Frederick MD: A Mini-Philly With A Charm All Its Own

Carroll Creek Park Abloom, Frederick MD

WHY GO: Maryland’s second largest city (after Baltimore), Frederick MD, is on the move. Distilleries are popping up like stills in the hills, and a stunning downtown canal-walk swarms with locals on balmy days and nights. With its brick row homes, adorable boutiques, and growing culinary scene, Frederick feels like a mini-Philly but has a charm all its own. And, to give offbeat travelers thrills, it’s home to the best Museum of Civil War Medicine in the world. Come to Frederick for its fantastic attractions, shops and restaurants – and then stay in a newly renovated inn that will surround you with warm hospitality and beauty. The Getaway Mavens spell it all out here:

Things to Do in Frederick MD

Carroll Creek Park in Spring, Frederick MD

STOP IN: Frederick Visitor’s Center. In a former cannery warehouse, the Frederick Visitor’s Center is the epitome of repurposing – and that goes for the area of town, as well, which has moved from industry to recreation, retail, and housing of late. Come in to plan your visit, or just to learn a thing or two about the area in its wagon-wheel shaped exhibit hall.

Our country’s first canonized Saint – Elizabeth Ann Seton – died in Frederick County. The Presidential Retreat, Camp David, is nearby in Catoctin Mountain Park. The 620-mile National Road, built in 1811 to connect the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, came right through here. The man who penned the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key, is buried here (there’s a remnant of one of the “bombs bursting in air” on display). And during the Civil War, both sides crossed this “neutral” State numerous times when Frederick City itself was “one vast hospital.”

Frederick’s merchants and restaurateurs are a cohesive, collaborative bunch, and city tourism offers something I’ve rarely seen: a Downtown Frederick Gift Card to use at over 150 establishments. Scope out the place first, and then purchase a gift card for your favorite traveler – a very cool and offbeat wedding or anniversary present.

Exterior, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick MD

TOUR: National Museum of Civil War Medicine. Speaking of “one vast hospital,” this phenomenal museum in the center of town (in a former furniture manufacturer where tables, chairs and coffin were made) is gaining fans due to the popularity of PBS’s Mercy Street. Museum curators and historians were tapped to consult on that Civil War mini-series, depicting the therapeutic side of the conflict.

Ambulence Service, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick MD

During the Civil War, Frederick served as a large medical facility located at the center of Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington DC. Out of Antietam’s 23,000 casualties, 10,000 were brought here, effectively doubling Frederick’s population.

Pain Management, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick MD

You won’t see the blood and gore associated with most exhibits on Civil war surgery, or depictions of soldiers writhing in pain while having legs sawn off. What this museum does best is dispel myths about mid-1800s medicine and its application on the battlefield. Though doctors back then didn’t understand the source of disease or infection, medical schools trained would-be surgeons on cadavers (usually obtained by “body snatchers” or grave-robbers), so those in the profession had extensive knowledge of the human anatomy. Medics carried medical field kits with morphine for immediate pain relief. And surgical patients, transported to field hospitals via horse-drawn ambulances, were anesthetized with ether or chloroform.

Field Surgery, National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick MD

Medical technology and knowledge grew leaps and bounds during the Civil War. When the war began in April 1861, there were 16,000 soldiers. By its end in 1865, nearly three million men (and some women) served. It was the most rapid militarization in history, thus the need for doctors was great. In 1861, just 120 surgeons served both sides, growing to nearly 15,000 over the course of the war.

Before Dr. Jonathan Letterman was recruited to organize battlefield medicine, soldiers lost lives unnecessarily. Management of the injured and sick was chaotic at best, deadly at worst. Letterman, considered the “unsung hero of the Civil War,” revamped every step in a soldier’s care and recovery; from emergency treatment on the battlefield, to field hospital, and then, when stable, to a larger city facility for recovery. Letterman’s first major test was at Antietam, where 17,000 men were moved off the battlefield in 12 hours. His process is still the basis for our modern military evacuation system.

