I decided to spend some part of my summer taking the Star-Spangled Banner Trail that basically runs from Southern Maryland all the way up to Fort McHenry in Baltimore. I visited Fort McHenry a few times growing up (mainly on school field trips and whenever an out of town relative arrives in Maryland for a visit and we would take that person there). But I had never explored the War of 1812 landmarks aside from Fort McHenry in Baltimore before this year, when I got a copy of a brochure listing all of the various scenic and historical byways through the state of Maryland. Back in June, when I had to go to the Prince George’s County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, I found that it was on the Star-Spangled Banner Trail so I decided to make the best of a bad situation (Upper Marlboro, with the giant courthouse being the center of all town activity and its numerous bail bonds businesses, isn’t exactly a visitors’ paradise) by traveling through a portion of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail for a bit after I finished doing what I needed to do at the courthouse.

I found driving through country roads to be a bit relaxing so two months later I attempted to drive through the trail from its starting point in Southern Maryland near Sotterley Plantation. The plantation was really nice (I’d love to go back in the fall when the leaves start to change color),  I got a kick out of the Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant, and I definitely would’ve parked in Solomons had it not been so crowded that parking was very hard to find. The big disappointment is that, compared to what I saw in the area between Upper Marlboro and Croom, there were far fewer historical landmarks south of Prince George’s County.

But then I remembered that a portion of the Star-Spangled Banner Trail also winds its way in an area near my home. A few years ago the Bladensburg Waterfront Park was spruced up just in time for the War of 1812 bicentennial to include new historical markers providing information about Bladensburg’s place in history as the location of the Battle of Bladensburg, which was the lowest period for the United States. I finally decided to get around to visiting those War of 1812 landmarks near my home. For added measure, I downloaded a free app on my Droid smartphone called the Chesapeake Explorer, which has a variety of trails for walking, boating, and cars.

So I arrived at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park on a day that was warm but the humidity was way lower than usual for August. (It was such a novelty to be walking around outside feeling very comfortable in August.)

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The red caboose is a symbol of Bladensburg’s past as a stop on the old Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

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Bladensburg Waterfront Park, located along the Anacostia River, is a real treat for nature lovers and history buffs alike. Looking at tranquility in the next few photos, if it weren’t for the historical signs and some of the artifacts in the visitors center, you’d never guess that this area was once the scene of one of the most destructive battles in the War of 1812 as the invading British army torched a lot of buildings and many of them burned to the ground.

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The next photo shows one of the many white stars painted on the sidewalk, which marked the Star-Spangled Banner walking tour. Those stars came in handy for me because I had forgotten to bring a recharger for my smartphone so I had to turn it off as much as possible in order to conserve battery power, thus I had to use both the Chesapeake Explorer and Maps apps as sparingly as possible since they both tend to consumer power.

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I walked out of the park and on to Route 450. Near the park entrance is an memorial area dedicated to those who died in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

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Across the street from the memorial area is another memorial known as the Peace Cross or Memorial Cross. It was originally erected to honor those who died in World War I. In recent years it has become the subject of a lawsuit to have it removed on the grounds that it violates church and state while opponents of that lawsuit have said that removing the cross would be a slap in the face to all veterans.

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As I crossed the bridge along Route 450 I was treated to a nice scenic view of the Anacostia River.

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So I turned on to Bladesnsburg Road (also known as Alt US 1) and I came across this sign announcing that I was now in Colmar Manor.

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Just beyond that sign is the Morazan Restaurant, which has a mural painted in the back depicting both the history and natural beauty of the Port Towns area (which consists of Bladensburg, Colmar Manor, Cottage City, and Edmonston).

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Then I turned on to 43rd Avenue, which led right into the neighboring town of Cottage City. As I continued to follow the white stars painted on the sidewalks, I came upon a festival that was celebrating Cottage City Day. It was a small yet lively festival that included live music, pony rides, inflatable slides, and community booths.

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I didn’t stay long at that festival, mainly because it was a small festival compared to other area festivals I’ve been to. So I continued on the trail through a nice looking suburban neighborhood which consisted mostly of small cottage-sized homes (which gives Cottage City its name). I also came upon the occasional historical marker that included facts about the War of 1812 and the Battle of Bladensburg.

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This sign showed First Lady Dolley Madison rescuing various artifacts from the White House before she fled. Among the items she rescued was Gilbert Stuart’s famous portrait of George Washington. Shortly after she and the White House staffers fled, the invading British army burned the White House down to the ground.

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Continuing my walk, I came upon the former location of the Cottage City and Colmar Manor Fire Department, which is now a historical marker. That building is relatively small for a fire department but it seems nice looking at the same time.

