Also Cumberland and Piedmont Coal Region

by BRANTZ MAYER—Harper's Monthly—April, 1857


Jefferson's Rock, Harper's FerryWHEN Madame de Sevigné exclaimed, in the joy of her heart, "A journey to make, and Paris at the end of it!" she uttered the sentiment of a thorough-paced woman of the world, tired to death of those dreary old chateaus, which; like so many architectural poplars, break the monotonous levels of France, with their circular towers and sugar-loaf spires.

Dull and uniform landscapes drive people to towns for the entertainment of society, and Man, with his manifold diversions, becomes tenfold more attractive than Nature with her homely russet and step-dame aspect. It is in this respect that rural life in the United States presents so much more beauty in its diversified forms; for if we reject the historical associations connected with most parts of the Old World, we shall reduce the number of spots upon which memory lingers, when we cross the Atlantic to our American homes. Lakes and mountains, plain and upland, rock and river, exist in picturesque variety in Europe; but long use and overpopulation have deprived the country of that luxuriant forest-land and virginal freshness which give Nature most of her charms, release her from dependence on art, and constitute the peculiar features of our native scenery.

In former times, when we traveled on horseback or in lumbering coaches, it mattered little if we went over hills or around them, and, of course, our early engineers were rather careless whether they ran their roads across meadows or struck into the mountains. Their main mathematical idea was, that "a straight line is the shortest between two points." Since the introduction of railways, the object has always been to avoid elevations, and keep along the lowlands; to follow river banks on a level with the sea, and to reduce a journey, if possible, to the tameness of a canal through the marshes of Holland. It has only been of late that bolder minds have ventured to restore romance to travel by scaling the Alleghanies with steam-engines, and making a jaunt through our upland dells and forests as great a delight as it was to those who first penetrated our wilderness.

aBut, with all this improvement, there has been one drawback. The daring that ventured to disregard mountains has added to the speed with which their scenery is passed, so that, with increased rapidity, little time is allowed to observe the added objects of interest. "Going by rail," says Ruskin, in his last volume, "I do not consider to be traveling at all; it is merely 'being sent' to a place, and very little different from being a parcel. A man who really loves traveling would as soon consent to pack a day of such happiness into an hour of railroad, as one who loved eating would agree to concentrate his dinner into a pill." Yet, it is quite possible, if we are willing to forego our proverbial hurry, to enjoy fully the scenery through the highlands of our interior; for, although we can be transported at the rate of thirty or forty miles an hour, there is not a company in the Union that compels a wayfarer to transform himself into a package, or does not afford resting-places along its route, where travelers may linger as long as they please, to be taken up by fresh trains and forwarded to new spots of interest or beauty. In this way rapidity has its advantages. It skips us over the dull, and stops us at the interesting. Fine scenery, like pâté de foie gras,could never be enjoyed if we devoured it constantly, so that while steam is slurring us over the tame, it is whetting our appetites for fresh enjoyments at the ensuing pause.

A party which was made up in Baltimore last spring to go from that city by rail to the Ohio, along much of the. route which was pursued by the early pioneers with their pack-horses and caravans, enjoyed this mode of travel about as perfectly as it is possible. We were ten in number; and the officers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, knowing our desire to examine several points of historical interest in that region, were kind enough to invite us to Join a special train, which was to make a patient reconnaissance of the road.

It is difficult to imagine any thing better contrived for the purpose than the equipment which was prepared to secure comfort and risk from accident. The engine was, one of the best on the line, and the engineers and conductors were selected for their experienced skill. After the engine followed a car, fitted up partly as kitchen and partly as dining-room, where fifteen or twenty could take their meals as comfortably as in the cabin of a packet; then came two cars with reading-rooms, writing-tables, books, instruments, and every thing requisite for the reconnoitering party, while portions were fitted up with state rooms for accommodation at night; and, last of all, followed a car with convenient seats and abundant room for observation. In the forward part of this train, in charge of the "Commissary Department," were several excellent waiters, of high repute in their useful sphere; so that I doubt whether a party started this summer in any quarter of our country, in quest of health or diversion, better fortified against the "ills that flesh is heir to."

Washington Junction Viaduct

The 24th of June was a fresh, bracing day, when we assembled at half-past six in the morning at the spacious depot, which is near completion, and were speedily off over the lowlands to the Relay House, where we breakfasted on the Maryland luxuries of "soft-crabs" and "spring-chickens"—two delicacies which the unenlightened may get an idea of if they can imagine the luscious flavor of solidified cream browned over a hickory fire in clover-scented butter.

The Relay House is the first spot where one observes the broken country through which so much of this road lies, for it is situated on the rise of the hills, near the place known as Elk Ridge Landing, to which vessels of considerable tonnage came, in Elysville Bridgethe early days of Maryland, to load with tobacco for European markets. In consequence of diminished water, it has lost its ancient bustle and importance as a port of entry, and the Patapsco breaks through its picturesque gorge, with greatly shrunken volume, to find its way to the Chesapeake. Here the railway branches to the West and to Washington; the latter track crossing the ravine on a tall viaduct of granite, and .the former pursuing a beautiful and broken ledge of the stream toward its head-waters in the hills. The imposing structure which spans the river with eight arches of sixty feet chord, at a height of sixty feet above the Patapsco, was one of the early designs of that distinguished engineer Benjamin H. Latrobe, under whose direction the road has been completed across the Alleghanies to the Ohio. In order to obtain a better view of this massive structure, which harmonizes so completely in color and dimensions with the scenery, we descended to the water's edge, where, framed like a picture in the granite arches, the valley opened westward, with its sloping hills, villa-studded groves, and placid river, and the Avalon Works relieved against the sky in the remote gap.

