In 1789, Washington County gave birth to Allegany County. It had some settlements in it at the time, but by and large, the area that would become Allegany County was a frontier. The preamble of the act from the Maryland General Assembly that created Allegany County read:
“Whereas, A number of the inhabitants of Washington county, by their petition to the General Assembly, have prayed that an act may pass for a division of said county by Sideling Hill Creek, and for erecting a new one out of the Western part thereof; and it appearing to this General Assembly that the erecting such a new county will conduce greatly to the due administration of justice, and the speedy settling and improving the western part thereof, and the ease and convenience of the inhabitants thereof…”
It didn’t stay a frontier, though. Year after year, it grew as people moved westward in search of land and opportunity.
When the county turned 100 in 1889, the residents decided to celebrate their centennial with a three-day celebration.
The Cumberland Times previewed the celebration reporting, “This will be a grand affair-one which will not only be a pleasant reunion of friends of former years and of relatives, but one which will result in some benefit to the county generally, and bring the name and resources of Allegany more prominently before the country at large. Our city will be gay with rich bunting streamers, flags and other decorations. Every one is anticipating a good time and Cumberland will do its best to make it a joyful and pleasant occasion for all visitors. Come and help us celebrate our 100th birthday!”
Cumberland residents were encouraged to decorate their homes, particularly those homes along the grand parade route, so that the city would look decked out for a party. “It is hoped that every family and place of business throughout the town, whether on the line of parade or not, will put up flags, bunting and other decorations to brighten up our city, so that strangers and visitors may see what Cumberland can do when all take an interest. Let every one do something towards decorating, and our city will present a fine appearance,” one advertisement read.
The Georges Creek Railroad planned to run excursion trains between Lonaconing and Cumberland to bring people into the city for a reduced fare. The Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad did the same thing for county residents in the Westernport area. People outside the county could purchase special fares on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Pittsburgh and Connellsville Railroad to visit Cumberland for the party.
The celebration was spread over three days–September 23-25, 1889–in Cumberland.
The first day featured a massive parade of school children from around Allegany County. Just about every school sent a group to represent their school. The divisions featured: 1) special guests and the day’s speakers, 2) private schools and schools outside of Cumberland, 3) Cumberland schools and 4) “colored” schools. The parade route was about three-quarters of a mile long and ran from Union Street to the county courthouse.
The second day of the celebration had a parade of county tradesmen and a daring leap from a hot air balloon. “Prof. J W Foust, of Lewisburg, Pa, was the aeronaut, and sat on the trapeze until hundreds of yards high in the air, when he jumped to the ground supported by a parachute, alighting along the Baltimore and Ohio road near the weigh scales, about five hundred yards from the Queen City hotel. The balloon proper turned over in the air, the hot air escaped and it descended some distance further on. Prof. Foust was heartily congratulated by the thousands of spectators on the success of his feat. The balloon was in the air about five minutes,” Cumberland Times reported.
According to most reports, the balloon reached around 5,000 feet, but the professor jumped with his parachute around 1,000 feet.
Rain fell on the second day of the celebration, though most activities continued. The fireworks display and boat parade had to be postponed to the finale day.
The newspaper described the boat parade on the final day. “The boat parade on the Potomac, under the management of A H Dowden, took place about 8 o’clock. The steamer Endeavor started up the stream from near the dam with the Electric Cornet Band on board playing familiar airs that were exceedingly pleasant to the ear as the strains were wafted over the waters. When reaching Lynn’s wharf the boats were swung into line and then formed four and five abreast with lanterns swaying to and fro, the reflected light in the waters beneath continuing an uninterrupted circle of brilliancy and oscillating illumination that was attractive to the eye and pleasing in its novelty. Down stream the boats glided, the movement in keeping with the time of the music, and as the night was dark as Erebus, the contrast made a picture that seemed ideal rather than realistic, and placed the parade in the memory of the visiting populace as one of the features of the Centennial celebration.”
The parade featured that day, though, was a military and civic parade led by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison. The newspaper headline described the parade as “An Unbroken Column in Soldierly Attire, Secret Orders in Beautiful Regalia, Bands, Fire Companies, Floats, and Carriages.” The reporter then went on to note, “it occurred to many that the presence of the President of the United States upon this historic spot was a fitting link to bind the events of a little over a hundred years ago, when George Washington, the first President of the United States, stood upon the same ground, then almost a barren waste, to the new century of the county’s existence about to begin.”
Following the celebration, Col. Theodore Luman, who was the vice chairman of the Centennial Celebration General Management Committee, collected souvenirs, artifacts, ribbons, the Centennial edition of the Cumberland Times, medals and photos in a box. “The box will then be hermetically sealed and placed in the vaults of the Court House, there to rest until 1989,” according to the newspaper report.
Sometime during the next century, the box must have been moved from the courthouse. It wasn’t opened in 1989, nor was its disappearance even noticed.
The staff of the Allegany County Public Library found the box in 2002 as preparations were being made for renovations to the main library branch building. No one had ever seen it before that time, but it had Luman’s name on it and a special piece of the county’s history inside of it.
For more information and images of the county centennial, visit Western Maryland’s Historical Library at http://www.whilbr.org.