ABCs of American Architecture (Frontier Years)
"America is a nation of immigrants...and all brought to the New World the building traditions of their native lands.
"These settlers came from countries that were in the process of change from their own distinctive medieval architecture to the imported classicism of the Italian Renaissance...(however,) these decorative changes took place almost exclusively in the palaces of royalty and the manor houses of the wealthy. Rural cottages and the row houses that crowded against each other in busy market towns continued in familiar patterns.
"Though settled during the architectural period known historically as the High Renaissance, this country’s earliest houses were, therefore, anything but classic. Most colonists were of humble origin: small farmers, artisans, traders. They brought with them the old native building traditions as yet scarcely touched by Renaissance fashion...an echo of medieval Europe."
The earliest urban homes in Cumberland were built along Greene Street, although Will Lowdermilk, the author of the first well-known history of Cumberland, lived in a log cabin on Washington Street, while Thomas Beall and John Miller lived in log cabins on Liberty Street. The grandest house of the frontier period was that of William McMahon, a frame house built in 1792, which later included a brick addition (Allegany County: A History: p. 76.). The chief public buildings were taverns, generally made of log.
Although we do not know exactly what these early homes looked like, they were most probably typically rectangular, with a central chimney for warmth throughout, a large room across the front and two small rooms in the rear. Frame buildings would likely have had an end chimney of brick or stone, with just one main room. Most were undoubtedly simple gabled houses, a species that has survived the ages because of its adaptability. Because of the severe winter weather and the expense of glass, windows would have been small and divided into small panes.
In 1787, the Maryland legislature passed an "act for erecting a town," to be called Cumberland, and on December 25, 1789, Allegany County was created. Thomas Beall of Samuel instigated the action and provided the land for the courthouse and supervised its building. It was a one-story brick building with a high stone basement. In 1792, the first Roman Catholic church was built, a log structure near the site of the present St. Patrick’s Church on North Centre Street, in Cumberland. The first Lutheran church was built in 1794, a log building that was used until 1844! The first schoolhouse, the Academy, a one-story brick structure, was built on Fayette Street in 1799.
Because Cumberland and other Allegany County communities were geographically isolated and rural in nature, they went almost directly from the period of log cabins to the nineteenth century styles of architecture, the Victorian period, skipping most of the Georgian period, so well typified in the architecture of Williamsburg, Virginia.
Cumberland Historic Preservation Commission
City of Cumberland
illustration: log cabin showing notched corners
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