Mt, Savage, 1860


Editor of New York Evening Post

The Baltimore and Ohio Railway which brought us to Mt. Savage is one of the most picturesque in the United States. For more than one hundred and fifty miles it follows the course of the Potomac, winding as the river winds, making sudden turns around lofty crags, sweeping around the base of grassy hillsides, passing under old forests now bright with their autumnal hue, and sometimes coming out into fair open valleys. Harper's Ferry, where the Shenandoah comes breaking through its rocky pass to pour itself into the Potomac, would be itself sufficient to give this railway preeminence were there nothing else worth looking at along the tracks. Here the train stops a few minutes, and the passengers alight to look at the majestic cliffs, and to see the place which has recently acquired a new and memorable historical association by the strange adventure of John Brown.

A hundred and eighty miles from Baltimore you reach Cumberland, one of the most beautiful sites for a town I ever saw. It lies on the north bank of the Potomac River in a circle of lofty hills clothed with forests, and divided by half a dozen deep gorges. The town has one or two pleasant streets, the rest are shabby and unsightly. At Cumberland you leave the Baltimore and Ohio Railway, and enter a single passenger car at the end of a long row of empty coal-wagons, which are slowly dragged up a rocky pass beside a shallow stream into the coal regions of the Alleghenies. You alight among smoking furnaces and forges and vast heaps of cinders at Mt. Savage, near the foot of the mountain that bears that name, a village of four thousand inhabitants gathered from various nations, mostly employed in the iron works and mines, and living in cottages. As you ascend from the village you perceive more and more the beauty of this area. You are among deep winding valleys and broad mountainsides, forests of grand old trees, grassy fields; at every step some new charming prospect opens up before you.

From the mouth of the coal mines on the mountains short railways descend to the village, down which rattle trains of trucks loaded with coal. Our party made a visit to a coal mine some three miles distant from Mt. Savage. From one of the black entrances flowed a lively little stream of yellow water. We came to another entrance cut of which a train of loaded trucks were passing, every one of which was attended by a miner blackened from head to foot with the dust of his task, wearing in the front a small lamp to light his way. As they emerged from the darkness, they looked like sooty demons with flaming horns coming from the womb of the mountain. We entered now, each carrying a lantern attended by a guide. The vein of the coal is from eight to ten feet thick, and the passage is of that height with a roof of glistening slate propped in some place by wooden posts. Here and there on each side of the passage, yawned chambers cut in the veins of coal and extending beyond the reach of the eye in the faint light of the lanterns. At length, we heard the sound of sledges and proceeding for some distance further, came to the end of the passage where the workmen each with a lamp in his cap were driving wedges into the cracks and fissures of the coal to separate it from the roof and the wall. We saw several large blocks detached in this manner, the workman jumping aside when the coal fell, and then we retraced our steps. Before returning to the entrance, however, our guide took us into a branch of the main passage in which after proceeding a little way, we heard the roar as of flames, and there saw a bright light before us. A furnace appeared in which a bright fire was blazing; the blackened workmen were stirring and feeding it and a strong current of air rushing by us went with the flames up the shaft, which reached above the surface of the ground. This, we were told, is a contrivance  to ventilate the mine. All the foul air and the air-damp and other noxious gases are drawn up and carried off from the passage by this method. On our way back to the entrance we perceived that the veins lay at just such an inclination as to allow the workmen to roll the loaded trucks by hand along an easy descent to the mouth, as I hear is the case with all mines.

McDonalds Forge was the first name of the community now known as Mt. Savage, Maryland. When the name Mt. Savage was given has not been determined. A person by the name of McDonald, a widower, decided to become a Catholic priest. The town was not named for him or for his son.

This data was procured from Mr. W. Torkington of Cumberland, Maryland, whose father at one time was Rector of St. George's Episcopal Church. Mt. Savage, Maryland.

Copied from Tableland Trails, Vol. I, No.3, Fall 1953. Special addition commemorating the Bicentenial of Washington’s first survey over the mountains in 1753 which sparked the French and Indian War. Editor Felix G. Robinson, Published in Oakland, Maryland.

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