May 16, 2022
Cumberland is a U.S. city in and the county seatof Allegany County, Maryland. It is the primary city of the Cumberland, MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. At the 2020 census, the city had a population of 19,076. Located on the Potomac River, Cumberland is a regional business and commercial center for Western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.
Historically Cumberland was known as the "Queen City", as it was once the second largest in the state. Because of its strategic location on what became known as the Cumberland Road through the Appalachians, after the American Revolution it served as a historical outfitting and staging point for westward emigrant trailmigrations throughout the first half of the 1800s. In this role, it supported the settlement of the Ohio Country and the lands in that latitude of the Louisiana Purchase. It also became an industrial center, served by major roads, railroads, and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which connected Cumberland to Washington, D.C. and is now a national historical park. Today, Interstate 68bisects the town.
The industry declined after World War II, which led much of the later urban, business and technological development in the state has been concentrated in eastern coastal cities. Today the Cumberland, MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area is one of the poorest in the United States, ranking 305th out of 318 metropolitan areas in per capita income.
Cumberland was named by English colonists after the son of King George II, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland. It is built on the site of the mid-18th century Fort Cumberland, the starting point for British General Edward Braddock's ill-fated attack on the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War between the French and the British. (See Braddock expedition.) This area had been settled for thousands of years by indigenous peoples. The fort was developed along the Great Indian Warpath which tribes used to travel the backcountry.
Cumberland also served as an outpost of Colonel George Washington during the French and Indian War, and his first military headquarters was built here. Washington returned as President of the United States in 1794 to Cumberland to review troops assembled to thwart the Whiskey Rebellion.
Map of Braddock's Military Road
During the 19th century, Cumberland was a key road, railroad and canal junction. It became the second-largest city in Maryland after the port city of Baltimore. It was nicknamed "The Queen City". Cumberland was the terminus, and namesake, of the Cumberland Road (begun in 1811) that extended westward to the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia. This was the first portion of what would be constructed as the National Road, which eventually reached Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. In the 1850s, many black fugitives reached their final stop on the underground railroad beneath the floor of the Emmanuel Episcopal Church. A maze of tunnels beneath and an abolitionist pastor above provided refuge before the final five mile trip to freedom in Pennsylvania.
The surrounding hillsides were mined for coal and iron ore, and harvested for timber that helped supply the Industrial Revolution. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal had its western terminus here; it was built to improve the movement of goods between the Midwest and Washington, DC, the eastern terminus. Construction of railroads superseded use of the canal, as trains were faster and could carry more freight. The city developed as a major manufacturing center, with industries in glass, breweries, fabrics, tires, and tinplate.
With the restructuring of heavy industry in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states following World War II, the city lost many jobs. As a result, its population has declined by nearly half, from 39,483 in the 1940 census to fewer than 20,000 today.