Jennie Hodgers as Albert Cashier, Frederick MD

Exhibits showcase women in the Civil War from Clara Barton (“a one-person NGO”) to those who disguised themselves as men in combat. It’s estimated that over 300 women passed themselves off as men during this time. One was Jennie Hodgers, who served in the Union Army as Albert Cashier, and lived as Albert until 1910 when, in his 60’s, he was hit by a car and taken to the hospital. Discovered to be a woman, Albert was shamed and forced to wear a dress. According to the Civil War Trust website, “Many of Albert’s former comrades, although initially surprised at this revelation, were supportive of Hodgers and protested her treatment. (S)he was buried in full uniform and given a tombstone inscribed with her male identity.” $9.50 adults, under 9 free. Open Mon-Sat. 10-5, Sun 11-5.

Visitors Center, Monocacy National Battlefield, Frederick, MD

TOUR: Monocacy National Battlefield. Every Civil War battle was significant in its own way. The tagline here, “A day gained, a Capital Saved,” sums up this particular clash, where 5,800 Union soldiers met 15,000 Confederates on their way to take over Washington DC. Though the Confederates won this battle, it bought Union General Lew Wallace enough time to gather his troops and protect the Capital city. On July 9, 1864, this turned out to be the South’s last incursion into the north.

Montage, Monocacy National Battlefield, Frederick MD

Along the National Road, Monocacy Junction was “the road to Washington, DC” with two strategic bridges (horse and railroad) over the Monocacy River. Though you can drive the 1,650 acres on an podcast audio tour, be sure to examine the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, especially the 8-minute sound and light show on a dynamic topographical map, narrated with great intensity; e.g. “Confederate soldiers keep coming like a sheet of flame.” Monocacy is also notable for its ongoing archeological excavation of what was one of the largest populations of enslaved people in the region, the French owned L’Hermitage, owned by the Vincendieres family who were reputedly one of the most brutal slaveholders on record. Visitor’s Center open 8:30-5 daily, Free.

Exterior, Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, Frederick MD

TOUR: Schifferstadt Architectural Museum. Calling all civil engineers or architects! This stone structure is less a contents-of-an-old-house museum than a study in how German homes were constructed in the mid 1700’s. Built by Elias Brunner in 1758 (with an 1867 brick addition) the structure became a tenant farmhouse and was never updated or restored. So, unlike many continuously lived-in homes of that time, this one, left to seed, was ironically “preserved by neglect.”

1758 German Stove, Schifferstadt Architectural Museum, Frederick MD

So, you’ll see how wooden beams were joined through cutouts in two-foot thick sandstone walls, and original brickwork, doors and hardware. A guide points out an iron wall safe with rams horn hinges in the front room wall, a polished granite sink angled out the kitchen window that utilized water pumped from the creek right outside, and upstairs, the last remaining 1758 Five-Plate German Stove (inscribed with German bible verse) in the US still in its original setting. Fixed between two children’s rooms, it was stoked from the hallway. $5, under 12 free. April – Early Dec. Sat/Sun 1-4

Taste Frederick Food Tours, Frederick MD

TOUR: Taste Frederick Food Tour. (See in Where to Eat Section for individual restaurants). This 3-hour history-food walking tour provides the perfect overview of a little city on the move. With tastes at six restaurants/markets and visits to Carroll Creek Park and other historic venues, this tour is perfect if you’ve got only a few hours to spare.

The Clustered Spires of Frederick MD

You’ll meet your guide (mine was the bubbly novelist, Jessica McHugh) at Pretzel & Pizza, and then head to N. Market Pop Shop, Brewer’s Ally, along Carroll Creek to Wine Kitchen, to the Theater District (the beautifully restored Weinberg Center for the Arts), a pause in front of Town Hall to capture a photo of “The Clustered Spires” of Frederick’s Churches mentioned in John Whittier’s Barbara Fritchie poem, a stop at the “Spite House,” erected solely to stop the construction of a city road on private property, on to Firestone’s Market and finally for artisanal chocolate at Zoe’s, the “Official Chocolate of the 2011 Emmy Awards.” $89 for three hour tour and copious amounts of food.

Francis Scott Key Grave, Frederick MD

PHOTO OP: Francis Scott Key Gravesite at Mount Olivet Cemetery. A monument to Key is front and center at this final resting place for 34,000 others, including a multitude of soldiers buried in Confederate Row, and Barbara Fritchie, an elderly Union firebrand immortalized in John Whittier’s poem of the same name, who was claimed to have yelled: “shoot if you must this old gray head, but spare this country’s flag instead” as Confederate soldiers marched through town.