The point of rocksThe road turns around a bluff on quitting the Relay House for the West. It leaves the viaduct on the left, passes the Avalon Iron Works, and skirting the river for six miles, reaches the village of Ellicott's Mills. Throughout this transit there is charming variety of hill, rock, and river scenery, interspersed with continual evidences of agricultural and manufacturing industry, the whole overshadowed at this season by fresh foliage among the granite which abounds in this district. From the Relay House to Ellicott's Mills, and thence onward to Elysville, the Patapsco gradually narrows and brawls over a rocky bed, affording valuable water-power which has been prosperously employed. We halted at Elysville for a short time to examine the peculiarities of an iron bridge invented by Mr. Wendel Bollman, of Baltimore, spanning the Patapsco with a double track of three hundred and forty feet. There are so many valuable elements of strength, security, and permanence in this invention, that I would be glad to describe it minutely; but towers, chords, cores, tenons, rivets, sockets, suspension rods, and their scientific combinations, afford but dull entertainment for general readers, and, accordingly, I must refer the more curious to the ingenious artist himself, whenever they desire to promote the safety of railways by counteracting the evil effects of expansion and contraction, which have been so disastrous to many of the iron bridges of our country.

We wound westwardly from Elysville five miles till we struck the fork of the Patapsco, when we turned its western branch, passed the Mariottsville quarries, crossed the river on an iron bridge of fifty feet, ran through a tunnel four hundred feet long, and hurrying across meadowlands, followed a crooked gorge to Sykesville in the heart of a region abounding in minerals. For a considerable distance beyond this settlement we traversed a rough, level country—our road, for the most part, cut from the solid rock—till, leaving the region of granite, it shortly struck Parr's Ridge, which divides the Valley of the Patapsco from that of the Monocacy and Potomac. From the top of this elevated grade there are superb views of the Plains of Frederick, backed by spurs of the Blue Ridge, which stand out like advanced sentinels in the midst of luxuriant farm-land. On its western side the quiet Monocacy waters a rural district till it issues by a gorge, and coasts the eastern slopes to the termination of the mountains. Near the mouth of this placid stream, the insulated masses of Sugar-loaf Mountain shoot up abruptly; while, on the other side, the slopes, spurs, and transverse valleys are dark with magnificent groves of choicest timber.

With such scenery on all sides, we passed the Monocacy, and, quitting its valley, crossed, southwestwardly, over limestone levels, between the Catoctin and Sugar Loaf, and struck the Potomac at no great distance from the Point of Rocks, where the railway runs on a ledge cut from the precipice of the Catoctin Mountain, towering up on the right, and supported by broad embanking walls that separate it from the canal and river on its left.

The Potomac, at this point, is a third of a mile wide, and foams over a bed of ledges crossing it at right angles like so many fractured barriers, denoting the conflict between the ridge and river when it burst through the hills, Such, with few intermissions, is the character of scenery from the Point of Rocks to Harper's Ferry, which is built on a narrow, declivitous tongue, lying Harper's Ferrydirectly in the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac, and washed on either side by those noble streams. The railway reaches it by a stupendous curving bridge of nine hundred feet over the latter; and as the mountain steeps converge precipitously at all points about the gap, but small space is left for building with accessible convenience. Nearly all the level river-margin has been used for the National Armory, so that the town scrambles picturesquely among the upland bluffs, till the hill-top, like the end of all things, is terminated by the groves and monuments of a cemetery.

Our first visit was to the Armory, where we were introduced to all the mysteries in this wonderful assemblage of contrivances for death. Every thing was exhibited and set in motion—from the ponderous tilt-hammers, which weld steel into solidity, down to the delicate operations by which the impulse of a hair can put these terrible engines in action. I was soon struck by the fact that, after all, it is not so easy to kill a man—especially, if we consider the intricate preparations which have to be made in constructing weapons for human slaughter. We learned that a musket consists of forty-nine pieces, and that the number of operations in completing one—each of which is separately catalogued and valued—amount to three hundred and forty-six; all, in some degree, requiring different trades and various capacities for execution; so that, perhaps, no man, or no two men in the establishment, could perform the whole of them in manufacturing a perfect weapon!

I confess that, with but little turn for mechanical science, most of these complicated machines were rather surprising than comprehensible to me; so that, while my companions strolled through the apartments in quest of instruction, I followed leisurely in their rear, rather grieving than glorying in the inventive skill that had been lavished on their construction under national auspices. It may be considered more sentimental than practical in the present belligerent state of mankind, to doubt the wisdom of making military preparations under the amiable name of "defense" yet I have never been able to understand why it should not be "constitutional" to create as well as to kill, and to make a sickle as well as a sword! Why is it that political law allows millions for the belongings of war, and denies a dollar to those genial arts which, in ten years, would do more for the progress of Ruins of Fort Frederickhumanity than centuries of traditionary force have effected for its demoralization? Nay, how much more beneficially would these hundreds of workmen be employed, if government devoted their labor to the manufacture of such unpicturesque instruments as hoes, spades, rakes, axes, pitchforks, plows, and reaping machines; and if the army, which is to wield the perilous weapons that axe strewn in every direction, were transmuted, under national patronage, into cultivators of those "homesteads" which politicians so cheaply vote them! But, alas! the soldier is epic, and the farmer only pastoral, and pageantry beats homeliness all the world over!

These lackadaisical fancies floated through my mind as I walked over the half mile of armory; and I hope I may not be set down as "too progressive" or "Utopian," if I divulge them in this public confessional.

It was noon when we left the Armory and climbed to the fragment of Jefferson's Rock, which affords the best coup d'oeil of this celebrated scenery. It was a fatiguing tramp under a mid-day sun, but we found a breeze singing down the gorge of the Shenandoah when we rested under the old pine-tree among the cliffs. The rock itself is of very little interest, except for its association with Mr. Jefferson's name, and its remarkable poise on a massive base. The drawing at the beginning of this article presents an accurate view of the whole scene. From the gap between the fragments the prospect combines the grand and beautiful in a wonderful degree. Beyond the brow of the hill very little of the town is seen to disfigure the original features of the prospect, so that the wilderness of mountain, forest, and water may still be as freshly enjoyed as they were by the earliest travelers. Indeed it is impossible for language to sketch the spirit of the spot more vividly than is done in the bold penciling of Jefferson. "You stand,'' says he, "on a very high point of land; on your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent; on your left approaches the Potomac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder, and pass off to the sea." In a few distinct words of outline we have the geology and geography of the spot before us; but when the sun is lower and the shadows broader than at the time of our visit, so as to impart variety of tone and effect to the scene, it is difficult to conceive a wilder prospect than the mountains forming the gap, or a more placid landscape than that which waves away beyond it, till hill, forest, and river fade in the east. There is a remarkable contrast between the roughness of the foreground and the pastoral quiet of the distance, so that the very landscape seems to teach the need and harmony of repose after struggle.

