Gambrill State Park is a public recreation area located on Catoctin Mountain in Frederick County, Maryland. The state park’s main feature is the 1,612-foot (399m) peak Big Red Hill and offers views of the surrounding mountains in the Blue Ridge Mountains range. It is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.The park has since grown to more than 2,400 acres (970ha). In addition to its historic buildings, facilities at Gambrill include camping areas, hiking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, cabins, and 96-room lodge.
A visitor center features exhibits about the history of the park, natural resources, cultural heritage, and outdoor activities. The park also includes Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Brookside Gardens, both operated by the National Park Service. The mountain rises above the western horizon almost daily from any location within the park. Views are often obscured by clouds but occasionally clear weather will reveal the dome of the sky or even a second sun.
In May 1774, Captain John Smith was commissioned to explore possible avenues for trade with the native tribes inhabiting the Ohio River basin. One route he considered taking led him through what is now Frederick County. He decided against it because the county lacked navigable waterway and adequate supplies of food. Undaunted, Smith plotted an alternate course which took him through what is now Gambrill State Park.
On June 7, 1774, just four days after his return from the Ohio River Valley, Smith wrote home describing his journey as “a hard one indeed…over rugged mountains, deep valleys, thick forests and prairie land.” His report of the trip inspired thousands of emigrants to follow the Potomac River valley into the New World. Among those who responded to Smith’s call were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John and Abigail Adams. After serving as a military hospital during the Revolutionary War, St. Marys Hospital opened in 1847.
The facility provided care for sick seamen and immigrants until 1940, when it became a residence for the aged. That same year, under the State Planning Commission’s Historic District designation program, the hospital complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1945, local citizens showed their support for saving the site by purchasing enough property to establish a state park. With federal funding made available, work began on restoring the buildings and establishing a campground in 1952; they reopened in 1954.