Too Many Pass Over Historic Nature Of Frederick Road

The Scene --County currents and undercurrents

August 28, 1991|By Patrick L. Hickerson

During one of the history courses I took as an undergraduate, I remember my professor writing the word "empathy" on the blackboard and stressing that any historian or archivist needed it to understand and evaluate the past.

If you ask some of my friends who live in the area, however, they would tell you that I take Dr. Cole's declaration alittle too far when it comes to one historical landmark in the county -- namely Frederick Road, or Route 144, which is a link in the Baltimore Pike that runs from Baltimore to Cumberland.

I think their concern germinates from occasional remarks I make while we are tooling along Frederick Road. Once I challenged those in the car to imagine how this road looked 175 years ago. What would we see? Conestoga wagons? Stagecoaches? Peripatetic artisans?

Well, as you can imagine, this healthy stretch of the imagination on a festive Saturday night may be too much of an exercise for those whose onlyappreciation of history had been field trips to Fort McHenry that served as the undercard to the three-hour lunches at Harborplace.

Despite the good-natured barbs from my friends, I believe that

Frederick Road is underappreciated as a historic artifact.

In this county that showcases the nation's oldest train station and the only surviving Bollman Truss Bridge in tourist brochures, very little is done to recognize the road that predated the railroad as the only steady trade route to the Ohio Valley. Part of this omission may be due to the fact that, unlike the station or bridge, we still use Frederick Road.

In fact, if one leaves out the cast iron sign close to the log cabin along Main Street, there is nothing. This despite the fact thatthe Ellicotts of Ellicott's Mills financed the expansion of the Baltimore Pike from their mills along the Patapsco River westward to Frederick.

This isn't the case elsewhere. May and June of this year was the National Pike Festival in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Western Maryland. The event was billed as "The World's Longest Festival" with "300 miles of events." Inexplicably, the route's easternmost end was in Washington County.

Also, when I visited family in Ohio, I stopped atthe National Road Museum in Zanesville. This museum focuses on the National Road, which ran from Cumberland to Vandalia, Ill. The exhibits are quick to point out that the road from Baltimore to Cumberland was the Baltimore Pike, which was privately owned and not a federal roads project such as the National Road.

Being the good guest, I held my tongue, and did not suggest thatthe only way a project such as the National Road could be successful is through the Baltimore Pike, which terminated at a major Atlantic port.

What I'm suggesting is not some very specific plan to build a competing museum dedicated to Baltimore Pike -- although that is within the realm of the possible. Rather, I think we should celebrate this historical artifact on a moreobjective plane with the other historical sites in this county. Justbecause this object is still in use does not obviate its importance in the past.

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