We dined in the cars as they rolled along slowly to Martinsburg, where we tarried for the night after a stroll through the ancient, hospitable town, examining the extensive work-shops and establishments connected with the railway. Martinsburg is the centre of a rich country in the hands of generous proprietors, and the converging point of considerable trade between the mountain foot and sea-board.

We were up betimes on the morning of the 25th; for our hotel was near the track, and the incessant passage of trains during the night was not the most exquisite anodyne for tired travelers. I do not remember any striking scenery till we crossed Back Creek on a stone viaduct with a single arch of eighty feet, and once more opened the Potomac Valley with views of the North Mountain and Sideling Hill in the distance. Beyond this point we stopped to visit the remains of Fort Frederick, erected by the Colonial government of Maryland in 1775. The ruins lie north of the river beyond the canal; so that it was necessary to descend the steep sides of the mountain glen, still covered with the original forest, and cross a lake-like reach of the Potomac in batteaux to the opposite shore, where we found the military wreck on the upper levels of the river bank, about a quarter of a mile from its embowered margin. The fort stands in the midst of cultivated fields, while a wholesome-looking barn nestles under its dismantled walls. The fortification is a square, with salient angles or bastions at the four corners, and rises to the height of about fifteen feet. There are no embrasures for cannon, nor is the structure massive enough to resist artillery; but as it was built for frontier defense, it was probably rather a garrison for riflemen than a regular fortress capable of sustaining an attack of disciplined troops. The four substantial walls have been little harmed in the lapse of a hundred years. Their interior is overgrown Vire on the Potomac between Hancock and Cumberlandwith weeds and bushes; the magazine is a heap of stones; the barracks have disappeared altogether; the gates are gone; large trees flourish in the corner bastions; ivy grows over portions of the wall; but, with all these evidences of decay, we were glad to hear that the farmer on whose land it stands does not allow a stone to be removed, and is determined to preserve it as a historical relic of our Maryland forefathers. The only inhabitant we found in the abandoned fort was a black snake of considerable size; but as he was speedily slain by some of our followers, I suppose the last emblem of hostility has been destroyed within the walls, and the gray ruin left to the innumerable thrushes that were singing in its solitude.

Beyond Fort Frederick, we began to touch the region of St. Clair, Braddock, and Washington. West of Hancock, we halted at Sir John's "Run," whence a short, brisk drive deposits travelers at Berkeley Springs, whose virtues were recognized at an early day by Washington and the Fairfaxes, and continue to be acknowledged every summer by crowds from Maryland and Virginia. The Valley of the Potomac has nearly the same characteristics through its whole length, from this place to Cumberland. The road winds along the stream, and about the base of mountain spurs—some rising suddenly in distinct cones, and others broken into steep cliffs, displaying their strata-like layers of masonry. Sideling Hill, Tower Hill, and Green Ridge are consecutively passed, till, in the neighborhood of Warrior Mountain, we pass into beautiful meadow-lands which are of historic interest on the line of travel between the sources of the Patapsco and the head-waters of the Ohio.

It was to this charming valley, sheltered by the first spurs of the Alleghanies, that the celebrated Colonel Thomas Cresap removed, about 1742, from the neighborhood of the Susquehanna, and established himself in the homestead which our artist has sketched, and which is still owned and occupied by his descendants.

Cresap's HouseSome five years afterward, when Washington was in his seventeenth year, Lord Fairfax dispatched the enterprising youth on his "surveying expedition" to this region; and, among his early experiences in woodcraft he records that, "after vainly watching for the river to subside from an unusual freshet, he crossed the Potomac in a canoe, from the neighborhood of Bath, and reached the Colonel's house, opposite the South Branch, by a weary ride of forty miles, in continual rain, over the worst road ever trod by man or beast." Here he tarried several days for fair weather, and was entertained by the savage sports of an Indian war-party, whose wild propensities were probably subdued by the judicious application of a little grog!

Washington's family had known Cresap when he lived in Eastern Maryland, and the stout pioneer was soon employed in his new quarters by the principal persons interested in the Ohio Land Company, which had received a grant of 500,000 acres beyond the Alleghanies, between the Monongahela and Kanawha. The object of this enterprise was to settle land and develop the West. The French, who regarded the Valley of the Mississippi as their own, became alarmed at this inroad on their asserted borders, and extended a line of military posts throughout the West, embracing a vast extent of territory claimed by Great Britain. In spite of all opposition, the British grantees pursued their enterprise zealously, from what was then the heart of our Eastern settlements, and Cresap's knowledge of the country and frontier-life was of immense service in tracing and keeping open the first path over the Alleghanies to Red Stone Old Fort—the modern Brownsville. As one of the company's agents, he employed Nemacolin, a friendly Indian, to mark and clear a way along the trail of the tribes, and he performed his duty so well that Braddock pursued the route when he marched to dislodge the French from Fort Duquesne.

View on the Potomac, near Paw-PawBut those were days in which no questions were asked, in such lonely outposts, save at the rifle's mouth; and, of course, Cresap and his family often became engaged in struggles with the savages, who were roused by the French. The mountains and neighboring lowland swarmed with these guerrilleros, and the pioneer took the "war-path," in Indian fashion, with his children and retainers, striking the foe at the western foot of Savage Mountain, where his son Thomas fell; and at Negro Mountain, farther west, where a gigantic African, who belonged to the party, bequeathed his name, in death, to the towering cliffs. Dan's Mountain, in the neighborhood of Savage, received its title from some hardy exploits of his son Daniel; and it was amidst scenes of danger like these that Captain Michael Cresap—so unjustly charged with the murder of Logan's family—was brought up, and obtained his early lessons in Indian warfare.

