“Operation of automobiles on Martin’s Mountain”: Letter March 14, 1925

003aBy chance, I happened across this letter on its anniversary. Serendipity in the collections office once again.

When this letter was written to the State Roads Commission, the National Highway had already been serving as the major route between the Mid-Atlantic, through Cumberland and into the Ohio Valley for nearly 100 years. The Mr. John N. Mackall mentioned in the letter had served as the Chief Engineer of the Commission since 1918, and had come to Maryland State employment by way of Pennsylvania State Highway Department. Upon his promotion, Mr. Mackall was confronted with legal challenges introduced to road construction because of the onset of the First World War. One such restriction was the use of open top cars for transportation of materials other than what was deemed essential for war work. Once those open top cars were available for use again, the cost of transportation and labor had gone up considerably. Mackall agreed to pay higher prices to contractors that had been in waiting for years, thereby avoiding a possible catastrophe that would have been created by contractors going bankrupt and subsequently not being available to bid on state contracts.

Mr. Mackall was also the Chair of the Commission when it took upon as its responsibility the safety of drivers on the State’s highways. Painting road obstructions white for visibility and rerouting dangerous curves were on Mackall’s agenda for safety improvement. After 1920, Mr. Mackall was known to refuse requests from County Commissioners for road improvements if the contracts they submitted were exorbitant, which would always return at a lower cost in following years. His methods have laid the groundwork for Maryland having some of the best highways in the country at a lower average cost.

The author of the letter, Mr. L.T. Downey, was the District Engineer for Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. (This is District 6 of Western Maryland today, part of the State Highway Administration http://roads.maryland.gov/pages/districts.aspx?did=d6). From 1921, he was responsible for seeing vast improvements in concrete highway construction from Frederick, MD west to Garrett County. One of his great accomplishments was to add concrete shoulders to the roads to increase width from 14′ to 20′.







The letter reads:

“March 14, 1925


Mr. Mackall is desirous of obtaining some results in actual operation of automobiles on Martin’s Mountain. The idea is to find out the difference in the braking power in coming down the mountain in second gear with the ignition on and with the ignition off.

He has asked me to try and get some people around Cumberland to try this out, and I wish you would, in going over the road, try coming down the mountain on either side with the ignition on, in one case; and in the next case, with the ignition cut off, and estimate the difference as to the effects on your car.

I would be greatly obliged to you if you would advise me  as to the results of this as soon as possible.

Very truly yours,

L.T. Downey, District Engineer.”


Concrete Highway & Public Improvements Magazine, Vol. 6, 1922. pp. 174-177

Bittner, J.H.F “Development of the State Roads Commission of Maryland,” Thesis submitted for Phi Mu Honorary Engineering Fraternity, University of Maryland, Jan. 17, 1927.


Annual Ford Model T and Model A Car and Truck Show

Model A

Cumberland’s Ford Model T and Model A Car Show began in 2000 with 18 automobiles on display. 2012 saw the biggest show with 51 automobiles dating from 1906 to 1931. Roadsters, paneled cars, depot hacks, Model TT and Model AA dump trucks, and even tractors have been dispayed.

In September 2014, the Allegany Museum partnered with the Queen City Region Antique Car Club and the AACA  to host the 2014 Show.

Visitors spotted at the local Model T and Model A Car Shows include Governor Martin O’Malley, and William H. Macy who came to the Show to buy back his father’s Model A 2-door Coupe, restored by Neil Furlow.

An ongoing exhibit in the Downtown Area is the Model T and Model A window exhibit in the former McMullen Brothers Department Store Window, featuring a 1928 MG Boat Tail Roadster.



Museum awarded Maryland Department of Transportation grant

The Allegany Museum is thrilled to announce it is the recipient of a coveted Transportation Enhancement Program grant from the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). Governor Martin O’Malley notified county officials and museum board members of the $150,000 award, which will support the construction of new exhibition spaces. The new exhibits will detail the Allegany region’s history as a transportation hub, including as a nexus of the National Road, railroads, and the C&O canal.

