THE NATIONAL ROAD
by Robert Bruce
In the fall of 1914, Robert Bruce travelled the National Road and recorded his experiences in a work published by the National Highways Association in 1916. The portion of his "travel" log covering Allegany County will be presented here.
Also included at the end of the detail maps page referred to below as page 29, is a map prepared by Jerry Twigg, which pinpoints the location of various taverns, inns and wagon stops in Eastern Allegany County.
TRAVELING THE MOUNTAIN ROADS
While the highway from west of Hancock to Cumberland is one of the most winding of its length in the United States, there is absolutely no chance to lose the way, and the most should be made of the opportunity for viewing the scenery. As shown by the detail maps on page 29, many of the various upgrades and downgrades are quite long and steep; but the curves are mostly wide and the surface fair to good throughout. With the car in good condition, and carefully driven, there is no danger, though one should not stop on the curves to view the scenery; and it is well also to keep on the lookout for vehicles approaching from the opposite direction.
Specific description of the different ranges crossed would be difficult at best; and the detailed maps show the roadway over them more graphically than text could possibly do; so the following paragraphs are purposely condensed. The next range west of Tonoloway, and the second one beyond Hancock, is known as Sideling Hill, which reaches an elevation of 1,633 feet just before the principal curve on the summit. From this point several wonderful views are to be had, not only eastward across the valley or vast ravine between the two ridges, but also westward over an apparently endless extension of mountains, through which Sideling Hill Creek winds its way to the now more-distant Potomac.
Higher elevations than this will be found on some of the ridges farther west; but nowhere else on the trip between Baltimore and Wheeling is there an ascent of 760 feet in a mile and a half, as on the eastern slope of Sideling Hill, or a descent of 495 feet in a single mile, as on its western slope. The latter, which starts along a ledge just beyond the summit, should be coasted (if at all), with the brake on lightly, not only on account of the grade, but especially to prepare for the very sharp left curve-almost a "horseshoe"-at the foot. While a machine beyond control would probably be wrecked on that curve, it presents no danger to the experienced driver who knows about it in advance. Naturally, however, the first-time traveler will experience a sense of relief at being on the easier grades between Sideling Hill and the next range.
Thomas Cresap, the western Maryland pioneer and afterward a member of the Ohio Company, is said to have paid an Indian £25 for widening the original path over this hill, so that white men and wagons could negotiate it. That was a considerable amount in those days, and may give some idea of the work involved in the original clearing. In Fry & Jefferson's map (1755) will be found the name "Side Long Hill," from which the present Sideling Hill undoubtedly came.
Even after this long descent, the downgrade continues about a mile to Bear Creek, which is crossed by a stone bridge, followed by a sharp left curve to the iron bridge across Sideling Hill Creek, just beyond. From occasional points of vantage on the west side of the creek, in favorable weather the tourist may look back across the intervening valley, and see the summit of Sideling Hill, even tracing thereon some of the windings of the road passed over only a few minutes ago. Such view is likely to impress one with the courage, as well as the high engineering skill required to project and construct a throughfare like this across so great a natural barrier between the Atlantic seaboard and the Ohio River.
THROUGH ROUGH, SPARSELY SETTLED COUNTRY
Except for an occasional very small settlement and an infrequent lonely schoolhouse, this is practically an uninhabited section--wild and beautiful beyond anticipation, and with a most clear, bracing atmosphere. The Western Maryland and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads are now far to the south; and the only connection of the few inhabitants with the outside world is by means of this old road, which under the circumstances is kept up wonderfully well. It seems quite safe to estimate that there may be more bridges than people from the western edge of Hancock to the eastern edge of Flintstone.
