Negro Mountain, name change proposed, 2011
Senators: Local mountains need new names. Western Maryland representatives don’t support push to change Negro, Polish.
CUMBERLAND — Two local mountains need new names, a group of state senators say, and they want a commission created to select new monikers for Negro Mountain and Polish Mountain which “reflect more accurately the history and culture of the region within which they are located.”
None of the nine senators sponsoring Senate Joint Resolution 3 represent the region where the two mountains rise in the Allegheny Mountain range, with Negro Mountain in Garrett County reaching a height of 3,075 feet and Polish Mountain in Allegany County climbing to 1,783 feet from sea level.
The senate resolution isn’t too popular with the legislators who do represent those who live on and near the mountains.
“It’s just asinine,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly. Kelly wondered why Polish Mountain ended up in the resolution. “I’m of Irish descent. We’d love to have a mountain named after us. Let’s rename it Irish Mountain,” he quipped. State Sen. George Edwards and Delegate Wendell Beitzel joined in.
“I grew up on Negro Mountain and have a farm on Negro Mountain. I don’t know why people in the Baltimore area are so worried about it,” said Beitzel. The mountain, he said, was actually named in the language of the time in tribute to a black man’s heroism.
“It boils down to the political correctness stuff we’re into in this world,” said Edwards. “The name, at the time, was meant with honor and respect.” Edwards also said he doesn’t think Maryland has the authority to change the name of a mountain. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names of The National Geologic Survey has that authority and has previously rejected a name change, he said.
The history behind the names isn’t simple to pin down, especially in the case of Polish Mountain. It looks like the explanation Beitzel has heard about Negro Mountain is correct.
Champ Zumbrun, a retired forester who managed Green Ridge State Forest for many years, has researched local history and is working on a book on Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap. His coauthors include some of Cresap’s descendants. He’s found a letter Cresap sent to the Maryland Gazette in 1756, explaining the event which led to the naming of the mountain.
“The name honors one of our earliest black frontiersmen,” said Zumbrun. Cresap wrote that a free black man, who was a member of his volunteer rangers during the French and Indian War, acted heroically during a battle with Indians, and in fact saved Cresap’s life. The black frontiersman was mortally wounded in the battle and was buried on the mountain.
Another account provided by the Garrett County Historical Society largely agrees with that account.
“I suggest and recommend the name of Negro Mountain remain unchanged, as it is named in honor of a brave black frontiersman, one of the earliest “free” black frontiersman on record in American colonial history serving the cause of liberty against British tyranny, who saved on that mountain the life of Colonel Thomas Cresap, allowing the opportunity for Col. Thomas Cresap to contribute soon thereafter significantly to the American liberties we all enjoy today,” Zumbrun wrote in an email to the Times-News.
Zumbrun says a deed he’s seen from 1790 refers to “Polished Mountain,” but beyond that, Zumbrun has little evidence about the way the name developed, “things get changed over time,” he said. The rocks on the mountain tend to shine when wet, and the leaves of the Aspen trees which once covered the mountain can also be shiny, he said.
Kelly wondered why the senators backing the resolution wouldn’t want to rename organizations with seemingly politically incorrect, but historically significant names, like the NAACP or The United Negro College Fund, he said.
The resolution would require the governor to establish and appoint the members of the naming commission, who would be required to decide on new names by Dec. 31.
Sen. Joan Conway, one of the sponsors of the resolution, did not return a Friday phone call from the Times-News. Conway represents Baltimore.
For a complete article by Zumbrun on the naming of Negro Mountain, see http:// www.whilbr.org/itemdetail.asp x?idEntry=3024
The postcard, from the collection of Albert and Angela Feldstein, was postmarked 8-11-1915.
See also Lawmakers clash over Western Md. mountain names, Herald-Mail, Feb 12, 2011, and also the Cumberland Times News article, 2/23/2011, attached here as a PDF.
Allegany County, Maryland
African Americans, History; Allegany County (Md.), History.
Allegany County (Md.), 1890-2008