We reached Cumberland, in a brisk shower, about four o'clock; but were soon relieved from anxiety as to accommodations by our generous friends in this charming city. We should do violence to their feelings if we spoke publicly of what is habitual with them and characteristic of the country; but we should equally violate ours if we avoided the expression of gratitude for a pleasant season in Cumberland, spent in the midst of unostentatious people and "old Maryland hospitality."

Soon after sunrise on the 26th, we joined a special train, belonging to the Eckhart Mining Company, to visit the coal region for which Maryland is becoming celebrated all the world over.

In days of old, the mountains which rise abruptly in the west, 1800 or 2000 feet above the level of Cumberland, probably extended northwestwardly in an unbroken wall, till some of those great convulsions which formed the water gaps of the Delaware and Potomac let loose the pent-up floods on their way to the sea. It was through one of these gigantic chasms in the chain that we penetrated the Alleghanies toward the coal region. The "Narrows of Wills's Mountain," is the outlet of Braddock's, Wills's, and Jennings's Runs, which nearly converge at this point on the western slope, and, by their united force in the early day, burst open this splendid gap, which extends for more than a mile, five hundred feet wide, with precipitous walls of near nine hundred!

The narrows pf Will's CreekThe strata throughout this chasm were laid bare by the original fracture. In portions the lines of grayish sandstone are nearly vertical, as if mashed against the flank of the mountain. A scant vegetation of creepers and bushes has sprung up in the clefts, and in many places broken rocks, tumbled confusedly from the mountain-top, have filled the edges of the gorge with heaps of Cyclopean fragments.

Passing through this wilderness of romantic disorder, we seem to enter the very core of the mountains, piled up on all sides in wooded slopes and narrow valleys. Directly in front is Dan's Mountain, while west of it rise the higher and darker summits of the Savage. Between these two mountains, extending in length twenty miles in Maryland, with an average breadth of four, is the site of the celebrated coal basin, traversed by a ridge or upland glade, dividing it into two unequal parts. This valuable mineral field is fifteen hundred feet above tidewater, and nearly a thousand above Cumberland. It is not horizontal in its strata, but gets its name of "basin" from the trough-like curvature of the veins, whose formation may be comprehended by imagining the process of their original disturbance by volcanic action.

Those rock-herbariums, the fossils, demonstrate that coal is the result of buried vegetation. It is presumed that the great Alleghanian field was the bed of an ancient lake, which has been drained by the Mississippi, Susquehanna, St. Lawrence, and Hudson, as the head waters of the Alleghany, Genesee, Susquehanna, Chesapeake, and St. Lawrence, take their rise within an area of five miles. If we imagine the original bed of this basin to have been formed by separate deposits of coal, iron, limestone, and other materials, lying horizontally on each other, and the tops of the present mountains to have been nearly on a line with these levels, we shall obtain an accurate idea of the mode in which the strata were bent into curves by the upheaval of Dan's Mountain on the cast, and Savage Mountain on the west, bearing with them as they rose the skirts of the strata, while they left their centres undisturbed.

Mouth of Eckhart MinesThe most reliable information as to the quantity of this mineral, diffuses it over an area of about a hundred and fifty square miles; and in the best mines, it is calculated that from eleven thousand to thirteen thousand tons may be produced from every, acre.

Our ascent to the Eckhart mines by rail and locomotive was my first adventure of the character, and I must confess, that although we rose many hundred feet in the space of eight or nine miles, I experienced none of those startling sensations which, in recent accounts of mountain roads, have made our heads dizzy with imaginary terror. The company which we visited on this occasion appears to be one of the most prosperous in the district, owning a railway, several villages, ten thousand acres of coal land, immense quantities of timber and farming country, and employing about six hundred workmen.

I had so often visited the interior of mines that I did not accompany my friends when, furnished with candles and forming a sort of dismal procession, they entered the mouth of the mine and twinkled away in its dark perspective like so many expiring sparks. I sat down on the hill above the entrance, and, for an hour or more, enjoyed the air of the hills and the superb panorama of mountain, valley, and forest, with its broad masses of light, shadow, verdure, and blue overlapping distance. The prospect is not bounded by an extremely remote horizon, as is the case from some higher points, but there is still sufficient elevation and extent to afford most of the fine mountain effects that are to be found throughout the Alleghanies.

After the return of our companions (who came forth from the bowels of the earth limp and hungry, but extremely learned on the mysteries of mining), and a hearty refection at the hospitable board of Mr. Henderson, carriages and horses were put in requisition to pass the central ridge which binds Dan's Mountain to Savage Mountain. A pleasant drive of an hour over the View from Eckhart's Minesbreezy upland, through the forest, took us to a vestige of Braddock's Road, which the patriotic owner has fenced in, for fifteen or twenty yards, as a post-and-rail monument to the defeated General? The army's route may still be traced through the woods over the mountains; and on its course, at no great distance from the inclosure, there is still an ancient stone which indicates the number of miles to Red Stone Old Fort, and terminates with the valorous legend of—

"Our country's rights we will defend!"

We passed rapidly through Frostburg, a fresh mountain village, flourishing under the impetus of an increasing neighborhood; and striking off to the left, wound slowly down for several miles of forest glen, along the margin of Jennings's Run, to the works, where the Mount Savage Company is engaged in the manufacture of iron.

