The Ragged Edge

The weather and our wishes for a small retreat from winter seemed to coincide or to conspire neatly for several days. We headed south toward Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg, and settled at the Inn at Ragged Edge where old-timers like my wife and I, plus relative youngsters too, could bask in romantic get-away. And sure, a famous trout stream or two beckoned from around the corner.dscn9754

The old Victorian mansion called Ragged Edge has to be seen to be believed. We breezed right into it, with sunny weather, migrating birds, and temperatures in the high seventies. Our hosts at this “boutique bed & breakfast” were gracious and accommodating.

The food was delicious; our third-floor suite was clean and very comfortable; the furnishings and artistic appointments were extraordinary. Everything, from split-level patios and wrap-around porch to winding staircase and Steinway grand piano quietly boasted of contemporary and historical correctness. The fly-fishing was only fair but it was fun (I’m getting to that…).dscn9736

This “summer cottage” of the railroad magnate, Colonel Moorhead Kennedy, was built around 1900, and to walk its nature trail along a lazy wooded stream (visible from the intricate windows in the house) and to browse among the quaint old chambers in the mansion is to meditate on southern history and cultural diversity. Leighanne and I relaxed and, of course, the nearby Falling Spring Branch beckoned every last fiber in the fly rod that I brought along.dscn9756

Colonel Moorhead Kennedy had been active in World War I and eventually functioned as a VP and President of more Pennsylvania railroads than I can wrap my head around, and he threw big parties at Ragged Edge. Early twentieth-century celebrities, bankers, presidents, Supreme Court justices, and generals attended his annual gatherings. The horse-and-carriage deliveries, the private railroad spur, the swimming pool, and the elaborate gardens and orchards were some highlights for this grandest home in Franklin County.dscn9763

It wasn’t easy for a trout bum like myself to take in all this high-brow stuff but the recreational aspect of our stay helped to keep things in perspective. In addition to some fishing adventures, Leighanne and I visited a Peruvian restaurant, a brewery and a winery and other hotspots, so the weather was indeed a February treat.dscn9746

Falling Spring Branch is a small limestone run, nearly as renowned as its sister streams the Big Spring and Letort Run, one of the few Pennsylvania waters capable of sustaining a wild rainbow trout population. It’s reported that some of the rainbows grow to outlandish sizes but I didn’t see many fish in my days of exploration here. It’s a difficult stream to fly-fish but I certainly enjoyed the challenge of casting on a small run filled with cress and silt and wild trout hiding from the sun.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Falling Spring has environmental issues but is benefitting from a lot of stream improvement projects headed by cooperative efforts of Trout Unlimited, local businesses and landowners. At my first stop here I walked toward a small bridge and a young guy with a fly rod working the water. There are catch-and-release/fly-fishing-only signs posted all over this stretch of water and at the bridge, but it was obvious that the angler was slinging a fat night-crawler to the edges of the watercress.

looking down from the back of Ragged Edge

looking down from the back of Ragged Edge


The guy knew I was watching him and, in a minute of uncharacteristic behavior, I said nothing at all. I didn’t feel like starting a war this early in the game, and I watched him slink away downstream, hoping that he thought about his contrary actions though he probably wasn’t very capable. Luckily, I would encounter several others along the stream in the next couple of days who were different– friendly, ethical and stimulating conversationalists– like a ray of sunshine on a snowy day.dscn9766

To fish this little stream is to walk along the ragged edge of lavish yards and gardens of cooperative residences in gentlemanly fashion– never mind those sudden (thankfully uncommon) moments when you sink to your knees in “quicksand” like some floundering idiot in quest of the Holy Grail.dscn9744

I knew that fish do not come easily from Falling Spring Branch. I tried casting with scuds, streamer, dry fly #20 on 6x tippet, etc., and finally settled for just a small rainbow taken on an olive emerger. No great shakes, but I did better the next morning when, en route home, we stopped at Big Spring Run and I managed a couple of wild rainbows near the source of this well-known stream.dscn9741

Although the sky was overcast and promising another quick change of weather, the songbirds were vocal along this clear, attractive waterway a few hundred yards below its major source. Even here, this limestone run has a greater volume of water than the 2.4 mile special regulations stretch along Falling Spring Branch. I quickly caught and released a couple of wild rainbows. I tried to hold up a pretty 13 or 14-inch trout for Leighanne to photograph but all she managed was a mediocre head shot of the fish.dscn9742

My wife is a better romantic get-away partner than she is a fish photographer, but hell, we all know what these trout look like, and no one said it was going to be easy fishing on the pleasant banks of life’s ragged edge.

another little one

another little one

rain & snow will return

rain & snow will return

black stonefly on reel

black stonefly on reel



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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20 Responses to The Ragged Edge

  1. Bob Stanton says:

    Unseasonable weather indeed! Robins are back, a few blooming dandelions, and my aunt told me that she’s heard peepers – I’ll be mowing the grass before March is out! What are the flowers in the pic? They look kinda like anemone or hepatica.