Confederate Row, Mount Olivet Cemetery, Frederick MD

Later, it was determined that Fritchie, in her 90’s at the time, would have been much too ill and frail to lean out of her window to shake her flag at the oncoming enemy, but why let facts get in the way of a famous poem?

Community Bridge at Carroll Creek Park, Frederick MD

STROLL: Carroll Creek Linear Park. Can’t get to Venice? This one-mile canal-walk, ribbed with stone and iron pedestrian bridges, will get you there – in mind at least. The “Community Bridge,” a trompe l’oiel masterpiece spearheaded by artist William Cochran in 1998 that appears to be an ivy-covered stone arch, is the centerpiece of this marvelous downtown park, which used to be the dividing line between white and black neighborhoods.

Carroll Creek Park with Flowers, Frederick MD

Now, the Community Bridge, the larger “Unity Bridge” and several other ornate wrought iron bridges link the two sides over a free-flowing canal, landscaped with Cherry Blossom trees, lily-pads and other colorful blooms. Gorgeous.

X Ward Distilling Company, Frederick MD

TASTE: X Ward Distilling Co. Joining Dragon Distillery and McClintock Distilling, X Ward is part of the revival of Frederick’s former stinky industrial tannery neighborhood. Its slogan, “Ward off Ordinary” prepares you for out-of-ordinary spirits like Caraway Rye Sprit (“tastes like rye bread”). Here’s a cool souvenir idea; bring back a “Home Aging Kit” – a bag of infused wood chips that turn your clear whiskey a caramel color.

McCutcheon's Apple Store, Frederick MD

SHOP: McCutcheon’s Factory Store. Find all things apple (except whole apples) at this apple products outlet – and more fruit related items, like salsa, butters, jams, honey, pickles, and juice blends. Open Mon-Fri 8-5.

Muse, Frederick MD

SHOP: Downtown Frederick has some great indie shops, including the “Worlds Best Battery-Free Toys Store,” Dancing Bear, and the fantastically fun Muse Gift Shop (my favorite there) where you’ll find locally hand-crafted t-shirts, house wares, jewelry, and stuff you would never buy for yourself but hope someone else does.

Where to Eat in Frederic MD

Isabella's Taverna Fried Asparagus, Frederick MD

EAT: Isabella’s Taverna. Known for tapas – specifically the incredible “Asparagus Fries” – in a cute and colorful space. The Feta-Watermelon-Mint salad is the best of its kind I’ve had anywhere.

Volt, Frederick MD

EAT: Volt. This is Top Chef finalist, CIA grad Bryan Voltaggio’s hot spot – the restaurant that put Frederick on the culinary map. Food is pricey, but innovative and excellent for the adventurous eater.

EAT: Wine Kitchen. Like its sister WK in Leesburg VA, this place is all about the wine and fresh produce coming through the front door. Local bites – like Fried Green Tomatoes and snappy, light Radish Salad couldn’t be better; unless you enjoy it outside on the patio while watching people stroll Carroll Creek Park.

EAT: Pretzel & Pizza. Opt for the very tasty Turkey Reuben Calzone ($10) assembled with house-made sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. A favorite of the bar crowd, you can also get $3 pizza by the slice along with your beer and wine.

EAT: Firestone’s Market on Market. Go for your classic tavern food at Firestone’s or grab the Hot Pressed Pastrami Sandwich mentioned in the Washington Post at the smaller take-out market next door.

EAT/DRINK: Brewer’s Alley. The old Town Hall used to sit on this site, followed by the Opera House. But since 1996, this former brewhouse (now the brewery is a mile from here) has been a pub as well. Try the pizza made with beer in the crust. Naturally it goes great with the house 1634 Ale.

Pop Shop, Frederick MD

NOVELTY DRINK: North Market Pop Shop. It will be tough to choose among 300 kinds of sugar-cane sweetened sodas, but here’s one idea for a dear Soviet friend: the strawberry lemonade, Leninaid, marked by a hammer & sickle and the phrase, “when you’re Russian for a treat and there’s no time for Stallin.”

Where to Stay in Frederick MD

Frederick Inn, Buckeystown MD

STAY: Frederick Inn B&B. A special place just 4 miles from the center of Frederick in Buckeystown, MD, the Frederick Inn is a Maven Favorite and warranted its own write-up here.

