Cumberland Times-News

August 3, 2013

Local historian leading charge to preserve sections of National Road

Stone culverts located between I-68, Braddock Road also part of effort

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — Local historican Steve Colby has been trying for years to preserve sections of the original Cumberland Road/National Road that runs parallel to Braddock Road and two stone culverts located in that vicinity.

“This section of road served as the way to the West from 1811 to 1832, when the route through the Narrows and LaVale was completed,” said Colby.

Colby has contacted Tiffany Ahalt, byway manager for the Maryland National Road Association, about getting the culverts and the road listed on the Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. The association gets all kinds of requests from people all along the 170-mile corridor of the National Road regarding historic preservation, according to Ahalt.

“We get requests on a weekly basis and up until this point we couldn’t move forward,” said Ahalt.

The association recently created a preservation committee to deal with requests like Colby’s and to find funding for those requests, according to Ahalt.

“Steve really is an advocate for the National Road. We need more people like him to be a spokesperson for the National Road,” said Ahalt, who encouraged him to keep holding on.

Representatives from the entire corridor are still being added to the preservation committee.

“We would love to have a representative from Western Maryland to serve on the committee,” said Ahalt.

Stones from the arch of the above-ground culvert have been falling out and the condition of the below-ground culvert is hard to determine, according to Colby. Colby estimated that it wouldn’t cost much to repair the culverts and listing the culverts on the historic inventory would make it easier to get the money needed to repair them.

Colby determined via tax maps that the State Highway Administration likely owns the property where the above-ground stone culvert is located.   

“I know the stone culverts have been viewed/surveyed by various state officials as well as SHA archaeologists,” wrote Colby on the Facebook page he created to bring attention to the matter. “Despite efforts to get down state officials to recognize the historic significance of the stone culverts, we have been unsuccessful in getting any recognition for the 1811 road.”

The Facebook page encourages residents to contact SHA.

“I think the problem with the culverts is that history isn’t glamorous,” said Colby. “A lot of people don’t seem to care.”

Anyone may submit information about a property for inclusion in the state inventory, but the information must meet specific guidelines and standards, according to the MIHP website. The inventory is a repository of information on districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects of known or potential value to the prehistory and history of the state. One of the objectives of the Maryland National Road Association is to get the Maryland Historical Trust to consider roads, according to Ahalt.

A section of the Cumberland Road runs above the stone culverts, which are located between Interstate 68 and Braddock Road.

Colby also tried to submit the section of the Cumberland Road to the National Scenic Byways Program to no avail. Under the NSB program, the U.S. secretary of transportation recognizes certain roads as National Scenic Byways or All-American roads based on their archaeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational and scenic qualities.

In addition to the preservation committee, the MNRA also just created a Corridor Partnership Plan that will serve as basically a bible to MNRA for promotion and preservation.

“Preservation, promoting the National Road and businesses that preserve it are becoming a more important aspects of our organization,” said Ahalt.

MNRA is a nonprofit organization that acts as the keeper of the Maryland Historic National Road, according to its website.

In 1806, Congress authorized the establishment of a road running from Cumberland to the Ohio River. This National Road (alternately referred to as the National Turnpike, Cumberland Road or Cumberland Turnpike) facilitated America’s westward expansion and would eventually extend to Vandalia, Ill., according to the MNRA website.

For more information on MNRA, visit http://marylandnationalroad.org/.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.