Cumberland: Where Fun And History Intersect
By Mindie Burgoyne
The city of Cumberland in Western Maryland was once the western-most point of the British Empire. In the 19thcentury it was the second largest city in Maryland hosting three avenues of commercial transport – the National Road, the C&O Canal and the Western Maryland Railroad. Today it’s an historic, outdoor destination in a landscape known as Mountain Maryland that attracts visitors interested in cycling, hiking, kayaking, shopping, studying history and enjoying arts.
Cumberland Visitor Center
13 Canal Street
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily
Price: Most Attractions Free
Emmanuel Episcopal Church and Fort Cumberland
The most familiar landmark on the Cumberland skyline is Emmanuel Episcopal Church known for its three Tiffany windows. This Gothic Revival church, built in 1851, sits on the foundations of Fort Cumberland, a frontier outpost for the French and Indian War. The church houses a scale model of Fort Cumberland, and tunnels used during the war still run beneath the church and are open to visitors on heritage days.
George Washington actually slept in this location, and not just for one night. Washington was a commander at Fort Cumberland, and a small cabin used by Washington is set near the church. It is all that remains of the original outpost, and a popular stopping place for visitors interested in history.
A historic highway known as the National Road runs past the Fort Cumberland cabin. Most of the road today follows Interstate Route 40, but it dates from 1811 as the first federally funded highway in America. Thomas Jefferson, envisioned a commercial gateway to the west, and ordered a road that would cut through the Allegheny Mountains connecting the Potomac and Ohio Rivers. In 2011, Cumberland celebrated the 200th anniversary of the National Road and the Visitor Center provides additional information about it as does signage along the road.
Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and the Great Allegheny Passage
Cumberland draws thousands of cyclists and hikers every year who take advantage of the scenic rail trail known as the Great Allegheny Passage. This trail runs along the old rail lines from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. It intersects there with the C&O Canal trail that runs to Georgetown in Washington, D.C. This provides a 318 mile scenic tourist route, not open to motorized vehicles, from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. The trail meanders through towns, villages, past bridges, through tunnels in one of the most scenic settings in America.
Another draw for visitors in Cumberland is the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, housed at Canal Place. It offers tourists a scenic ride in antique rail cars pulled by an authentic steam engine. The train travels from Frostburg to Cumberland and back again. Some visitors take their bikes on the train and cycle back to Cumberland from Frostburg, where most of the route is downhill.
In addition to its rich history and scenic trails, Cumberland offers a vibrant downtown experience. The architecture on Washington Street provides an interesting backdrop to the brick-paved pedestrian shopping district which includes outdoor dining, upscale shops, galleries and a successful Arts and Entertainment district.
Cumberland is definitely a walkable town. The downtown shopping area, museums, scenic railroad, Fort Cumberland, C&O canal and trails are all short walking distance from one another. There’s enough for an individual or family to enjoy for a few hours or a few days.
Not enough history for you? Never fear. There are many more historic highpoints in Maryland. Check out some of the state’s best monuments.
Mindie Burgoyne is an author, travel writer and tour guide living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her blog, travelhag.com shares information on outdoor travel for women. She is the author of Haunted Eastern Shore: Ghostly Tales from East of the Chesapeake.