GAP 2, Cumberland, Maryland

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

Before jumping into the shuttle service van that was scheduled to drive us, our bikes, and all our gear (in Minnie-Van) to a ‘burb of Pittsburgh (West Homestead, PA), we had time to take a quick walking tour of Cumberland, mostly along the waterfront GAP trail, and up Washington St. to the famous Episcopal Church on the hill, in which Tiffany windows glow even with the dull, cloudy day on which we started our adventure. But more of that in a bit.


There’s a lot of history in Cumberland, where a very young George Washington surveyed the area, and where Wills Creek (channeled with concrete in the photo to mitigate flooding in the downtown historic district) meets the Potomac River. Historically, Cumberland was first a Fort, then a transportation hub; today, it is a hub for recreation, where the C&O Canal towpath trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail conversion: Mile 0 of the GAP trail. The terminus of the C&O Canal, in the ebb of its heyday, became the beginning of the first US National Road.


As a National Historic Place registrant, Cumberland has a lovely pedestrian area where old building facades have been preserved and are in use as boutiques, restaurants, businesses, and shops, accessible from the GAP trail. Much artwork adorns the Wills Creek area.


This is just a small section of an enormous mural adorning two complete building walls framing the corner of the pedestrian mall area.

As we walked across Wills Creek and up Washington Street toward two amazing tours Allen had arranged for our group (one was a Historic Society preserved Victorian home with most of the period furnishings and structure intact), we saw many homes and churches in the oldest, highest-above-the-river part of town. Among the prettiest is the one at the top of this blog post. 

Some of the homes need a bit of TLC.

The original Fort Cumberland, a colonial-era stronghold, was built atop the high ridge, with a protective (and controlling) view of the mighty Potomac River.


Artist’s interpretation of what Fort Cumberland might have looked like when it was used in the 1700s. This image shows the Potomac River in the foreground, with Wills Creek joining it near the lower right—that is not a turn in the Potomac, but rather the two flowing together, then meandering off to the right, out of the picture and toward the Atlantic.
View of Cumberland today from the old fort site.

At the time, much more of the municipality was on high ground. The earth has been removed for building and roadways over the long years since it was just a fort. Now Cumberland occasionally floods. This knowledge and seeing where our cars would be parked for the trip left the three couples who had vehicles in the Canal St. long-term parking area slightly concerned about local flooding with Florence’s potential trajectory. What we hadn’t counted on was the pigeons—more on that in the final installment of the cycling part of this trip.

Upon the site of the old fort was built, in the 1800s, the Episcopal Church with the Tiffany windows.


The neatest aspect of this building, in my opinion, is the way in which they preserved some of the abandoned fort infrastructure, and used the old fort’s tunnels upon which the church sat as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For many, many years the pastors of the church hid, nurtured, and transferred escaping slaves to the next stage of safety along their road to freedom. 

Our guide began our tour with a digital “playing” of the old organ (complete with a heraldic horn section). The congregation’s organist is also an organ tuner and builder, and he’s adjusted the equipment so it can be played digitally or manually; from the back of the room or from the front (during special musical events). It was pretty awesome.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the talented son of Charles Tiffany, the jewelry store owner. L.C. Tiffany was an interior designer in the mid-1800s, when his interest turned toward the creation of stained glass. He opened his own studio and glass foundry because he was unable to find the types of glass that he desired in interior decoration. He wanted the glass itself to transmit texture and rich colors, and he developed a type of glass he called “Favrile,” which he patented in 1892. Favrile glass has a superficial iridescence, which causes the surface to appear to shimmer, and “collects” light from that which surrounds it. “It is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors . . . iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the neck [feathers] of pigeons and peacocks, and the wing covers of various beetles” — according to Tiffany himself.

