Edwards Ferry – Orientation

I’m jumping the gun on June a bit now.  Taking to  mind the need to consolidate the remainder of my “Gettysburg notes” from the marker project, and some timing with other events, my focus this month on the blog will be toward two distinct topics.  One of course the “markers and monuments.”  At the same time I’ve got some site notes from various points in Loudoun, Fairfax, Clarke, and Frederick Counties which I’ve needed prodding to post.   I’ll start out with a series of posts looking at Edwards Ferry, where the Army of the Potomac crossed into Maryland in late June, 1863.  Of course as a bonus, that site featured prominently in the Battle of Balls Bluff, making this site a “two for one” visit.

A few years back (2006 or 2007) Loudoun County, Virginia opened the Elizabeth Mills Riverfront Park.  The park fronts portions of the Potomac River and Goose Creek, as a strip of river bottom land next to the Lansdowne Resort & Golf Club.  Several sites of note within the narrow boundaries of the park include Elizabeth Mills (also known as Kephart Mill), Kephart Bridge Ruins, two locks for the Goose Creek Canal, and a river lock for that canal.  But for those with Civil War interests, the important landmark is at the mouth of Goose Creek – the site of the Edwards Ferry river crossing.

The Mouth of Goose Creek
The Mouth of Goose Creek

There are two entrances to the trail in the park, both inside Lansdowne, and both reached from Belmont Ridge Road from Leesburg Pike (Virginia 7).  The Elizabeth Mills parking area is at the end of Squirrel Ridge Place.  The Kephart Bridge parking area is off Riverpoint Drive.  Both sites are about equidistant, no more than 1500 yards from the mouth of Goose Creek, but the trail from Kephart Bridge passes several ruins of the old Goose Creek Canal.  The only obstacles on the trail are the occasional deadfall and the occasional washout or two.  Otherwise, the trail is a walk along the river banks.

As mentioned above, this is a site which has layers upon layers of history.  While the main natural feature is of course the confluence, the important man made feature is the Goose Creek Canal.   As this canal was in place at the time of the Civil War, allow me to elaborate a bit on its history.  This canal was one of many such projects in Virginia, born with the notion to link the inland valleys rich with agricultural products to the markets over the fall line.  After the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on the Maryland side of the Potomac, a river lock was built to allow light boat traffic to pass from Goose Creek, down the C&O Canal, to Washington, D.C.

In 1849, the Little River and Goose Creek Navigation Company began construction on a canal along Goose Creek and the Little River (its tributary).  The aim was to allow passage of canal barges as far upstream as Loudoun Vallie – Aldie, Oatlands, and mills along the Snickersville Turnpike.  The first step in this canal project was a river lock and a canal lock at the mouth of Goose Creek.  Next was a set of double locks at Kephart’s Mill.  The last set of dams and locks were complete by 1854.

Goose Creek Canal Lock
Goose Creek Canal Lock

Problem was, Goose Creek was not a reliable for navigation.  Looking at the upper reaches of Goose Creek, even near the Leesburg Turnpike (site of a Confederate Battery and “Burnt Bridge” during the Civil War), rarely is there enough depth in the channel to allow anything larger than a canoe.  Yet, the project was completed. The canal ditch, locks, and dams stood at the time of the Civil War. Part of this canal is shown on the “McDowell Map” of 1862.

Section of McDowell Map showing Edwards Ferry
Section of McDowell Map showing Edwards Ferry

However, the map does not appear to accurately scale, nor does it show the full course of the canal.  But clearly shown is the road infrastructure of the time.

Edwards Ferry Road (mentioned also on several Leesburg Defenses posts earlier this year) passed from Leesburg to the west, crossing Cattail Branch, then descending the bluffs on the north bank of Goose Creek to the confluence.    Visible in this snapshot of the map, on the lower left,  is part of the Leesburg Turnpike.  The pike linked Leesburg with Alexandria (and is today Virgina Highway 7), crossing Goose Creek little over a mile and a half upstream from the mouth.

The other road of note runs nearly through the middle of the snapshot, connecting Edwards Ferry Road with the Pike.  This was called “California Road” by some accounts.  The reference here is to mining operations active along this section of Goose Creek.  Note the annotations “Iron Ore” and “Copper.”   Gold was also mined here, but certainly not enough make a significant operation.  Likely the reference to “California” was some joke upon the mine owner.  Regardless, the California Road crossed Goose Creek at Kephart’s Mill at a bridge by the same name.  This bridge, whose stone abutments still stand, was burned in 1862.

Remains of Kephart Bridge
Remains of Kephart Bridge

On the Maryland side of the Potomac, a road runs up from the old ferry point, across the canal lock then forks.  The left, or north, fork leads to Poolsville.  The right, or south, fork parallells the river eventually leading to Washington, D.C.

A look at the site today presents a far different view:

Google Earth Image of the Site Today
Google Earth Image of the Site Today

I’ve indicated in red the structures that stand today for reference – Kephart Mills (locks and bridge), the lock at the mouth of the Goose, the C&O lock, and C&O River Lock.  Otherwise, much of the road structure now lays below golf courses and residential streets.

So looking at both a period map and the satellite image today, clearly there’s a challenge to properly interpret the site.  What I will present in follow on posts are my notes regarding the Army of the Potomac crossing in 1863 and a bit about related history of the site.

And you may note, I’ve tagged this post as a “Need Marker” entry.  Yes, there are no historical or interpretive markers on site!

Published by Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.

6 thoughts on “Edwards Ferry – Orientation

  1. Looking at the McDowell Map I see what you mean about the waterways being off. Thornton seems to be on the wrong side of the run. Some day you need to explain to me how you save individual zoomed inmages from MrSid.

    1. Harry, I’ve messed with the MrSid app a bit. I can get quality “cuts” from the JPEG2000 image. Problem is they are really overkill for a web site/blog – too large of a file, where the resolution is overkill for the browser rendering.

      So I’ve fallen back to the rock soup option – using the LOC map browser, I zoom into the spot. Then with the good old screen capture, I drag the image to a photo editor. Crop out the stuff I don’t want.

  2. Another good starting place if one is looking for a longer hike is to park at the Keep Loudoun Beautiful Park directly off of Route 7. It’s roughly a 2 1/2 mile hike along Goose Creek from the parking lot. I’ve hiked the trail a number of times in the last year or two and also noted there are no historical markers.

    1. Keith, That is a good place to start the trail, and it avoids the twists and turns in the subdivision. The Hopkins Mill ruins stand along that trail also.

  3. Great blog post! just hiked from the Elizabeth Mills Waterfront Park down to the Kephart Bridge ruins (and back). You may be happy to know that there are some new signs there re: goose creek canal and the carolina road.

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