Its proprietors own five thousand acres of timber and mineral land; three blast furnaces, capable of producing four hundred tons of pig iron per week; several forges; rolling mills, equal to the furnishing ten thousand tons of rail per annum; a foundery; machine shops; a fire-brick factory, yielding thirteen hundred thousand a year; and three hundred dwellings for the uses of the establishment, which, when in full blast, gives employment to nearly a thousand people. Besides these large elements of wealth, the Company owns the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad (worked under a distinct charter), connecting its village with Frostburg, and descending to Cumberland by a grade of eleven hundred feet. We found these works under the personal superintendence of the president, Mr. John A. Graham; and the. road under the care of Mr. Slack, to whom we were indebted for marked attention during our brief visit to the country.

It was a scorching day in the narrow valley through which the sun poured down with all its natural and reflected heat; but we penetrated the sweltering furnace and rolling mill, where we saw all the ponderous operations by which the blazing metal is rolled into bars to bear the freight and travel of our country.

Mount Savage Iron WorksIn the midst of all these industrial pursuits, the quiet mountain-sides have been dotted, in romantic situations, with the seats of enterprising persons who set all this enginery in motion; and a visitor is transported from the rough scenes I have mentioned to elegant residences, filled with every attraction that refinement and hospitality can require. Cultivated society is wreathing the tops of these wild old mountains with a garland of delicious homes, and I can hardly doubt that in a few years the allurements of sport and scenery, as well as the lucrative pursuits of trade, will make these noble uplands the abode of thousands.

We left our carriage at Mount Savage, and returned by the company's railway along a more southerly route than the one we pursued on our way to the Eckhart Mines. The scenery throughout was strikingly picturesque; there were some distant glimpses of mountain and valley; but the road was mostly confined to narrow dells, whose precipitous sides were of the same broken wall-like character as the masses through which we entered the mountains in the chasm of Wills's Creek.*
* We had time to visit only one coal-mine, and the iron-works. There are many other companies in this region, among which I recollect the New York Mining Company; the Maryland, the Alleghany, the Borden, the Wither's, the Astor, the Cumberland Coal and Iron Company, the Washington Coal Company, the Frostburg Coal Company, the New Creek Company; the American, the Swanton, the Hampshire, the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company, etc., etc., etc.

I know few inland towns more charmingly situated than Cumberland, on the slope of a superb amphitheatre, with its background of mountains, approached through vistas of forest-covered spurs. From the earliest times its geographical position at the foot of the Alleghanies, as the central point between the navigable waters of the east and west, made it attractive to our military and commercial people.

Old Fort Cumberland was built there because it was the frontier outpost on the Indian trail; Braddock made it the rendezvous of his luckless enterprise for the same reason; our forefathers established it as the entrepot for trade with the hunters, trappers, and settlers of the West; by general consent it became the route of the National Road; and, ever since the days of the Revolution, there is hardly a traveler from the sea-board to the West who has not breakfasted, dined, supped, or changed horses at Cumberland.

Most of the old historic traces have been obliterated by the growth of the town since the opening of the adjacent mines and the completion of canal and railway. We visited the site of Old Fort Cumberland on the afternoon of our arrival. The rounded knob of a hillock rises from the stream which winds about its base with a short curve, so as to afford hardly more room than is Cumberlandnecessary for a broad walk around the Gothic Church, which occupies the site of the fort, and "whose canons" as a joker said, "have displaced the cannons of the fort." A depression in the ground marks the old well as the sole survivor of the military past. Until 1846 or 1847, the weather-beaten hovel which Washington occupied as his quarters more than a hundred years ago, still stood behind the fort in the rickety rain delineated by our artist; but it has been removed to make way for a modern dwelling.

On Green Street there are two houses—said to have been built by Braddock—constructed of stout timber, heavily ironed and riveted on both sides. One, from the manner in which its doors are made, is supposed to have been a jail; the other a two-story log and weather-boarded edifice—still goes by the name of Braddock's Court. Washington was here in 1753, '54, '56; and by a journey of forty or fifty miles over the National Turnpike, the earliest scenes of his military life may be visited in the neighborhood of the Great Meadows, where Braddock died and was buried in the forest.

It was in that quarter that Washington endured the stern trials of Fort Necessity (whose outlines may still be traced in the field), and had his first fight, at the surprise and capture of Jumonville's party. It was here, too, at the age of twenty-two, that he declared there was "something charming in the sound of whistling bullets!" a youthful vaunt for which Walpole rated him as "a brave braggart;" George the Second thought "he would have expressed himself differently if he knew more about them;" and which he himself, in after years, denounced as the ejaculation of a "very young man!"

Washington's Headquarters at Fort CumberlandThere is another great artery for trade and travel across this mountain region, about to be completed, from Cumberland to Pittsburg, through the heart of the Alleghanies at Connelsville. Our limited time, however, did not allow us to explore the route in its present rough state—an expedition we should have been exceedingly glad to make, as it would have prepared us to appreciate the difficulties already conquered by the same engineer on the road to Wheeling.

We left Cumberland by a stone viaduct of fourteen arches, fifty feet span each, which Mr. Latrobe designed and built over Wills's Creek, at an elevation of thirty-five feet above the bed of the stream. As a type of the structures of all classes and for all purposes along this route—whether machine-shops, engine-houses, depots, water tanks, or stations—this bridge may be taken as a striking specimen. In massive solidity it resembles those noble works of the Empire, whose remains, after the lapse of two thousand years, still excite our wonder on the Campagna of Rome.

For twenty-two miles we skimmed over a gradually ascending level, toward the southwest, along the north branch of the Potomac, which runs between the western slope of Knobly, and the eastern feet of Dan's and Wills's mountains. The Knobly range, rising in detached bosses, often slopes gracefully into the rich sward of the valley, while the stream is fringed by trees and herbage, till the main Cordillera of the Alleghanies is approached, and the defiles begin to rise with irregular, abrupt edges, curbing the waters into a gorge. For the last six miles toward Piedmont, the river lies in a chasm cut by its torrent-like course through the mountain feet. About twenty-one miles from Cumberland we crossed the Potomac on a bridge of timber and iron; and then, winding by easy curves through romantic scenery, as if feeling our way through approaching difficulties, we passed the Braddock's GraveQueen's Cliff, Thunder Hill, and the steep ledges of Dan's Mountain, and rested in the broad lap of levels deposited by the mountain wash at Piedmont. This remote village has sprung up in its solitude at the steep base of the Alleghanies, as a sort of breathing-place, where the fiery horse is to pause, gird up his loins, and renew his strength for a struggle with the giants that stand before him in all their defiant grandeur.

