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July 28, 2013

Washington’s headquarters remains a tourism draw

CUMBERLAND — The small log building that served as George Washington’s headquarters at the beginning and end of his military career is located right here in Cumberland. The guest book shows that visitors come from all over the world to get a peek into the life of America’s first great military leader and the man who created the presidency as it’s known today.

Washington began his military career as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755 during the French and Indian War. He ended his career as commander in chief when he returned to Cumberland and organized troops to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, a violent tax protest by farmers who didn’t want to pay a new tax on their whiskey production. Washington took personal command and put on his uniform. It was the only time a sitting American president led troops in the field.

The guest book at the headquarters includes signatures from the Czech Republic, Germany and likely every state in the Union.

The headquarters’ interiors usually aren’t open, except during Heritage Days in June, although tours are available by appointment through the Allegany County Department of Tourism and other visitor organizations.

Stephanie Yonce gives most of those tours as a representative and the chief docent at the headquarters. Yonce is a member of the Cresap Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1934, the chapter was granted the exclusive right to host visitors at the building by the city of Cumberland, a right the chapter has held ever since.

The story of George Washington and his connections to the area remain fresh for her despite repeating them on a regular basis. Her enthusiasm came through as she recently gave a tour to a Texas family originally from the area, along with local relatives.

When about six people were in the cabin, the single room was quite crowded. A small table and bed occupy some of its space, since Washington would have both worked and slept there. Two mannequins in military dress are in the cabin, representing Washington as a young soldier and an older-looking figure representing Washington, the commander and chief of the colonial army.

“George Washington is worthy of being a hero,” Yonce said.

As a young surveyor, Washington met early settlers in the area, such as Col. Thomas Cresap.

Yonce prepared for visitors by sweeping the interior of the building and the porch and hanging the Betsey Ross flag along with a British flag on the porch’s pillars. Unless she’s away, Yonce almost never turns down a tour request.

Inside the cabin, artifacts include a cannonball found outside the perimeter of Fort Cumberland during excavations and a ceramic canteen, as well as a key to the cabin. There’s no way to know if it was the key Washington himself used, but Yonce thinks there’s a chance it was the same one. The current lock on the cabin door is a bit more sophisticated though. Arrowheads from local Indian tribes are also on display. One piece of very local history is a rifle made by Martin Rizer.

The cabin is now in its third location, having originally been on the grounds of Fort Cumberland where Emmanuel Episcopal Church now stands. That fort was de-garrisoned in 1763.

While the cabin was moved, it was taken apart and put back together, but except for a few pieces that were rotted and had to be replaced, the building itself is original, Yonce said. The logs that needed to be replaced were taken from the Black Horse tavern, which was roughly contemporaneous with Washington’s headquarters. People lived in the cabin until 1921, which helped with preservation, Yonce said.

When the cabin was dedicated at its current location in 1921, the keynote speaker was Gen.  John J. “Black Jack” Pershing,    who had been in command of U.S. troops during World War I. Also among those present was the then unknown George C. Marshall. The event drew thousands and may have been the biggest celebration in the city’s history.

Contact Matthew Bieniek at

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