Construction is slated to begin in 2013 with the new exhibition halls unveiled in 2014. The MDOT grant will further funds previously awarded to the museum from the Naylor Family Foundation for the creation of new exhibitions.

18th Century Workbook found with links to Allegany and Frederick Counties

Jonathan Arnold's WorkbookThis fragile, coverless school workbook (object ID 2008.12.6) came to light as we were cataloging farm ledgers from Flintstone, MD donated by the Robinette family. The book belonged to Jonathan Arnold, son of Archibald Arnold, and writings within date from 1787 to 1799. From the text and from some online genealogy research, we’ve been able to find that he was born around 1775 in Frederick and became an apprenticed tailor there in 1790. He had two siblings connected to Allegany County — a sister born in Cumberland in 1778 and a brother who died in the County in 1830.






Delay in PunishmentThe book is full of handwritten mathematics lessons in Geometry, Reductions, and Multiplication. There are also many places where Jonathan took to writing sentences in repetition, as one may have done for punishment. Some of these inscriptions go, “Delay in Punishment is no Priviledge to Pardon,” and “Gentility without Ability is like a Pudding without Fat.” In many places, he practices his quill work and doodles little eagles next to his Long Division.






This Indenture WitnessethA few pieces of his later, more formal writing were also found inside. A Last Will & Testament for a Mr. Michael Cunningham dated 1788 was hand-copied by Jonathan in 1790 because he seems to be connected to one of Mr. Cunningham’s debtors. Also, two contracts were found that indenture Jonathan as an apprentice to Mr. Solomon Crissman to become a tailor, and to Mr. Mich Kelly as a scholar. Both were dated January, 1790.






GrandsonThe oldest known ancestor of Jonathan Arnold in Maryland is his great-grandfather Anthony Arnold, Sr., who died in 1688 in Anne Arundel County. On one page of the book, next to a place where Jonathan had written his name and the date 1788, his grandson Thomas J. Arnold signed the book and dated it 1888.

25th anniversary season of the tourist train

The Allegany Musuem is ready for the start of the 2013 tourist train season. The 25th season of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad got off to a great start on May 3rd. The 1916 Baldwin steam engine is in fine form. Upon it’s arrival to the Frostburg depot, the turn around point of the journey, train riders were welcomed to the Thrasher Carriage Collection by Allegany Musuem docents. The collection has never looked better!

Museum president Gary Bartik and his crew of community service workers spent a week cleaning and detailing the carriages and adding new explanatory information to the museum. Coming soon, visitors will be able to view at the Thrasher a rare late 1800s wedding ensamble that was recently donated to the Museum. Our collections manager Marie Kujenga noted “this lovely wedding dress is a wonderful donation. The lady who wore it was married here in Cumberland and might have rode in a carriage on her special day.”


Allegany Museum in Washington Post

Yes, there are great museums in Western Maryland!

That was the assessment of Washington Post reporter Zofia Smardz on February 07, 2013 when she visited Cumberland and Allegany Musuem President Gary Bartik took her on a tour of the Museum and Thrasher Carriage collection. She called the Amesbury carriage her “personal highlight” and also praised Roosevelt’s inaugural coach and a “pretty” ladies’ basket phaeton once owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt.

You can read her full article here


Oster toy collection exhibition

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The Allegany Museum recently hosted a special exhibition a new collection of toys dating the early 20th century, especially the 1915 to 1930 period.

Dr. Walter Oster and his wife, Florence, who for over fifty years had collected more than 90 toys, donated the collection to the museum in the fall 2012. The collection is a gem in that all the toys were made in the United States of metal and many are mechanical “wind-up” toys that are still in fine working condition.

The board of the Allegany Museum enthusiastically voted to accession the toys because they are an excellent expression of the museum interest in transportation history. Items in the collection include a motorcyclist, a plane, World War I-era boats, a Conestoga wagon, a 1920 Ford car, a carriage, a train, and many other unique vehicles.

The Allegany Museum is currently researching details of the toys and creating a permanent exhibition space for them.

Read an article in the Cumberland Times-News about the donation.