Gateway To The Mountains
Set up camp at the cozy in Thurmont, MD. for a quiet retreat and plenty of presidential history.
Just below Gettysburg, Pa., the little town of Thurmont, Md., bustles with friendliness and natural beauty at the top end of the Blue Ridge. This mountain hamlet mixes natural attractions, a zoo and historical landmarks with the offlimits intrigue of Camp David, the presidential retreat on the outskirts of town.
Because of its purpose, visitors are not allowed at Camp David, which sits quietly at the edge of Catoctin Mountain Park. But come to The Cozy, a Thurmont institution since the Roaring ’20s, and you can learn all about it.
Once called Camp Cozy when it originally opened, The Cozy now offers a restaurant, country inn, village of shops and a Camp David Museum. It’s a draw at the heart of Thurmont, a Frederick County community once named Mechanicstown in the 1700s for being a home to so many German immigrants who worked as general mechanics—or blacksmiths. This town of more than 5,000 residents became Thurmont in the late 1800s, with its current name meaning “Gateway to the Mountains.”
In 1929, Thurmont attracted Wilbur R. Freeze to establish an up-to-date tourist camp, first consisting of three cottages, tents and a small building with showers, restrooms and a gas station. That was the initial version of Camp Cozy, which later added a luncheon counter next to the gas station plus a restaurant and bar called the “Camp Cozy Club.” The laid-back resort grew and grew, thanks to the vision of Freeze and his wife, Mary, and their son, Jerry. The late Wilbur Freeze would often say that The Cozy offered everything from “a bite to a banquet.”
All the while, Camp David became a more important retreat for presidents like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. That camp, sitting seven miles from The Cozy, was initially called “Shangri-La” when used by Roosevelt. As one story goes, Roosevelt stopped by The Cozy with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943; Churchill enjoyed a cold beer and gave the waitress coins to play in the jukebox. Locals, meanwhile, would line the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president.
Eisenhower renamed Shangri-La as Camp David for his grandson David. Later, several of the cabinet members serving President John F. Kennedy would stop at The Cozy for meals while the president stayed at Camp David. Over the years, the relationship between Camp David and The Cozy continued as President Jimmy Carter held the Camp David Accords in 1978. During that historic summit, The Cozy served as press headquarters for the likes of Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Sam Donaldson, Barbara Walters and Helen Thomas.
Today, you can tour the small Camp David Museum at The Cozy, with walls paying tribute to the presidents and their relationship to the camp through words, pictures and artifacts, including a grab bar from Truman’s boat. The museum entrance recreates the look of Aspen, the presidential retreat at Camp David.
Accommodations at The Cozy include 17 rooms plus five cottages, some featuring fireplaces and hot tubs, and some named in honor of the presidents. The Hoover Cottage is decorated with a plastic palm tree while The Reagan Room uses a cowboy theme; it’s the only one allowing smoking inside “and the most rented room we have,” says manager Vickie Grinder. Outside, a mural by artist Charles Colley interprets the colorful history of The Cozy, depicting characters from the Freeze family and the presidents, going off to vacation at Camp David.
Listed in the National Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, The Cozy is known well for its food, including jumbo crab cakes incorporating the fresh seafood of the Chesapeake Bay, less than two hours away. The Cozy’s dinner buffet, in turn, features fresh bread, meats, seafood and mouthwatering fried chicken. Another hint: Try the homemade root beer.
Nearby, in Thurmont, be sure to sample more seafood at Fitzgerald’s Shamrock Restaurant or try the down-home buffet at the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant. Then, starting at the picturesque gazebo of The Cozy, walk just a couple of blocks to the shops of downtown Thurmont, including the antiques and collectibles of Timeless Trends Boutique.
At Thurmont, the remains of a furnace that operated as early as the late 1700s includes historical markers and plaques. Around Frederick County, you can also find a trio of manmade rarities: Loy’s Station Covered Bridge spans 90 feet in length, Roddy Road Covered Bridge extends 40 feet, and the Utica Mills Covered Bridge stretches 101 feet over Fishing Creek.
Thurmont, too, is home to a giraffe and a Patas Monkey at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo. This attraction features hundreds of animals on 50 acres, including a zebra, camel, buffalo, antelope and yak.
Cunningham Falls State Park, just outside of town, boasts a 78-foot-high waterfall and a sandy beach on Hunting Creek Lake. Nearby, a short interpretive trail at Catoctin Mountain Park leads to the Blue Blazes Still, where moonshine makers turned out 25,000 gallons of corn whiskey before the still was raided and shut down in 1929—the same year Camp Cozy came into existence.