No one, I am sure, has ever looked westward from this spot without wondering how the passage is to be effected; yet no one has made the journey without equal surprise at the seeming ease by which science and energy have overcome every impediment. As you pass forward from Piedmont, the impression is that you are about to run a tilt against the mountain flank with blind and aimless impulse; but a graceful curve winds the train out of harm, and you move securely into the primeval forest, feeling the engine begin to tug up the steeps as it strikes the edge of Savage River, which boils down the western shoulder of Savage Mountain. The transit from the world to the wilderness is instantaneous. Mr. Bancroft and I mounted the engine at this spot so as to enjoy an unobstructed view of the scenery during the ascent; and although a gust began to growl over the mountains, with frequent flashes of lightning and thunder, we kept our post, finding the grandeur of the prospect enhanced by the rush of the storm as we rose higher, and higher on the mountain flank.

No one has observed fine scenery without acknowledging the difficulty of its description; for its impression is purely emotional, and emotion is so evanescent that the effort to condense it into language destroys the sentiment as breath destroys the prisms of a snow-flake. We may give a catalogue of pines, precipices, rocks, torrents, ledges, overarching trees, and all the elements that make one "feel the sublimity of a stern solitude;" but I have never been able to convey, by words, the exact impression of such scenes, nor do I believe we can obtain what is somewhere called "a realizing sense" in the descriptions of others. In this respect, music and painting have more power than language; music has the spirituality which painting lacks, and painting the body in which music is deficient; but, as their effects can never be completely united, we must despair of influencing the mind at second hand from Nature.

PiedmontAnd so we rolled resistlessly upward, for seventeen miles, along the broad ledges, seeing the tree-tops sinking as we swooped into the air, which freshened as we rose; seeing the vale grow less and less, and the summits that were just now above us come closer and closer till we touched their level; seeing the river whence we started shrink to a film in its bed; and seeing the narrow, upward, imprisoning glimpse widen into a downward, distant reach.

On we hurried without halting but once, till we turned from the Savage Valley into the Crabtree Gorge, along the flank of the great Alleghany Backbone; and a few miles above Frankville (an eyrie among the summits, some 1800 feet above tide, and 1100 feet above Cumberland), cast our eyes back toward the northeast for a rapid glimpse of one of the grandest views in the mountains. The gloomy masses of Savage Mountain tower on the right, fold upon fold, and the eastern slopes of Meadow Mountain, with its spurs, on the left; while between them the Savage River winds away for miles and miles in a silvery trail till it is lost in the distance. Throughout the whole passage from Piedmont to Altamont (2620 feet above tide and the greatest elevation along the route) the road constantly and almost insensibly ascends, in every portion filling the mind with a sense of as perfect security as if the transit were made, in a coach.

At Altamont we dipped over the eastern edge of the Alleghanies, and by a slight descent entered the highland basin of the old mountain lakes, which extends over many thousands acres, and is known as the "Glades." There the Youghiogheny takes its rise, while the dividing ridge of the great Backbone sends the water on one side into the Gulf of Mexico, and on the other into View on the Piedmont Grade, above Frankvillethe Chesapeake. These beautiful glades, or mountain meadows, are not connected in a level field like our western prairies, but lie in broken outlines, with small wooded ranges between them or jutting out from their midst in moderate elevations. At this height the air is extremely rarified and cool throughout summer; so that, although the country is not adapted for agriculture, it is calculated for every species of animal and vegetable life that is disposed to run wild and take the world as it finds it. It is rich in all the natural grasses that delight a herdsman, relieved by islands of white-oak interspersed with alder; it is full of copious streams, kept full and fresh by the clouds that condense round the summits; its waters are alive with trout, and waste themselves in deep cascades and falls after furnishing pools for the fish; it pastures innumerable herds of sheep, whose tenderness and flavor rival that of the deer which abound in the woods; wild turkeys and pheasants hide among its oaks, beeches, walnuts, and magnolias; the sugar maple supplies it with a tropical luxury in abundance; the woods are vocal with larks, thrushes, and mocking-birds; and in the flowering season nothing is gayer than the meadows with their showy flowers.

A little village is growing up at Oakland in the midst of these glades, as a sort of nestling-place for folks who are willing to be satisfied by being cool, quiet, and natural during summer. We halted there for the night, and were not reluctant to ensconce ourselves beneath blankets even in the "leafy month of June."

View on the Cranberry GradeIn order to make a new resort popular, it is necessary, as the world goes, to have the lead of a fashionable belle or the command of a fashionable doctor. Nature, of itself, is not sufficiently attractive for artificial society; so that one must either be ill or be led, in order to adopt what is really good, and surround it with allurements of French cookery, fast horses, a band of music, and weekly balls. It was many years before Saratoga and Newport ripened from a simple well and a wild sea-shore into the luxuriant style of Bath and Brighton. Yet I do not despair of seeing the day when the Maryland Glades, the head-waters of Potomac and Cheat, and the romantic cascades of the neighboring Blackwater will be crowded with health-hunters. The turn of Nature to be in fashion again must come round; for when invention exhausts the artificial (and the age of hoops seems verging on that desirable end), there is no resource but simplicity. There are numbers of reasonable people who must be eager to quit the beaten paths, and escape to spots where they will not be stifled by society: and these glades and mountain streams, with their constant coolness and verdure, are precisely the places for them. For several years, many of our Maryland and Virginian sportsmen have been fishing the streams; beating up the deer, pheasants, and wild turkeys; driving over the fine upland roads; drinking the pure water; exercising robustly for a month or more; sleeping soundly every night of July and August, and getting back to their work in the fall, as hearty as the "bucks" they made war on in the mountains.

