CUMBERLAND — The National Road tells the story of families who risked everything — braving the cold and carrying what they owned on their backs or in wagons — in search of a better life. And the story of the road holds a message for the future too, speakers said, on a hot Sunday afternoon at the National Road Monument Dedication Ceremony at Riverside Park.
For some of the speakers, that meant the history of their own families.
“I grew up beside the National Highway. My family’s business was because of the National Highway,” said Sen. George Edwards. The story of the four “Beitzel boys,” who emigrated from Germany, was a similar story of a move to the then-pioneer land of Western Maryland.
One of Delegate Wendell Beitzel’s ancestors came over without fare for the long trip across the seas. To pay his fare, he became an indentured servant.
Eventually, he and his youngest brother, Beitzel’s great grandfather, made their way across the westward path and later the National Road to settle in Garrett County.
The National Road is “a symbol of ... what our nation could become,” said Cumberland Mayor Brian Grim, by paying attention to rural communities and linking them together.
Speakers urged the crowd of about 175 to think about the future as well as the past.
“We need more connector roads,” Edwards said, referring to the North-South highway.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin agreed.
Completion of the North-South Highway would be “the greatest tribute to the National Road,” Cardin said.
The proposed road would run from Interstate 68 near Cumberland to Corridor H in Grant County, W.Va., and north into Pennsylvania, providing links to more rural areas of all three states.
“The National Road was the first federally financed road and it helped to shape our nation’s economic growth and development. By connecting East to West, it helped our young nation unite a diverse country and facilitate the flow of commerce and federal authority to more western areas of our country,” said Cardin. “As we celebrate this bicentennial, it should remind us of the importance of public investment in our nation’s infrastructure and how it can be a catalyst for economic growth and future prosperity.”
“We face some huge problems in Congress,” U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett said. But the story of building the road means “we can do this.”
“It was the fiber optic network of its day,” said Julianna Albowicz, who represented U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski at the ceremony.
The monument was largely the work of Cumberland City Planner David Umling. Umling designed the monument, Grim said. The memorial plaza surrounding the monument contains more than 200 engraved bricks purchased by area donors, according to city officials.
A replica of a 1811 U.S flag, with 15 stars, was raised after Grim and other officials cut the ribbon leading into the monument area.
Flags representing each state that the National Road passes through will soon be raised, encircling the American flag.
A time capsule including information about the ceremony will be placed in the ground to be opened in 2211.
Members of the Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 172, provided the color guard for the dedication ceremony.
The National Anthem was sung by Stevee Royce, Miss Francis Scott Key outstanding teen, and a student at Southern Garrett High School. Al Feldstein was the master of ceremonies. Wesley Mason, a Fort Hill graduate, performed a violin prelude. The ceremony concluded with a release of doves by Mike Reinhardt.
A unique moment was added when local musician Joe Spangler sang and played on his guitar the world premiere of a song written about the legacy of the road by composer Eric Kitchen.
The chorus is as follows:
“Though the path may change, there is but one. And a man must choose which way to go. Great hopes and dreams were lost and won, along the road to the Ohio.”
Contact Matthew Bieniek at firstname.lastname@example.org.