Even in the midst of these mountains, whenever the nature of the country admits, the road straightens out for considerable distances, affording the experience of running along comparative levels for a half mile or mile, yielded only when it is necessary to make an ascent or descent. Between Sideling Hill Creek and the next ridge -Town Hill- there is a great deal of primitive woodland, and much scrub growth; for part of the way, also, the road is through red clay and shale. On the left, near a small bridge and just before a left-handed road, in the midst of this wild section, is a rough unpainted wood building, with a home-made sign, "Meals and Lodging"; ordinarily it is not very attractive to the motor tourist, but might be useful in case of a breakdown in that locality. There is also a lodging house and country store at Piney Grove, a mile or so beyond.
Now the road begins the long, winding ascent of Town Hill which, though it reaches a height a trifle greater than Sideling Hill, is much more easily crossed; from the summit there are the usual fine views, then a long winding descent, with a sharp right curve part-way down. The valley between Town Hill and the next range- Green Ridge- is quite narrow; at the foot the road crosses Piney Ridge Run, a small stream, then starts almost at once up the eastern slope of Green Ridge. This is crossed at an elevation of only about 1,200 feet; then one descends a winding road, where careful driving is necessary for a sharp right- and a particularly sharp left curve. On the western slope of this range is a wonderful apple orchard of about 50,000 trees under scientific cultivation.
GREEN RIDGE to FLINTSTONE
There shortly opens up--across the valley of Fifteen-Mile Creek--one of the most entrancing views on the entire route. In front, above and below, is a great ravine, extending as far as the eye can see; straight across to the west are the foothills of Ragged Mountain and Polish Mountain. Care should be taken for a sharp right and then a sharp left curve made by the old road in its rather abrupt descent through very wild country to Fifteen-Mile Creek; this is crossed on an iron bridge, the road just beyond passing over some shorter hills onto a surprisingly long, level stretch, past a saw-mill on the left. The sawmill is at least a sign of human activity so little evident on this part of the route.
Postcard contributed by Norman Collier
At about the end of this level stretch one passes, on the right, what remains of an old tavern (given as "Pratt" on the U. S. Geological map, but no town), and begins the ascent of Polish Mountain, the eastern face of which is quite even and the grade moderate. But after crossing this summit (1,372 feet elevation), the descent is shorter and more abrupt, with a number of turns which should be taken with care; the surface, however, was almost perfect in the fall of 1914, and the views easily comparable with the best of those already had. The leisurely tourist leaving Baltimore in the morning, lunching at Hagerstown and probably intending to run into Cumberland for the night, is likely to be traveling over this portion of the old road in the late afternoon; if the sun is setting bright and strong, the view of its rays coming over the amphitheater of mountains in the western horizon is beautiful beyond description.
Caution is particularly necessary in making a very sharp right turn over a stone culvert spanning a small stream about two-thirds of the way down the western slope of Polish Mountain; then the road is straight ahead, across Town Creek and past the little hamlet of Gilpin toward the ancient but very interesting village of Flintstone, which is what might be called the eastern outpost of Cumberland. A glance ahead before reaching the town will show a deep but very narrow gap between Warrior's Mountain on the left, and Iron Ore Ridge on the right, with Flintstone Creek flowing peacefully and quietly through. This is known as Warriors' Gap from the fact that the Indian path, of which there are still traces on the tops of both ridges, here descended to the level of the present road.
In his celebrated "Journals," already quoted, Christopher Gist mentions Warriors' Gap and Flintstone as being "on the way from the Potomac into Pennsylvania," which proves them to be very old names, antedating the settlement of this region by the white men. Both are shown on the map of Western Pennsylvania and Virginia published in 1755, no doubt largely on the basis of Gist's notes. "Flintstone" was undoubtedly named from the flint-stones of the Indians, though confirmation of that point might be difficult to obtain at this late date.
Flintstone Hotel (aka the Piper House)
So far on this trip from Baltimore and Hagerstown, the old taverns and road houses are not as frequent and conspicuous as they will be found from Cumberland through Uniontown to Wheeling; probably a larger percentage of them have been torn down or altered. But on the righthand side of the road, just before the bridge at Flintstone, stands the Flintstone Hotel, known as the Piper House in stage-coach days, still catering in a very modest way to road travel. It was constructed by the contractor who built that section of the road.