Let me recommend Oakland to a cook who wishes to make a reputation on venison and trout, and to a belle who is brave enough to bring Nature into fashion!

Tray Run ViaductWe slept at Oakland. The mists hung low over these highlands long after sunrise, and the air was so bracing that we found overcoats necessary as we bowled across the great Youghiogheny, on a single arch of timber and iron, and passed the picturesque Falls of Snowy Creek, where the road quits the prairie and strikes a glen through which the stream brawls in foam, contrasting bravely with the hemlocks and laurels that line the pass.

At Cranberry Summit the mountain-levels and glade-lands terminate, at an elevation of 2550 feet above tide, and only 76 feet lower than Altamont, where we entered the field, twenty miles back.

From this elevated point we catch the first grand glimpse of the "Western World," in along gradual sweep down the Alleghanies toward the affluents of the Ohio. The descent begins instantly, along the slopes of Saltlick Creek, through a mass of excavations, two tunnels, and fifty feet of viaduct. Downward and downward we swept as comfortably as on a plain, till an easy and almost imperceptible descent of twelve miles, through a forest of firs and pines, brought us to the dark waters of Cheat River. After the difficulties of ascending, crossing the Backbone of the Alleghany, and descending its first western slope-all of which, like Columbus's discovery, "seem so easy" now that they are overcome—a new marvel has been accomplished in the preservation of a high level by massive viaducts and by boring the mountains with tunnels. On Cheat River, Cheat River Valleyat the bottom of this descent, we approached the first of these marvels, two noble arches of iron, firm and substantial as the mountains they join. Then comes the ascent of Cheat River Hill. Next are the slopes of Laurel and its spurs, with the river on the right; till the dell of Kyer's Run is passed on an embankment, and Buckeye Hollow crossed on a solid work whose foundations are laid deeply below the level of the road. Both of these splendid structures have walls of masonry, built of the adjacent rock.

Beyond this we reach Tray Run, which is passed by an iron viaduct, six hundred feet in length, founded on a massive base of masonry as Arm as the mountain itself. All these remarkable works—chiefly designed by Mr. Fink—have borne the trial of heat and frost, travel and transportation, for several years; and when closely inspected, their immense solidity, security, and strength, are as easily tested by the eye as they have been by use and time.

The Kingwood TunnelThese beautiful structures had hardly been passed when we wound upward across Buckthorne Branch, and half a mile further, left the declivities of Cheat River, with its brown waters dyed by the roots of laurel and hemlock, and bordered by the bright flowers of the rhododendron. Our last glimpse of this mountain river was through a tall arch of forest, rounding off, far below, in its dark valley of uninhabited wilderness.

Beyond Cassidy's Ridge we encountered another, and perhaps the most remarkable of these gigantic works. The road can only escape from its mountain-prison by bursting the wall. Up hill and down hill, through brake and ravine, it has cleft its way from Piedmont, like a prisoner seeking release from his bars, till at last it finds a bold barrier of 220 feet abruptly opposed to its departure! For a while (before the entire completion of the road) engineering skill led a track over this steep by an ascent of 500 feet in a mile; but finally the giant has been subdued, and the last great wall of the Alleghanies passed by piercing the mountain. For nearly three years crowds of laborers were engaged in blasting through solid rock the 4100 feet of the Kingwood Tunnel, and a year and a half more was spent in shielding it with iron and brick, so as to make its walls more solid, if possible, than the original hills.

GraftonFor five miles from the western end of this tunnel we descended to the broader valleys about Raccoon Creek, and gliding through another tunnel of 250 feet, followed the water till we entered the Tygart River Valley, at Grafton, where the Northwestern Railway diverges to Parkersburg, on the Ohio, ninety-five miles below Wheeling. The establishments of the Company at this point are erected in the most substantial way for the comfort and security of all who may visit this interesting region.

There are few routes of travel in America—and none, probably, by rail—worthier of attention than the region between the slopes of the western glade-land to the mountain exit at Kingwood. It is all absolute mountain, absolute forest, absolute solitude. In winter it is the very soul of desolation, when the trees are iced, like huge stalactites, from top to bottom, and the ravines among the cliffs blocked with drifted snow. But in spring or summer it presents splendid bits of forest scenery. The glens are narrow, and there are few distant prospects; but there is every where the same ragged gloom—the same overarching hemlocks and firs—the same torrent roar, foaming over rocky beds—the same fringing of thick-leaved laurel—the same oozy plashes of morass, rank with dark vegetation—the same black mountain-face—the same absence of people and farms—the same sense of absolute solitude.

But in Tygart's Valley the landscape softens and becomes more human, with the marks of agriculture and habitation, and the road seems to bound along more gayly, as if exulting in its release from the mountain. The river winds gently through rounder and lower hills and broader meadows, broken only by "the Falls," which, in a few steep pitches, tumble seventy feet in the distance of a mile. Not far from this point Tygart River and the West Fork unite to form the Monongahela, which, a quarter of a mile below the junction, is crossed by an iron viaduct 650 feet long—the largest iron bridge, in America, and due to the engineering skill of Mr. Fink.

River junctionIn these central solitudes every thing seems to be the property of the wilderness—a wilderness incapable of yielding to any mastery but that of an engineer; and it may fairly become a matter of national pride that scientific men were found in our country bold enough to venture on grades by which any mountain may be passed. Where ground was wanted, Nature seemed to have scooped it away; where it was not wanted Nature seemed to have stacked it up for future purposes. There are considerable difficulties between Baltimore and Cumberland; yet, in a country which rises only 639 feet above tide in 179 miles, a road may be constructed by ordinary perseverance and skill. But they who desire to understand the power of science in conquering nature by steam and iron must climb and cross the Alleghanies between Piedmont and Kingwood. The success of this, the most difficult portion of the enterprise, is due to the engineering of Mr. Latrobe and the financial energy of Mr. Swann.