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The next spot on the walking tour is a visit to the Fort Lincoln cemetery on Bladensburg Road (Alt US 1). Much of the walk to the cemetery is along a busy street filled with fast food places restaurants, gas stations, beauty parlors, and other nondescript businesses.

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Fort Lincoln is your typical cemetery that has the usual gravestones and markers with the occasional grave that stands out from the rest due to the unusual design of the headstone.

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I even came across a gravestone that’s written entirely in either Japanese or Chinese.

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At the far end of the cemetery is a marker that denotes the area where the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds were once located. Back then politicians and other luminaries who got into disputes would settle it in a duel complete with pistols. Of course people died as a result. When Washington, DC outlawed this practice, people simply went across the border into Maryland and did their dueling in Bladensburg. Dueling went on until the start of the Civil War and it hasn’t been revived since. (Although I have a bit of a fiendish fantasy of wanting to see Donald Trump get shot and killed in a duel consisting of him against a gang of all those whom he has insulted in recent months like Mexicans, Megyn Kelly of Fox News, Jeb Bush, John McCain, and many more. LOL!)

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In a way it seems fitting that a portion of the former Dueling Grounds is now part of a cemetery. Looking at the peaceful landscape, it doesn’t seem possible that people used to actually hold duels there.

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Part of the Dueling Grounds also lay beyond the fence of the cemetery. This area basically consists of a small patch of green grass with a park bench that one can sit on watching the cars go whizzing by on Bladensburg Road (Alt US 1). This tiny park has been mentioned on Roadside America and there’s a very informative article on the Landmarks blog that not only documents the most notorious duel that occurred there—one that was between Commodores James Barron and Stephen Decatur. Both men were injured but Commodore Stephen Decatur would later die of his injuries. That blog even managed to do enough sleuthing to figure out the exact spot where Commodore Decatur fell—where a suburban home now stands right behind the current location of an IHOP. According to this web page, the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds are supposed to be haunted but I didn’t see any ghosts or anything supernatural during my visit there.

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Much of the walk along the historic walking trail isn’t really that memorable given the amount of fast food outlets and chain retailers (such as CVS) located there. The next two photos say it all about the weird juxtaposition between the historical markers describing a major moment in the Battle of Bladensburg next to a place like Burger King.

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The walk was mostly okay with one exception. I was walking back towards the Bladensburg Waterfront Park on Alt US 1 when a pickup truck slowed down besides me and there was a strange guy offering me a ride. I turned him down. He drove into a nearby parking lot, drove a few yards behind me, the go back out on Alt US 1, drove slowly past me then drove into a nearby parking lot one again. I had this weird feeling that he was casing me or something. I didn’t want to risk being a victim so I looked on my smartphone and saw that a portion of the park jutted along this neighborhood that was a few feet away. So I turned down 41st Avenue and walked down until I reached Lawrence Street. To my dismay I saw that the park boundary was this tall steep hill and I knew that it would be too steep for me to attempt it. (Unfortunately I left my hiking stick at home that day. I would’ve been more comfortable with rising the walk up that hill had I brought it with me.) But then I saw a clear path lined with stones.

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Walking up that stone hill looked kind of iffy. Then I saw a guy (who looked like he was in his 20’s) walk up that stone hill with no problems. He walked completely upright. I thought maybe it was worth the risk. So I started to walk up. The first few steps were okay until I reached the halfway point. Then I found that I needed to use both my hands as well as my feet to climb up the rest of that hill. I made it to the top on my hands and knees. I had to rely on the kindness of strangers to help me back up because I needed something to grab on to because I was so worn out from all that walking.

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Okay, I’ll admit that I was proud of myself for being able to climb up that rocky steep hill despite my hip replacement. But, having done that, it’s not something I want to do again. The only thing that was worse than taking that shortcut clip up the steep hill was the one time when I went to Great Falls Park on the Maryland side and I foolishly decided to take the Billy Goat Trail because I heard that people who use that trail would be treated to spectacular views of the Potomac River. Yes, the views were spectacular but I had to struggle to climb on rocks that I wasn’t used to climbing. That day I was straining muscles that I didn’t even know I had. I had to spend the following day recuperating from that one.

I was pretty stiff and sore from doing that long Star-Spangled walk (which my pedometer read at being close to nine miles). While I liked the Bladensburg Waterfront Park (and I’d probably spend more time there taking the various nature trails) and the trail in Cottage City, the second half of the walk was along a busy street full of chain stores and fast food restaurants and it just wasn’t that interesting. If it weren’t for the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, Fort Lincoln would be a typical cemetery. (There weren’t any notable people buried there.) Basically part of that walking tour was a hit while the rest was a miss.

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