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ABCs of American Architecture (Introduction)

Click on the MEDIA ITEMS below for more information



This guide to local architecture has been prepared in the hope that more of us will develop an interest in and appreciation of the artistic and historical significance of homes and buildings. What other art form--the homes that we live in, the stores where we shop, the churches where we worship, the buildings that house our government--is so close to our lives? By learning to recognize and appreciate period styles of architecture, students can learn "from whence came their ancestors" and why they adapted their familiar home styles to the New World. One will learn to look at a building and recognize the elements of architectural styles and appreciate the international significance.

We need to develop a sense of value and continuity about our home communities and their individual components. Perhaps more people will be influenced to decide to preserve, adapt or adopt a period piece. Many of the handsome old houses and buildings in our area not only enshrine the values of the past but can be converted to new uses more economically than new structures can be built. Our throwaway society is beginning to see the light and significant architecture is high on a conservationist’s list of endangered species.

It is not always easy to recognize and date local architecture. Because there was (and is) a cultural time lag between Allegany County and national and urban influences, certainly due in part to its geographical isolation, dates assigned to certain periods of architecture do not always correspond to the times when those styles were popular locally. Therefore, a chronological outline is not always the simplest. Also, defining the vocabulary of the art in the manuscript becomes cumbersome so we suggest that as you read, you refer to the appended glossary and the simple marginal drawings.

For examples, the text has relied heavily on the Washington Street area in Cumberland, chiefly because it is an easily-identifiable microcosm of the local architectural history of the nineteenth century. It is also a national landmark. The first six blocks and the adjacent block on Greene Street are identified on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service, a division of the United States Department of the Interior. This section is so recognized because it expresses a "uniformity in quality and scale that ties the six blocks together into an important and delightful city scape". Any review of this study, no matter how brief, should include a walking tour of this area, perhaps coordinated with a visit to History House at 218 Washington Street, a museum maintained by the Allegany County Historical Society.

Other significant sections of Cumberland that we should mention are the Decatur Street District, which has been rehabilitated by the City of Cumberland, and Maryland Avenue, which is in the process of rehabilitation. But the learning process will be effective only when it has been taken right into the student’s backyard, quite literally. A walk on any of the older streets in any of our Allegany County communities will give one an opportunity to evaluate the neighborhood and to identify certain architectural elements and vernacular styles. We hope that you enjoy this brief history, that it piques your curiosity to learn more, to appreciate more and to help protect the noble heritage of the past.


Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission

City of Cumberland


Collection Location:

Original Size:
22 x 29 cm.

Helene L. Baldwin, Joy W. Douglas, Gary Bartik and John Eiser

Historic buildings, Maryland, Allegany County; Historic buildings, Maryland, Cumberland.

Cumberland (Md,); 1742-1980

Western Maryland Regional Library
100 South Potomac Street
Hagerstown, Maryland 21740

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