In Category: Arts & Culture, B&B, Food & Drink, Girlfriend Getaways, Historic Getaways, Maryland, Romantic Getaways

Malerie Yolen-Cohen is the Author of the cross-country travel guide, Stay On Route 6; Your Guide to All 3562 Miles of Transcontinental Route 6. She contributes frequently to Newsday, with credits in National Geographic Traveler, Ladies Home Journal, Yankee Magazine,, Sierra Magazine, Porthole, Paddler, New England Boating, Huffington Post, and dozens of other publications. Malerie’s focus and specialty is Northeastern US, and she is constantly amazed by the caliber of restaurants and lodging in the unlikeliest places.

Show 19 Comments
  • Jennifer Coates-Wang, REALTOR,GRI May 2, 2016, 10:57 am Link

    While in Frederick, many other things to do, why so limited? Check out the local Arts. There is a wonderful mural at Everedy Square that is Celebrating there 40th anniversary in Frederick painted by my half sister Carolyn (Parker) Lamuniere! The Deleplane Arts Center. Griffin Art Center, 437 N Market St, TAG/The Artists Gallery, 216 N Market St, Weinberg Center for the Arts, 20 W Patrick St, Hidden Medicine Healing Arts Studio, 332 N Market St, McGuire Fine Arts Gallery, 29 E Patrick St. But do not forget JoJo’s Restaurant & Tap House, 16 E Patrick St, Blue Side Tavern, 6 S Bentz St. I was surprised they did not mention Historical Society of Frederick County, 24 E Church St. The original museum of downtown Frederick! And why is it that this doesn’t mention 3 Bed and Breakfasts in DOWNTOWN Frederick? Hill House Bed & Breakfast, 12 W 3rd St. Or 10 Clarke, 10 Clarke Pl,. Or Hollerstown Hill Bed and Breakfast, 4 Clarke Pl. Also being that we are South of the Mason Dixon line, not sure how we are like Philly which is up in the North. And it breaks my heart when I hear people call our Attached Townhouses or Duplexes, Triplexes or Qualdraplexes ROW HOMES. They are not ROW HOMES. Architecturally speaking, ROW HOMES were built in larger cities like DC and Baltimore that were YOUNGER cities than Frederick. Those can be a ROW of 6-10 houses built in a single structure with plaster between them. Attached townhouses have brick between them. And Frederick has a wonderful collection of different architectural styles that span over 250 years! But since I specialize in Frederick Real Estate, I especially appreciate the diversity of architecture!

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen May 2, 2016, 11:29 am Link

    Hi Jennifer -that’s quite a list. As a “Getaways” website, this was never meant to be an exhaustive list of what to do in Frederick – just a way to get people from all over the world to consider visiting your beautiful town. And comparing one place to another is one way travel writers like me convey a feeling or image. Thanks for reading and commenting – Malerie

  • Jennifer Coates-Wang May 2, 2016, 11:58 am Link

    Great! So come back to visit us in the South and check out these places as well! And do not forget Baker Park! Really a wonderful place to live and visit!

  • Nancy Nathanson May 2, 2016, 12:32 pm Link

    No mention was made of Shab Row and the history there. This is a GREAT place to shop. Actual, Frederick is a GREAT place to shop, walk, visit. Any type of food you want can be found in Frederick. Great shops for every need. L.O.V.E. is especially nice for olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The Little Pottery Shop for local made pottery. Both of these are on Market street. Anywhere you go in Frederick, you will find a wonderful place to visit and find something of interest.

  • Judy Rice May 2, 2016, 2:40 pm Link

    Yes! All of what they’ve said and there’s more! When you plan your trip to Frederick, check MET (Maryland Ensemble Theatre) web site to see what’s playing—then get your tickets to often edgy, sometimes sentimental, but always theatre that matters. It is guaranteed to be the highlight of your visit—MET is a diverse ensemble of professional resident artists who are dedicated to the creation and production of extraordinary theatre art. MET is located right across the street from the Weinberg in the beautiful Francis Scott Key Hotel at 31 West Patrick Street.

