Ghost Roads V: ‘Not all who wander are lost’ on outskirts of Frederick

FREDERICK, Md. — It’s scrawled in red on the parapet of an abandoned bridge: “Not all who wander are lost.” The sentiment, borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien, is a reminder that a ghost road on the outskirts of Frederick, Maryland, is not entirely forgotten.

There are bridges left to waste in all corners of the world, but the orphaned mammoth that has spanned the Monocacy River since World War II carries not just the weight of macadam but also of tragedy.

Wind whisks through its hollow spandrels. The gnarly branches of sycamores claw at its haunches. But the sound of traffic is only heard from downriver on its replacement, a newer bridge for the Old National Pike.

On both ends of the old span, the remnants of the old turnpike wither in the forest. Toppled trees and tenacious vines encroach on the road’s faded skip line.


More from WTOP’s “Ghost Roads” series:


Though it is no longer traversed by motor vehicles, evidence of passersby, vagrants and misfits can be found. A makeshift skate park was cobbled together on the crumbling roadway west of the river. Graffiti is not as pervasive as it is along many ghost roads, but “Josh and Rachel” have both been here.

The din of traffic on the nearby Old National Pike settles by dusk.

An abandoned, three-arch bridge towers over the Monocacy River in Maryland between Frederick and Linganore. The bridge was constructed in 1942 and was closed in 1985. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
An abandoned, three-arch bridge towers over the Monocacy River in Maryland between Frederick and Linganore. The bridge was constructed in 1942 and was closed in 1985. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Dusk settles on the closed portion of the Old National Pike near the Monocacy River. Toppled trees and debris cover the edges of the crumbling road. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Dusk settles on the closed portion of the Old National Pike near the Monocacy River. Toppled trees and debris cover the edges of the crumbling road. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Inscribed on the parapet of Jug Bridge's successor is the text "not all who wander are lost." The line, borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien, offers a reminder that not all ghosts roads are forgotten. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Inscribed on the parapet of Jug Bridge’s successor is the text “not all who wander are lost.” The line, borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien, offers a reminder that not all ghosts roads are forgotten. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Weeds sprout from the cracked bridge deck of the Old National Pike outside of Frederick, Maryland. The reinforced concrete bridge towers more than 70-feet above the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Weeds sprout from the cracked bridge deck of the Old National Pike outside of Frederick, Maryland. The reinforced concrete bridge towers more than 70-feet above the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Vines grow up the bridge parapets and through the pigeon-hole balustrade of the old bridge. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Vines grow up the bridge parapets and through the pigeon-hole balustrade of the old bridge. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The substructure of the bridge consists of three open arched spandrels measuring more than 80 feet in width at water level. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The substructure of the bridge consists of three open arched spandrels measuring more than 80 feet in width at water level. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The centuries-old ruins of the Jug Bridge can still be found in the woods upriver from the ghost road. One of the arches of the 19th-century timber truss bridge collapsed in 1942. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The centuries-old ruins of the Jug Bridge can still be found in the woods upriver from the ghost road. One of the arches of the 19th-century timber truss bridge collapsed in 1942. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The Jug Bridge's large sculpture and namesake, a large demijohn, is on display at a park along Interstate 70 about a mile from its abutments. Legend has it that workers who contributed to the bridge sealed a jug of whiskey in the demijohn. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The Jug Bridge’s large sculpture and namesake, a large demijohn, is on display at a park along Interstate 70 about a mile from its abutments. Legend has it that workers who contributed to the bridge sealed a jug of whiskey in the demijohn. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A fern grows from the east abutment of the Jug Bridge. Many of the stones from the 19th-century structure have tumbled down the bluff toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A fern grows from the east abutment of the Jug Bridge. Many of the stones from the 19th-century structure have tumbled down the bluff toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A slapdash skate park was cobbled together on a portion of the old road that leads toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A slapdash skate park was cobbled together on a portion of the old road that leads toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine) (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
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An abandoned, three-arch bridge towers over the Monocacy River in Maryland between Frederick and Linganore. The bridge was constructed in 1942 and was closed in 1985. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Dusk settles on the closed portion of the Old National Pike near the Monocacy River. Toppled trees and debris cover the edges of the crumbling road. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Inscribed on the parapet of Jug Bridge's successor is the text "not all who wander are lost." The line, borrowed from J.R.R. Tolkien, offers a reminder that not all ghosts roads are forgotten. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Weeds sprout from the cracked bridge deck of the Old National Pike outside of Frederick, Maryland. The reinforced concrete bridge towers more than 70-feet above the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
Vines grow up the bridge parapets and through the pigeon-hole balustrade of the old bridge. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The substructure of the bridge consists of three open arched spandrels measuring more than 80 feet in width at water level. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The centuries-old ruins of the Jug Bridge can still be found in the woods upriver from the ghost road. One of the arches of the 19th-century timber truss bridge collapsed in 1942. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
The Jug Bridge's large sculpture and namesake, a large demijohn, is on display at a park along Interstate 70 about a mile from its abutments. Legend has it that workers who contributed to the bridge sealed a jug of whiskey in the demijohn. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A fern grows from the east abutment of the Jug Bridge. Many of the stones from the 19th-century structure have tumbled down the bluff toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)
A slapdash skate park was cobbled together on a portion of the old road that leads toward the Monocacy River. (WTOP/Dave Dildine)

The ghost road and its nearby successor were once counterparts, the closed portion once serving as a 2-mile carriageway for westbound traffic. Present-day Old National Pike, or Route 144, carried eastbound traffic. When a straighter, safer alignment for Interstate 70 was finalized between Frederick and Linganore in 1985, the oldest bridge and its approaches were immediately closed.

The road was decommissioned unceremoniously. Weeks before, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, a charter bus from Baltimore had careened out of control on the bridge, ejecting most of its passengers in one of Maryland’s most horrific highway crashes. The bodies of the driver and a man seated behind him were thrown into the ravine 70-feet below the bridge.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that excessive speed, weather conditions, poor pavement and inadequate signage led to the disaster on that day.

The tragedy that transpired at the bridge overshadows any conversation about the structure’s grandeur, history or longevity. It stands quietly as a memorial to the six lives lost during its final year in service.

The closed structure is sometimes referred to as the Jug Bridge. The original Jug Bridge was completed in 1808. It collapsed in 1942, but the ashen ruins of its two abutments can still be found in the underbrush just north of Old National Pike.

The four-arch bridge was considered an engineering marvel for early America. Its namesake, a large demijohn made of stone, was once prominently mounted on the eastern side of the span. Legend has it that the workers who constructed the bridge sealed a jug of whiskey in the sculpture.

Long before the terrible crash at the Monocacy River, Baltimore Sun poet Folger McKinsey wrote:

The old jug held its station through so many fateful years
It watched the changing problems that created sighs or tears;
It saw the trucks and autos come along in all their might —
And at last its heart is broken and its walls have said good-night.

Now, the ornamental jug is displayed at a park off I-70 less than a mile away, having overseen two centuries of triumph, traffic and tears.


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