    • I don’t know what they are, Bob; domestics of some kind growing on the estate property. Maybe someone out there can identify them for us. It’s been a strange transition, for sure, and now I’m kind of shivering with the change again.

  2. Wow, Walt, just wow! What a great experience for you and the wife…. Thanks for taking the time to share with us all.

  3. plaidcamper says:

    Great accommodations, great weather, fine surroundings, and time out with your wife? Doesn’t seem too ragged to me! Time well spent, and if strange seasonal transitions are the new normal, I guess you’ve got to enjoy whatever’s on offer…
    My brother lives an hour or two from Gettysburg, and we’ve always had fun times visiting all around – an area rich in all kinds of (natural) history.
    Thanks, Walt, for sharing your trip away!

    • If there’s a new normal, then it’s there to explore (with crossed fingers and consternation, probably). PC, it’s interesting to learn that your brother lives in that southern PA region and that you know it some. Yeah it wasn’t all that ragged, I guess, if raggedness is fun. Thanks again, friend!

  4. Brent says:

    That does seem like a pretty special place. And hey, if the warmth carries some disturbing implications, we can at least find the silver lining that you were able to enjoy the outdoors so much. Glad you finally got that luck on the Big Spring!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great read Walt.

  6. Sounds like you had a wonderful outing. I love being able to combine a handful of different activities, like wine tasting and pub stops, with fishing. There’s one area in particular we visit all the time that has fantastic wineries, amazing fishing for small wild rainbows (when they’re not in a mood) and, as we recently discovered, a great local pub. Everyone comes home from those trips in great spirits.

    • Sounds great, Douglas, my kind of outing, and the kind my wife enjoys and sometimes orchestrates. Local wines, craft beers, fly fishing… would love to visit your corner of the world sometime!

      • It’s a very interesting part of the country. We’ve got desert, more wineries than you can shake a stick at and some of the best stillwater trout fishing around.

  7. A good place to call “home.”

  8. Fishing and a little bit of history is right up my alley Walt. Thanks!

  9. loydtruss says:

    What a great road trip filled with some history as well as fishing. I checked out the link and was surprised at the things to see and do near the Inn. Did you guys visit any of the sites near the Inn? Thanks for sharing

    • Bill,
      On this first three-day visit to the Inn and its environs we focused mostly on the grounds itself in addition to fly-fishing and checking out a farmer’s market, a brewery and winery and a restaurant or two, but there’s certainly a lot one could do there, including a visit to Gettysburg Battlefield. Glad you checked out the link and found it interesting. Thanks for reading, too!

  10. JZ says:

    Nice to stay at a place with so much historic charm. Staying or visiting places that evoke so much history and always tell a story like your walking with ghosts from the past. Although, sometimes sleeping at night and hearing the sounds of an old mansion might make you lose sleep. I would! I’m sure your not afraid of no ghostly ghoul in an old house cluttered with perhaps disturbing history! I said perhaps, because I always envision the worst of events. Like somebody being murdered or hung outside from that old oak tree that robins and song birds don’t dare find themselves perched on. I get spooked easily at some of these places Walt that my wife drags me too. Getting up in the middle of the night and walking across squeaky floor boards creeps me out. The old lace curtains that hang off them tall narrow windows that look over the grounds are a little scary too. I can see an old widow or some shadowy woman holding a candle always watching over. Some of these places have cemetery’s in the back fenced in with black iron, along with crooked facing stones with a name like Edgar or Wilma faintly etched. Glad you and your wife had a good time visiting and that you were able to visit a winery together. The warm air combined with the fishing sure had to feel nice. Those kind of getaway’s are always nice to share together. Hope you slept well and I say boo to the ghosts and spirits that probably surrounded you. I’m not kidding neither..

  11. Thanks JZ! I don’t know if you’ve been watching too many of those B movie horror flicks of late, or if your imagination is just naturally inquisitive when it comes to these old sites, but I like your description of the mind’s “ragged edge”! Actually we seldom visit this sort of home and, when we do, it’s because I drag my wife along (“honey, there’ll be stuff for you to do while I fish…” heh, heh). In this case we slept soundly and weren’t disturbed by creaking floorboards and that kind of thing. If the place was haunted, no one told us, luckily, and I’m sure they wouldn’t want to scare the crap out of potential business. I don’t watch much TV, so those crooked headstone scenes do not come readily to mind, though a good and frightening scene from Henry James or Edgar Allan Poe just might come creeping into an otherwise tranquil night of dreams.
    Instead of all that, there was “historic charm,” as you say, through and through. Thank god for small favors.

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