Re-discovering our heritage Reviving Cumberland: Re-creating railroad, C&O travel as Western Maryland tourist draw.

April 28, 1996

KNOWN AS THE "Queen City," Cumberland once was a bustling mountain town of 38,000, the hub of westward expansion, first by way of the National Road, then the C&O Canal and finally the railroads. Industries flourished. Laborers flocked to town for the jobs. Tourists and businessmen kept hotels and resorts prosperous.

No longer.

Cumberland is a skid-row dowager with empty storefronts and long-vacant industrial plants. The jobs are gone and the town's isolation has discouraged new companies from coming. The resorts and grand hotels long ago vanished. For the remaining 25,000 residents, work is hard to come by: The area's unemployment rate of 10 percent is twice the state's average.

That could change if Canal Place becomes reality. This $200 million project would re-create Cumberland's transportation heritage. The last 3.5 miles of the C&O Canal would be rebuilt and rewatered so boats could haul tourists. The Western Maryland Railway Station would recapture its glory days with steam-train rides into the mountains. Horse-drawn carriages would pass by transportation museums in old factories, a waterfront park, a wildlife habitat, Hotels, restaurants and shops.

What could make this happen is a bill approved by the General Assembly declaring Canal Place the first project eligible for tax credits and funds from a new state authority whose aim is to boost "heritage tourism."

Initial signs are encouraging. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is eager to rebuild the western terminus of the C&O Canal, which was buried back in 1954. The state has approved a $42 million parkway to link the downtown tourist center with activities to the south. And the legislature this month appropriated $2.1 million to begin the initial Canal Place construction.

Western Maryland remains one of this state's great undiscovered gems. If state officials, led by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor of Cumberland, can spark the imagination of American heritage buffs and lovers of scenic mountain beauty, they may have a winner. The hardy citizens of the Queen City deserve some good luck.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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