OVERNIGHT AMID PRIMITIVE SURROUNDINGS
Making this run in the late fall of 1914, the writer found that it would be difficult to reach Cumberland on account of the growing darkness; and, in the mood of taking a chance, stopped in front of the Flintstone hotel to ask if overnight accommodations could be had for three. The proprietor, Dr. A. T. Twigg, replied. "Yes, so far as we have them." Deciding to stop, the car was put up, probably in the identical shed that sheltered many a stage-coach and freight wagon, and we were taken into what was the bar-room of the hotel in the palmy days, now the doctor's office, where a warm fire quickly dispelled the chill from the last twenty miles or so over the mountain roads. A few minutes later we were sitting down to such a good old-fashioned supper as tradition says this tavern served a century ago; there, was no "grace" said at this first meal--an incident unthought of then, but subsequently recalled.
It being Sunday, upon invitation and falling in thoroughly with the custom of the place, we all attended services at the church on the side of the road which branches left near the bridge over the creek, guided safety there and back by a lantern in the hand of Dr. Twigg--for neither electricity nor gas can be found at Flintstone. Probably few of our friends would have recognized us in that procession. It was like taking a leaf out of the past to listen to a genuine old-fashioned sermon, and to such hymns as were sung in rural New York State and New England forty, fifty or more years ago. At least one of us instinctively found himself recalling the almost-forgotten words, and making a feeble attempt to join in with the tune.
|Returning to the tavern, we were shown into the living-room of the family, and while making away with some fine apples, listened to bits of interesting history, impossible to mention here. Growing semi-confidential, Dr. Twigg let us know that he was the only physician in that vicinity, had been there 27 years, and up to that time had assisted into the world 1,762 little citizens of Flintstone and its neighborhood--several times as many as reside there at the present time, for the great temptation, especially to young people, is to leave their homes in this beautiful mountain region, to be lost in the industrial maelstrom outside. Probably by the time this article appears in print, the number "1,762," mentioned by the good doctor, who seems to be absolutely sure of the exact count, has been materially increased.||
Being shown to our rooms by the proprietor, who had almost to be restrained by force from carrying all of our heavy baggage upstairs, after the custom of the old-time tavern keeper, we found the rooms surprisingly large and spacious-- at least three times the size of those in the average modern hotel. Steam heat and running water were conspicuously absent; but after throwing open the windows to admit an unlimited amount of the clear, cool mountain air, we dropped into a sound and wonderfully refreshing sleep, broken only by the call to prepare for breakfast. At that meal, we discovered that the minister boarded at the hotel; he was now with us, and of course, we all bowed our heads for "grace before meat." The minister was one of those extremely serious young men we sometimes meet; and a member of the party "started something" by praising the sermon of the evening before.
Gradually, the conversation broadened to touch upon the subject of law and order in the mountain villages; and it came out that Flintstone was a local option village, with nothing in the way of strong drink to be had nearer than Cumberland. "Then," it was ventured, "everything must be quiet and orderly." "It would be," replied the minister, "except that we have no Justice-of-tbe-Peace nearer than Cumberland, though if it were easier to get out a warrant, we could stop some of what goes on," "What might that be?" was inquired. "Well," replied the minister, with added seriousness, "some of our people here once in a while forget themselves, and go swearing up and down the pike." We thought if that was all the wrong-doing at Flintstone, it must be quite a model mountain village; and at the same time wondered if some such circumstance as this might not have originated the phrase "up" or "down the pike."
One who desires to catch something of the spirit of the ancient highway would do well to stop at Flintstone, and at some of the taverns on the next section of the route, taking note of the unpretentious but very comfortable arrangements for old-time travelers; and if possible talk with older residents, many of whom personally, remember the era of the stage-coach. In the palmy days of the old road, many famous people stopped at the Piper House, among them Henry Clay, one of the ablest champions of the project to build the Cumberland-Wheeling section across the mountains. In fact, the tourist who wishes to sleep in Henry Clay's room may do so, though the statesman's initials once carved over the door have disappeared.
