Road that made the nation

May 15, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

Leon Young isn't sure whose wagon he'll be riding on this weekend during the National Pike Festival.

The 81-year-old Keedysville resident has had a couple of invitations.

But he knows he'll be there.

"I've been in all of them," he says.

That's 14 years of the wagon train festival that's been rolling in Washington County since 1989.

This weekend is the 15th annual celebration of the "road that made the nation."

At the end of the 18th century, Baltimore bankers and businessmen wanted the Baltimore-National Pike extended to Cumberland, Md. President Thomas Jefferson authorized federal funds for a road from Cumberland to Ohio in 1806.


The pike, also known in Washington County as the Bank Road, is an important part of a young America's history, says Laura Parrish Bowman, who is coordinating the local event presented by Washington County and the James Shaull Wagon Train Foundation Inc. The foundation honors James Shaull, who worked Belgian horses and was involved in the festival before his death in 2000.

"It's a passion for me," Bowman says.

She is determined to continue to celebrate and share an important piece of the nation's history and county's heritage.

Look at a map and notice that towns along the pike - Frederick, Md., Middletown, Md., Boonsboro, Funkstown, Hagerstown and Clear Spring - are about 12 miles apart. That distance required about three hours of horse travel. Stables, known as wagon stands, and taverns marked the stops along the way.

Bowman expects about 30 horse-drawn wagons and buggies in the moving festival and about 70 people on horseback.

Leon Young has a wagon, but it won't be permitted in the festival because it has air-filled tires.

"You don't get the feel for what the people went through until you're bumping along on a wooden-wheel vehicle," Bowman says. Even so, the ride on paved highways is smoother than in the old days.

The goal is to keep the festival as authentic as possible. Bowman encourages participants to dress in period attire. No baseball hats or cell phones are allowed, she says.

For safety reasons, organizers will use walkie-talkies. There were no tractor-trailers buzzing by at 65 mph in the early days of the National Pike.

The festival will begin in Clear Spring with an overnight encampment and community dinner at Mount Calvary Church.

The wagon train will head 'em up and move 'em out Saturday morning and continue through Sunday afternoon in Boonsboro. There will be ample opportunity to experience a little of life on the road.

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