The Washington Street Historic District consists of a six-block stretch of this prominently sited thoroughfare that includes much of the City of Cumberland’s most significant civic, religious, and residential architecture. It is a wide street with brick sidewalks shaded by old-growth trees that rises from Wills Creek and undulates westward in a series of steep hills. Located along a ridge, the topography drops off abruptly to the north and south and in many instances provides striking vistas of the town below. The eastern end of Washington Street includes important civic institutions such as the polychromatic Richardsonian Romanesque Allegany County Courthouse, the Second Empire Board of Education Building, and the Greek Revival temple-front Academy Building (now the public library), in addition to four churches. Interspersed with the civic structures are a number of the district’s earlier residences. From the 200 block westward, Washington Street is lined with an exceptional sampling of mid- to late-nineteenth-century residential architecture. The majority of the houses maintain a high level of architectural integrity and visual interest that, along with the verdant surroundings, provides a rich urban streetscape to which the herringbone brick sidewalks and sandstone curbing also contribute. The streets were originally paved with light-colored brick, which now lies beneath the asphalt that was first laid in the 1960s.
The Washington Street structures represent the heyday of Cumberland, when the city was the second largest in the state (next to Baltimore) and was recognized as an important center of industry and transportation. Located at the convergence of Appalachian Mountain ridges, the Potomac River, and Wills Creek, Cumberland was established 1787 around the site of Fort Cumberland (1754). The fort was an English and American stronghold during the French and Indian War that was used by both General Edward Braddock and Colonel George Washington. In 1789, Cumberland was designated the seat of the newly formed Allegany County. By the mid-nineteenth century, it emerged as the gateway to the west and the primary transportation hub for western Maryland. Cumberland was the launch point for the National Road (1811), the first federally funded interstate roadway that linked the eastern states with the expanding west. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad reached Cumberland in 1842 and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal extended to Cumberland in 1850, both of which helped Cumberland emerge as an industrial center. Coal mining was the most important industry in the region and one of Maryland’s primary exports. Also important were iron and steel works, glass manufacturing, brewing, and textiles. Cumberland’s success earned it the nickname “Queen City.” A majority of its most significant buildings were erected between 1890 and 1920, before the decline of the post–World War II era.
The houses along Washington Street feature a vast array of styles ranging from late Federal, Georgian, and Greek Revival to the more romantic Italianate, Gothic Revival, Richardsonian Romanesque, and Queen Anne, to early-twentieth-century Colonial Revival residences and Craftsman bungalows. The duplex structure at 103-105 Washington, possibly by Bruce Price, is an excellent example of the Richardsonian Romanesque, a style also used in Wright Butler’s Allegany County Courthouse. Nearby are examples of the Greek Revival (201 Washington) and Second Empire (401 Washington) styles. The late Queen Anne and Colonial Revival houses, most of brick construction with large turrets and extending bay windows, are well represented in the district. Some designs blend the two styles, such as 400 Washington, which was also designed by Butler, who was considered a master of the Queen Anne in Cumberland. One of Butler’s best-known works is 412 Washington, a gable-front, four-story residence with a porch supported by Ionic columns; other good examples are 505 and 507 Washington. More classic instances of Queen Anne designs include 306, 501, and 615 Washington, the latter of which is the work of George Sansbury, who was responsible for numerous houses in the district. Colonial Revival is also well represented by residences such as 532 Washington, designed by New York architect E. S. Childs, and by 519 Washington, designed by Herman Schneider. A blending of Italianate and Gothic elements is seen in 515 Washington, while the Italianate Villa Style can be seen at 508 and 512 Washington.
These structures represent the work of important local and nationally known architects that, in addition to Butler and Sansbury, also include John Notman (Emmanuel Episcopal Church), Bruce Price (Emmanuel Parish Hall), and Robert Holt Hitchens. Throughout the later nineteenth century, Washington Street was the location for the residences of Cumberland’s leading citizens, including members of Congress and other political and judicial representatives, industrialists, engineers, and social and commercial leaders.
The Washington Street Historic District was designated in 1973.
Keller, Genevieve P., “West Side,” Allegany County, Maryland. Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form, 1976. Crownsville, Maryland.
Land and Community Associates. “Architectural and Historic Survey, City of Cumberland, Maryland; District Digest and Supplement.” In Genevieve P. Keller, “West Side,” Allegany County, Maryland. Maryland Historical Trust Inventory Form, 1976. Crownsville, Maryland.
Miller, Nancy, “Washington Street Historic District,” Cumberland County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.