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The C&O, rails and Elvis converge in Cumberland

Railway TransportationTransportationGeorge WashingtonFamilyHistory

What do George Washington and Elvis have in common with the C&O Canal and the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad?

This weekend, they all come together in Cumberland.

The Western Maryland city - home to the canal and the railroad and once George Washington's military headquarters - hosts Elvis in concert Saturday night.

Elvis is impersonator Matt Lewis, star of the Las Vegas "Legends in Concert" revue. Cumberland's weekend concert series also features Garth Brooks and Shania Twain lookalikes and a big-band show.

But there's much more to do in Cumberland than listen to music.

Cumberland's canal

The 184.5-mile Chesapeake & Ohio Canal has 74 locks. The country's earliest visionaries, including George Washington, had long planned a canal to connect the Chesapeake Bay and the Ohio River. Construction started in Washington in 1828 and was expected to continue to Pittsburgh. On the same day, the first track was laid for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Twenty-two years later, railroads were flourishing, and the canal had only gotten as far as Cumberland.

Pittsburgh's loss was Cumberland's gain. In its 1875 heyday, the 500 boats operating daily on the C&O brought visitors, cargo and jobs to Cumberland. The canal operated until 1924. Later, the entire waterway was preserved as a national park. Today, visitors can hike, bike and camp along the canal's tow path. The Cumberland Visitor Center, 13 Canal St., has interactive exhibits about canal life including oral histories by former boatmen. The Cumberland, a full-size replica canal boat on display near the tow path, opens each summer for tours.

Train trips

As much as it depended on the canal, Cumberland was - and remains - a railroad town. The Western Maryland Railway Station, also at 13 Canal St., is a national historic landmark. Once a depot for Pennsylvania and Western Maryland line trains, the station now serves passengers on the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Excursion trains led by steam and diesel engines run almost daily to Frostburg from May through October. This could be the last year for these rides because the state is considering cutting some of the railroad's funding. Murder mystery trains are scheduled June through December. For reservations, call 800-TRAIN-50 or visit www.wmsr.com.

Hometown history

Cumberland made its mark on the national map during the French and Indian War when Fort Cumberland was built as the farthest edge of the western front. A young George Washington - fighting for the English - made his headquarters here and his one-room cabin still stands on Greene Street. After Washington became president, he returned to the cabin to review the troops he was sending to quell the Whiskey Rebellion.

Today, visitors can walk the Fort Cumberland Trail through the city and learn the fort's history via 28 narrative markers. Along the way are two of Cumberland's jewels - the Gordon-Roberts House and the F. Brooke Whiting House.

The Gordon-Roberts House (218 Washington St., 301-777-8678) is named for the only two families to ever live in this four-level Victorian home. It was built in 1867 for Josiah Gordon, president of the C&O Canal. Notable pieces among the period furnishings include hair pictures (woven in the Victorian tradition from actual human hair), a witch's ball (a whimsy piece popularized by Cumberland's glassblowing companies), a courting couch and a historic gaming sideboard. Daily tours include a cup of tea in the ballroom. There are also monthly luncheon teas and other events.

The Whiting House (632 Washington St., 301-777-7782) is the former home of one of Cumberland's most prominent families, world travelers who collected artwork, antiques and other souvenirs of their travels. The house and its contents were bequeathed to the Allegany County Historical Society.

Resort living

Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort - off Interstate 68 on the way to Cumberland - remains one of Western Maryland's best kept secrets. Those in the know come to the resort for golf, fishing, boating, hiking or just to relax. The resort's "Awesome April" package includes accommodations and breakfast for two for $136 per night. Visit www.rockygapresort.com or call 800-724-0828.

Live in concert

This weekend's concert series kicks off tomorrow night with Steve Fairchild and Kelly Smith in tributes to Garth Brooks and Shania Twain. Matt Lewis, as Elvis, will perform Saturday night. Monday night's show features the Russ Morgan Orchestra. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. All concerts are held at Allegany High School, 616 Sedgwick St. For tickets, call 301-759-0580 or visit www.tri-stateconcerts.com.

Stop for a bite

Oxford House (129 Baltimore St., 301-777-7701): Behind the doors of this downtown restaurant lies Old World elegance.

The Rib Joint at Crab Alley (The Shops at Canal Place, 14 Howard St., 301-724-7472): Seafood so fresh you'd think the canal was the ocean, and, of course, ribs and pork barbecue.

Queen City Creamery Coffee Bar and Deli (108 Harrison St., 301-777-0011): Homemade frozen custard and soda fountain specials. The records on the old jukebox change monthly, and it's still three plays for a quarter.

Coney Island and Curtis' Famous Weiners (35 and 15 N. Liberty St., 301-759-9707): These hotdogs have been a local favorite since 1918.

Getting there

Take Interstate 70 West through Frederick and Hagerstown. Follow to Interstate 68 to Cumberland. Take Exit 43 for downtown. Follow signs for Visitors Center. Canal Place, Fort Cumberland, other museums and the pedestrian mall are within walking distance.

More information

Visit www.mdmountain side.com, www.nps.gov/choh or www.downtowncumberland. com. Call Allegany County tourism at 800-425-2067.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Railway TransportationTransportationGeorge WashingtonFamilyHistory
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