LAST STRETCH INTO CUMBERLAND
At Flintstone the old pike is about 12 air-line miles from the Potomac River and the two railroads that closely parallel it in the vicinity of Old Town, the spot where Thomas Cresap, the earliest permanent settler in Western Maryland, built a home in 1742 or '43. The little village here in the mountains owes its very existence to the highway, even mail from points cast being carried into Cumberland and brought out by motor stage. But from now on the pike, the river and the railroads gradually draw together, until they meet in the city of Cumberland. Leave Flintstone nearly due west from the stone bridge at the village center, over a fine level stretch of somewhat more than two miles to a large stone house on the right, marking the intersection of the old Hancock Road (or trail) before the present highway was built.
Immediately beyond the stone house begins the winding ascent of Martin Mountain, the road rising 535 feet in a trifle over a mile; there are several curves, though none as sharp as those on Sideling Hill, and the surface is excellent throughout. Over to the left on the way up, one catches specially fine views of minor ridges and valleys, with suggestions of very small villages in the distance. Just beyond the summit (1,720 feet elevation), there is a comparatively level stretch, followed by an easy descent of the western face by long stretches of state highway. If as is quite likely, the motorist descending any of these ranges happens to meet a strong four-horse team hauling up a load of lumber, coal or other heavy materials, he will better appreciate the grades than being carried over them in a motor car.
At about the foot of Martin Mountain our road touches the lower edge of Pleasant Valley passing on the right "Clover Hill Farm," a well-kept place with a fine house and large barn. There are no more steep grades on this section of the trip, as the pike shortly comes along a Small Stream which is followed ' with several crossings, to the small iron bridge over Evitt's Creek, at what was Folck's Mill, now Wolfe Mill, as shown on the detail maps page 29. During the Civil War a skirmish took place at this point, and one Confederate was killed. The old brick and stone mill just north of this bridge still shows the holes made by Union cannon balls fired from one of the hilltops nearer Cumberland; and the large brick dwelling, still to be seen a short distance farther on, at the junction of the Baltimore Pike and the cross-over to the Bedford Road, was also struck and considerably damaged.
Just beyond, there is a "parting of the ways" for the balance of the trip into Cumberland, both shown graphically by the detail maps, page 29. In the fall of 1914, the better route was by the first right-turn beyond the small iron bridge, directly across by an excellent road, cut in part through a hillside, to its end at the Bedford Road. By taking this route and making a left-turn in front of a stone farmhouse, the tourist can follow Bedford Street, mostly brick pavement, straight ahead across the B. & 0. R. R. (grade, dangerous) to the business center of Cumberland, at Center Street, near the city hall and post office.
The old pike makes no turn beyond Evitt's Creek, but is direct past the turn-off for the Bedford Road; though not in as good condition throughout, it is at least a mile shorter and, of course, was the route followed by the stage-coach and freight wagon of long ago. In the not-distant future, it will probably be made at least as good as the Bedford Street entrance. Following the old road, one curves around the edge of a minor mountain at the outer edge of the city, passing a cemetery on the right, to begin at once a rather long steady descent, from which a good view is had of industrial Cumberland. From the same point of vantage, the tourist also realizes why this busy little city in Western Maryland is literally the "Key of the Mountains"; sometimes it might almost seem impossible to go in or come out of it by any means except through the air.
But gradually one catches a glimpse of the wide-sweeping Potomac, pursuing its peaceful course between the frowning hills of Maryland and West Virginia; and after a brief but closer study of the topography, Cumberland is seen to be literally a hub of transportation by road and rail, as well as the western terminus of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, still a factor in the world's business life. It is also the usual night stop for a one-day trip west from Baltimore or east from Wheeling, being approximately half way from each. Hotel and garage accommodations are fair but not elaborate; the people are generally very courteous and accommodating to strangers. That city and its unique historic interests, and especially the choice of roads for the next few miles west, will be referred to at greater length in the next chapter.