House is maintained as a museum by the Washington County Historical Society, and there’s much to see inside.
You can tour several elegant rooms with authentic mid-19th century furnishings, while there are documents and artifacts to peruse relating to the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War and the construction of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in the 1820s.
Also noteworthy is the house’s splendid collection of historic clocks made in the Hagerstown area.
10. Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum
For more insight into Hagerstown’s Hub City heyday, you can visit the site of an immense roundhouse built in 1939. This had 25 stalls, and was part of a larger complex serving as the largest railroad maintenance facility in Western Maryland.
The roundhouse was pulled down in 1999, but there’s a museum in one of the preserved buildings by the CSX Railroad.
An aladdin’s cave for railroad enthusiasts, this has historic rolling stock, tons of artifacts and massive, ever-growing model train displays, including an accurate representation of the roundhouse.
The museum is run by volunteers with in-depth knowledge of Hagerstown’s railroad history, and you can also step outside to view the working CSX facility.
11. Fairgrounds Park
The largest space in Hagerstown if you want to be active is the site of the old Great Hagerstown Fair.
This event ran from 1856 to 1980, moving to Fairgrounds Park in 1880. The old grandstand is still intact, and there’s a marker and interpretive board recalling the event’s golden days.
Fairgrounds Park remains full of life, as the setting for many community events including the 4th of July Fireworks Celebration, the Harvest Hoedown in October and regular yard sales in the stables by the grandstand.
For recreation you’ll find amenities for soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, basketball/inline hockey, BMX and ice skating, along with a dog park, walking trails and outdoor exercise equipment.
12. Hagerstown Premium Outlets
Something that brings a lot of visitors to Hagerstown is this outlet mall just off I-70 in the south of the city.
Owned by Simon Property Group, the mall opened in 1998 and caters to a large region, comprising portions of Pennsylvania, Maryland and even Washington, D.C..
For a small cross section of the many brands found here, you’ve got Adidas, Banana Republic, Calvin Klein, Gap, Guess, Levi’s, LOFT, Nautica, Polo Ralph Lauren, The North Face and Under Armour.
Unusual for an outlet mall, this spot also has a food court, with a Hibachi Xpress, Dairy Queen and China Max, in addition to a branch of LongHorn Steakhouse by the parking lot.
13. Hagerstown Cultural Trail
Two of Hagerstown’s prime destinations, the downtown Arts & Entertainment District and Hagerstown City Park, are linked by a specially planned trail, intended as a destination in its own right.
Recently expanded, this half-mile walkway combines small visitor attractions, engaging sculpture, murals, landscaped public spaces, a whimsical children’s play area and interesting historical snippets, all encouraging you to make your way through the city on foot.
Families will love The Fantastical Garden play area, designed by artist Alsion Sigethy. You can download a map for the trail, giving you background on each stop.
14. Pangborn Park
The Hamilton Run trail connects Fairgrounds Park with another public green space, a few hundred feet to the northeast.
A worthwhile detour, Pangborn Park stands out for its pond, fed by Hamilton Run, and attracting plentiful geese and ducks.
There’s also a collection of recreation amenities at the park, including tennis courts, a baseball/softball field, a sand volleyball court, a playground by the pond and a lawn bowling facility.
Rows of mature trees offer shade along the trails, and while there’s a charming formal garden area centered on an ornate fountain in the northeast corner.
15. Black Rock Golf Course
On the city’s southeastern outskirts, Black Rock Golf Course has earned plenty of acclaim since it opened in 1989, and was named as the best municipal course in Maryland by Golf Digest in 2010.
Even experienced golfers will need to bring their A game to these 18 holes, which play long and are bordered by mature woods and difficult rough.
Black Rock has consistent, bent grass greens, and the back nine is unforgettable for its magnificent views of the Appalachian Mountains.
Complementary facilities include a pro shop, oversized putting green and a driving range complete with sand trap and chipping green.