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen May 2, 2016, 3:36 pm Link

    Nancy – I couldn’t possibly have listed all worthy establishments. People will have to go there and see for themselves! Malerie

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen May 2, 2016, 3:37 pm Link

    Frederick residents obviously love and are proud of their town! Thank you for adding more ideas to my first few. – Malerie

  • Joleen May 2, 2016, 4:56 pm Link

    Thanks for writing this great article about Frederick. It certainly is a fantastic place to live as well as visit. Don’t forget to go see the Frederick Keys baseball games when you visit! Additionally, the City offers many special events such as Summer concerts, garden tours, 4th of July, In The Street and holiday festivities. And….The Great Frederick Fair. There is something for everyone here.

  • Elizabeth Cromwell May 2, 2016, 8:26 pm Link

    Thanks so much for writing such a lovely overview of the place we all love to call home. You have a welcome invitation back anytime, and I’d love to buy you a drink! 🙂

  • Ellen P. Johann May 2, 2016, 10:00 pm Link

    Elizabeth Ann Set on was born and raised in New York City, in I believe 1774.

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen May 2, 2016, 10:50 pm Link

    Yes, Ellen, you are correct. Thanks for catching that. She died in Frederick County, MD, and her shrine is there. Malerie

  • Laurel Swencki May 3, 2016, 8:52 am Link

    Great article – great place. My husband and I recently re-located to Frederick from the Midwest.
    The day we stopped in at the visitors center while waiting for appointments with our real estate agent, we were overwhelmed by the uniqueness of this place. After strolling down Carrol Creek Linear Park and enjoying lunch in a vibrant downtown, we knew this is the place we wanted to be. We look forward to our first summer season here, I understand the downtown area/Baker park are full of entertaining things to do on summer evenings. It is wonderful to see a downtown that is bustling with people of all age groups enjoying the historical and culinary delights of the 40+ restaurants in the immediate area.

  • Whitney Dahlberg May 4, 2016, 12:16 pm Link

    Thank you for your wonderful article and very generous mention of my store, The Muse! Frederick is such a gem and it’s great to see our town getting recognized for it!

  • Mindy Cawley January 3, 2017, 8:20 pm Link

    Thanks for such a great article about Fredrick! We love it here. Shout out to THE COOLEST vintage store everyone should check out, Cannon Hill Antiques on Carroll St.

  • Shelley Aloi January 4, 2017, 2:43 am Link

    Thank you for a wonderful article about Frederick! As you can tell, those who live here are passionate about our community and its many accolades. I for one appreciate you bringing this place we call home to the attention of others. We could talk about it all day long – the arts and entertainment, local farms and food, historic sites, live-work-play neighborhoods, great restaurants, family atmosphere. Did I mention the food? Frederick has a little something for everyone. Thanks again for the acknowledgement. We are grateful.

  • Jay Dee January 4, 2017, 2:24 pm Link

    To be clear, while Frederick is south of the Mason Dixon line, it is south in name only. Frederick is the very site where the Maryland state legislature, manipulated by President Lincoln, voted not to secede from the Union (pro-secession delegates had been detained!). One way to demonstrate that Maryland is not a Southern state is this: it is north of and surrounds Washington D.C. on three sides. The nation’s capitol is literally embedded within Maryland. Southern armies had to invade Maryland in their campaigns to capture Union territory and Washington. Most of Western Maryland’s populace was anti-secession, cheering Union soldiers as they marched through Frederick. Meanwhile the city was treated poorly by the invading Southern armies, at one point threatened with destruction if a ransom was not paid. And yes slavery did exist in Frederick. As a born and raised Fredericktonian, I cringe at the suggestion that Frederick is in the South – I certainly knew few (if any…) people who thought of themselves as southerners. We’re in the Mid-Atlantic! Perhaps because Frederick has been flooded with in-migrating folks from all over in the past few decades, Frederick luckily lacks much of the floppy false charm and superficial chatty hospitality that makes the South the South. It’s just a nice place to be and with a lot of cool history!

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen January 7, 2017, 12:26 pm Link

    It is my pleasure to bring worthy destinations to the attention of travelers. I was treated very well in Frederick, and there is so much to do there. Quite a revaluation. Thanks for commenting!

  • Malerie Yolen-Cohen January 7, 2017, 12:27 pm Link

    Hi Mindy – Yes, Frederick is a COOL town. I couldn’t possibly write about every single shop, so I’m glad locals are cluing people in in the comment section!

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