Historic Garrett County Stone Bridge Celebrates 200th Birthday
In 1755, George Washington and colonial troops forded the Casselman River in western Maryland to battle the French in southwest Pennsylvania, a key battleground in the French and Indian War.
Washington was not the only one to realize the best place to cross the river to head west. For thousands of years, Native Americans settled in the area known as “Little Crossing.” In the early 1800s, following Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase that opened up the new West, the government built a bridge as part of the first federally funded road in the United States, the National Road.
Now, we celebrate the bicentennial of the breathtakingly scenic Casselman River Bridge. This weekend, in a series of activities partially funded by the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA), state and local officials and history buffs will commemorate the 354-foot bridge. It no longer carries cars, but remains open to pedestrians and is the focal point of a state park. (MHAA oversees a system of 12 locally administered, state-certified Heritage Areas located in 21 counties and Baltimore. Heritage Areas package Maryland’s great stories through historic buildings, archaeological sites, museums, parks and natural landscapes.)
Maryland Department of Planning Deputy Secretary Amanda Stakem Conn is part of the Saturday night formal ceremony. Al Feldstein, MDP’s Appalachian Regional Commission program coordinator, will headline a lunch event with an overview of the history of the National Road as well as the towns, historic sites and landmarks lining the route. MDP is the agency housing the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), which has supported preservation of the Casselman River Bridge for 36 years.
The Casselman River Bridge was the largest single span stone bridge in America when it was completed in 1813. When Congress authorized the National Road in 1806, Cumberland was the gateway to the huge Western territory that had been acquired just three years before. The National Road ran between Cumberland, Maryland and the Ohio River at Wheeling, West Virginia before it was extended through Ohio.
The National Road was an immediate success, crowded with what one historian described as a “tidal wave” of traders, goods, and settlers. An early traveler spending the night in a roadside inn not far from the Casselman River Bridge recorded that not only was the inn crowded with people, but “thirty-six horse teams were in the wagon yard, a hundred mules in the barn, a thousand hogs were in an enclosure and as many sheep and cattle were in adjacent fields.”
Clearly, in the 1800s, the Casselman River Bridge was far from the place of tranquility that it is in modern-day Garrett County.
The State Highway Administration assumed responsibility for maintenance of the Casselman River Bridge in 1911. The bridge carried wagon and vehicular traffic until 1933, when a new steel bridge was constructed nearby and the road bypassed the old stone bridge. Responsibility for the bridge was transferred to Garrett County in 1956.
In 1964, the Casselman River Bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In 1993, ownership was transferred from Garrett County to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Our state agency has its own long history of supporting the preservation of the Casselman River Bridge. In 1977, the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) provided a $323,000 grant for repairs and stabilization of the bridge, and as a condition of the grant acquired a historic preservation easement from Garrett County to protect the bridge in perpetuity.
In 1981, MHT administered a $346,305 state and federal grant to complete more repairs to restore the bridge. In 2011, MHAA certified the Garrett County Mountain Maryland Gateway to the West Heritage Area; the Casselman River Bridge was designated a primary historical resource within the Heritage Area.
This year, MHAA provided a $3,500 matching grant to the Department of Natural Resources, which runs Casselman River Bridge State Park, to support the September 20- 22 Bicentennial Commemorative Event.
- Weekly Photo Challenge : Unusual Point of View : Casselman River Bridge (iseebeautyallaround.com)