Imagine a time in our nation's history when covered wagons creaked and swayed across a vast landscape.
Pots and pans clanged against the sideboards and large, spiny wheels — prone to splinting — dipped in and out of ruts.
With little more than a willing spirit, families headed West, hoping to stake a claim and start a new life.
Cradling babies and shotguns, their journey carried them along the National Pike.
Following his inauguration in 1801, President Thomas Jefferson championed building a national road into the west to facilitate American expansion. Congress approved the project in 1806 and by 1818, the National Road, known also as the National Pike and Cumberland Road, wound and climbed from Maryland across Southwest Pennsylvania's mountains to the Ohio River.
Until the 1850s, when railroads offered faster travel and cheaper freight, the road was America's most important transportation corridor.
For the past 23 years, a National Pike Festival has saluted this famous road and re-created the authentic wagon train experience, with communities along the route joining in the celebration.
In Washington County, this year's event will begin Friday, May 20, in Clear Spring with an encampment at Plumb Grove Mansion. The 32-mile procession of covered wagons, horse-drawn carriages and riders on horseback is slated to reach its final destination Sunday, May 22, in Boonsboro.
The festival is sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
About 25 wagons and 30 outriders are expected to participate in the caravan, said event coordinators Jamie and Christi Baker.
The couple has been part of the wagon train for 11 years.
"We purchased a Percheron draft horse in 2000 and rode her that year bareback because we couldn't find a saddle to fit her," Christi Baker said. "That led us to purchasing a wagon for the following year and we have been wagoners ever since."
The purpose of the festival is to relive history and bring awareness to the community about how people traveled on the historic national road before automobiles, she said.
But it's also a fun time for the public and participants.
"Every year, it's like a family reunion when we all get together," Baker said.
Visitors and residents will be able to view the wagon train along its route.
National Pike Festival highlights