The Autograph of a Nation Written Across the Face of a Continent
The idea of marking a highway was begun in Missouri about 1909 by a group of women who formed a committee to locate the Old Santa Fe Trail in Missouri. This committee was influential in securing an appropriation from the State of Missouri to mark the trail with suitable boulders or monuments.
This idea further developed into plans for a highway to be designated as the National Old Trails Road, by Act of Congress, and the work of marking was carried on in conjunction with the National Old Trails Road Association.
In 1911, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution established a national committee known as the National Old Trails Road Committee whose work was, primarily, to definitely establish the Old Trails Road as a great National Memorial Highway.
In 1912, the National Old Trails Road Association came into being and stated in its bylaws that, "the object of the Association shall be to assist the Daughters of the American Revolution in marking Old Trails and to promote the construction of an Ocean-to-Ocean Highway of modern type worthy of its memorial character." The Association, under the presidency of Harry S. Truman, guaranteed the expense of the erection of the monuments.
In 1924, the plan was changed from a proposed small cast iron marker on the Trails to that of erecting 12 large markers. In 1927, the Daughters of the American Revolution Continental Congress accepted the design -- The Madonna of the Trail.
The Madonna of the Trail is a pioneer woman clasping her baby with her young son clinging to her skirts. The face of the mother, strong in character, beauty, and gentleness, is the face of a mother who realizes her responsibilities and trust in God. It has a feeling of solidarity -- a monument which will stand through the ages.
The figure of the mother is of heroic proportions -- 10 feet high with a weight of 5 tons. The base upon which the figure stands is 6 feet high and weights 12 tons. This, in turn, rests upon a foundation that is placed on the ground, standing 2 feet above the level which makes the monument 18 feet above the ground.
The figure and the base are made of algonite stone (a poured mass) of which the Missouri granite is used as the main aggregate, thus giving the monument a warm, pink shade which is the color of the Missouri native granite. It was thought and expected that this stone had admirable aging qualities and, with time, would improve in color and solidarity.
On the two sides of the base are to be found words of historical data or local commemoration. These inscriptions are of the Revolutionary period or the early history in respective localities. These monuments were erected in each of the 12 states through which the National Old Trails Road passes. The design of the monument was that of sculptor August Leimbach of St. Louis and was offered by Mrs. John Trigg Moss, Chairman of the DAR national committee.
At Bethesda, Maryland, during the week of April 19, 1929, the twelfth of the monuments erected by state societies of the Daughters of the American Revolution were dedicated to mark the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in honor of the pioneer mothers of covered wagon days. It is located beside the Bethesda Post Office and commemorates the spot where the pioneers spent the first night out of Georgetown on their way to the west. Bethesda is the eastern terminus of the Cumberland Road, the first portion of the National Old Trails Road leading to the Santa Fe Trail. Pioneers from the Tidewater country traveled west in Conestoga Wagons, a type of covered wagon which originated in Conestoga, Pennsylvania about 1725. They were large wagons, drawn by four to six horses and were capable of carrying up to eight tons. The bottom of the wagon curved upward at both ends, and the upper part was usually painted red and the lower part blue. The white canvas roof was high and rounded, while the wheels were made with broad rims to prevent bogging down in mud. The Conestoga was first used by farmers and later carried most of the freight and passengers that went westward over the Alleghenies from the time of the Revolutionary War until about 1850. The Conestoga wagon was sometimes called the "camel of the prairies."
The Madonna in Bethesda was dedicated nine and one-half months after the first one at Springfield, Ohio. There was a week of activities in which the birth of our Nation was celebrated with the 154th anniversary of the battle of Lexington of the Revolutionary War. On April 19, 1929, former Postmaster General Harry S. New accepted the monument for the people of Bethesda. Mrs. Robert A. Welsh, Maryland's State Regent, accepted guardianship of the statue and ground for the Bethesda Chapter, DAR, known as the Colonel Tench Tilghman Chapter. The plot was donated by Mr. Walter R. Tuckerman, first President of the Chamber of Commerce, and his wife Edith. If this land should cease to be used for the purpose of the site of a patriotic memorial to the Pioneer Mothers of the Covered Wagon Days, it is to revert to the granters, Walter R. and Edith Tuckerman.
Mrs. William H. Talbott, who unveiled the monument, was past chairman of the Old Trails Committee and past regent of her chapter. Judge Harry S. Truman made the address and the Honorable William Tyler Page led the "American's Creed."
The statue faces east, with the post office on the north. The inscription on the south:
OVER THIS HIGHWAY
MARCHED THE ARMY OF
ON ITS WAY TO FORT DUQUESNE.
The inscription on the north:
THIS, THE FIRST MILITARY ROAD
BEGINNING AT ROCK CREEK
AND POTOMAC RIVER,
LEADING OUR PIONEERS
ACROSS THIS CONTINENT
TO THE PACIFIC.
And, so, we Daughters pay tribute to pioneer mothers as preserved in twelve like monuments in twelve states of our union. One can wish for no greater inspiration than to pause at the monument of a Madonna of the Trail and think of the mothers of the past whose pleasures and hardships, victories and privations we will never know. We may well cherish and perpetuate the many sterling qualities they hand down to us.
In the words of Mrs. Moss, "There's a long, long, trail awinding into the land of dreams" of an only highway from Colonial East through sands of the West, to the Spanish Southwest.
Location and Dedication Dates:
Ohio, Springfield (4 July 1928)
West Virginia, Wheeling (7 July 1928)
Kansas, Council Grove (7 September 1928)
Missouri, Lexington (17 September 1928)
Colorado, Lamar (24 September 1928)
New Mexico, Albuquerque (27 September 1928)
Arizona, Springerville (29 September 1928)
Illinois, Vandalia (26 October 1928)
Indiana, Richmond (28 October 1928)
Pennsylvania, Washington County (8 December 1928)
California, Upland (1 February 1929)
Maryland, Bethesda (week of 19 April 1929)