As the pioneer of such internal improvements in the Union, it has been the school for subsequent railways, and deserves the gratitude of scientific men for true principles of location and construction. The bridging and tunneling alone, along the whole route, amount to about five and a quarter miles; the laborers and employees form almost five regiments in number; and, when we take into consideration the depots, tanks, engines, rails, station-houses, and innumerable cars for freight and travel, as well as the two lines of telegraphic wires belonging exclusively to the Company, which keep every portion in communication and successful operation throughout the line, one no longer wonders that twenty-five millions were, expended on the structure, but is only surprised that the people of a small, single State could accomplish so colossal an enterprise.

The remaining eighty or ninety miles between the junction of the Tygart and Monongahela. rivers and the Ohio are full of rich points of scenery, and contain some fine works. There are several bridges of note, a tunnel of 2350 feet at Board-tree, and another of 1250 feet in the ridge separating Fish Creek from Grave Creek.

The country is comparatively new, and the impetus given to it by this improvement may be seen in the settlements along the route that sprang up during its construction, most of which have expanded into villages and become the centres of trade and agriculture.

aWe slept in the cars on a "siding," near Cameron, about seventeen miles from the Ohio, and when we woke next morning found that our engineers and conductors had moved so silently from our resting-place that we had been transferred insensibly to Moundville, on the bank of the river. We had determined to stop here to inspect the celebrated Grave Creek Mound; and, as the sun rose, passed through the village, finding our way to the remains of this Indian monument. "It is one of the largest," say Squier and Davis, "in the Ohio Valley, measuring about seventy feet in height, by one thousand in circumference at the base." It was excavated in 1838 by sinking a shaft from its crown to its base, intersected by a horizontal drift midway between them. Two sepulchral chambers were found within—one at the base and the other thirty feet above it, the lower containing two skeletons, the upper but one. With these remains were found several thousand shell-beads, a number of ornaments of mica, copper bracelets, and various articles of carved stone. At the time of these discoveries the owner of the mound built the wooden structure seen on the apex in the cut, and used it as a sort of museum for the preservation of the relics. But the structure is now open to the elements as well as visitors, and is rapidly decaying; the Indian remains and ornaments have been dispersed, and nothing is left but the gigantic tumulus and the ancient trees that overshadow it.

On the twelve miles along the river-bank, between Moundville and Wheeling, we observed the numerous structures which have arisen in a few years in consequence of increased trade and travel. The river margins on both sides of the Ohio River are almost continuous villages, and, at Bellaire (on the Ohio side) and Benwood (on the Virginia side), the internal improvements which lace so many of the great Western States with their iron net-work seem to converge for a vent over the mountains we had passed.

WheelingWe passed rapidly through Wheeling, where we would gladly have tarried to observe the improvements of that thriving city, which has been the first to span the Ohio with an iron bridge; but we were pressed for time, and hardly able to reach the steamer which was to take us to Pittsburg.

The day was hot and sultry as we ascended the river in a small boat with the wind in our rear. We kept the deck stoutly, to see the soft, rounded hills of the Ohio, with its lake-like reaches and cultivated banks, dotted all over with farms, villages, and homesteads. In the afternoon we stopped a moment at the mouth of Yellow Creek to mark the site of the Indian massacre, where Logan's kindred were slain; but in the quiet, grassy coves and wooded slope where Baker's cabin stood, there were no tokens to tell of the slaughter which, so long, and so unjustly, covered the name of Cresap with infamy.

During our stay at Pittsburg, we drove out to Braddock's Battle-Field, which is reached by a bad road along the river, about nine miles above the city, on the Monongahela.

The sketch shows the field perfectly from the hills above it, and exhibits the fine river-bend in front, with Turtle Creek Ford (designated by the ripple on the left), where Braddock crossed with his forces.

The Monongahela, at this spot, lies some two hundred or two hundred and fifty feet below the surrounding hilltops. The banks rise gradually from its margin to a wide-receding bottom, and, above this, about fifty feet higher, another river-beach or bottom slopes inward till the country rises abruptly into the steeper summits of the basin. The levels have all been stripped for agriculture and occupation, while the upper declivities are still crowned with forest and understood. As the whole field has been denuded for many years, its topography is, of course, laid entirely bare. It is possible that travel and tillage, during the hundred years that have elapsed since the battle, may have changed the surface, but a careful inspection and subsequent survey do not Braddock's Battlefieldsustain the plans that were published in England after the action. What are now mere depressions may have been ravines a century ago, before the plow smoothed their edges; but there seems to be hardly a doubt that Braddock, confident in numbers and discipline, shamefully neglected to reconnoitre the pass before he advanced up hill from the river into the wood. In those days the field was covered with a forest. After fording the Monongahela with his army, he began the march incautiously toward Fort Duquesne. With drums beating, and colors flying, his advance swept proudly and rashly up the steep into the thickets. Rising diagonally from the first to the second level, it was suddenly met by the French and savages, driven back on the centre, the centre thrown back on the rear, which was dammed up by the river, and the whole tumbled into utter confusion by the marksmen and Indians who got possession of the flanking hillsides, and poured down their merciless volleys upon the distracted crowd. Every thing was hurled together by the impetuous and sustained onset, till men, beasts, wagons, cannon, ammunition, and baggage became little more than a swarming heap, pent up for slaughter. It is not surprising, then, when one looks at the scene, in fancy, from the field itself, that of the fourteen hundred and sixty who went into battle, four hundred and fifty-six were slain, and four hundred and twenty-one wounded. Truly has it been described as a "scene of carnage unexampled in the annals of modern warfare."

But a hundred years have obliterated every trace of the conflict. Somewhat in the rear of the central house represented in the drawing was the hottest part of the battle, for plowmen have found it to be a perfect arsenal of balls, bullets, arrow-heads, and hatchets. At present it is waving with grain; through the midst of it the Pennsylvania Railroad has laid its iron track, and the yell of the savage is exchanged for the shriek of the engine.

This page originally appeared on Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra Website


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