While this image appears blurry (and it was, in fact, taken from a long distance, but with the camera solidly on a firm surface) I think it is a technique used by Tiffany to affect a “painting” or brush stroke with the glass. I may be wrong, but I think it’s made of streamer glass. The phrase “streamer glass” refers to a pattern of glass strings affixed to the glass surface, to represent twigs, branches, and structures like feathers. Streamers are made from molten glass that is vigorously swung back and forth to stretch into long, thin strings which rapidly cool and harden. These are pressed onto the molten surface of sheet glass during the rolling process and become permanently fused.
This Tiffany triptych is not backlit. Instead, it’s made using many, many layers of glass, to “shadow” areas, and to leave other areas able to capture the ambient light and direct it—as with using lighter-colored paints—to illuminate the areas in the scene that either show light or reflect it. Here the light comes off the actual torch raised above the saint’s head, and the glass gathers light where the torchlight hits the martyrs bodies in the scene.
Another Tiffany window one might think is backlit, but it is not. There are many layers of glass in the darker portions to create the many, many shades of blue throughout. It is an incredibly heavy window.

One of the stories told by our guide involved the integration of the church, just after the American Civil War. Some of the former slaves had been “raised” to be Catholic, but when they got to the north (Maryland was actually a slave state prior to the ACW) they were not welcomed to attend the Catholic Church’s services. One of the white friends of the Catholic congregation asked the Episcopal priest if the former slaves could attend his church (same fellow who ran the underground railroad stop) and he said, of course. There was an upper concourse set aside for the black folks—but even then, some of the Catholic blacks would not attend a non-Catholic service.

Along this wall above the main floor was once the “blacks only” balcony. In the mid-twentieth century, it was reserved for the choir. And finally, it was removed and renovated as it appears today.


Later in the tour, we saw the original drawings for a cross and candelabra, also designed and made by Tiffany for the church. None of the pix I took of the golden items nor the drawings turned out, I’m afraid.

As we entered and exited, I was interested in the patterns of the limestone slabs in the walkways, after years and years of erosion. They looked a bit like those relief maps of the ocean floor.

After admiring the “above ground” amenities of the structure, our guide took us downstairs, into the tunnels. There were rooms, narrow stairs, thin “runways” and low-hanging structural elements everywhere. It was frightening to think of a live person with black skin coming here for refuge and respite after a long, dangerous trip from Georgia or Virginia. Afraid every second that he or she would be betrayed. Near starvation or looking over the edge toward starvation at every moment. Too tired to sleep—too afraid or hungry or sick or injured to rest.

The fort’s ammo magazine and all the protective below-ground structures were made by erecting wooden forms and filling behind them with clay and rocks from the river. Those hardened and, with the exception of a few river rocks that have come loose over the centuries, the walls have held up to this day.

Our guide told us that, while the fort used long, underground tunnels to access water for the fort’s uses from Wills Creek and the Potomac, by the time of the underground railroad, the same tunnels were used to get human cargo from the “bad part of town” (the red light district, near the waterfronts) up to safety, nourishment, and rest under the church, and then off to the north and across the Mason-Dixon Line, a mere 10-ish miles by crow flight from Cumberland; Milepost 20.5 along the actual rail line that is now the GAP trail; and freedom for the escaped slaves.

There was much more to Cumberland that we did not see, including the structure out of which George Washington worked, and the Visitor Center. But we had a shuttle to catch at 2PM.

And we were off to West Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh. 

It was every bit of a 2-hour drive up interstates and toll roads, but we made it without too much problem, except for missing a turn during Pittsburgh rush hour.

But the hotel we occupied, Hampton Inn, was right on the trail and the Monongahela River (the GAP trail heading east follows the Monongahela until McKeesport, where it turns to follow the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yawk-a-gain-ee, or the Yawk for short). Milepost 150 of the GAP trail is at what the city calls “The Point” where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to create the Ohio River. 


Homestead was once known as the Steel Capital of the World, symbolizing Pittsburgh’s dominance in the industry. Our city guide (tomorrow) reminded us that, at its peak of production, Pittsburgh was commonly known as “Hell with the lid off.”

Homestead’s flagship complex of US Steel was shut down in 1986. At that time, it had 450 buildings on 430 acres, and employed 200,000 workers throughout its years of making unprecedented amounts of steel.


West Homestead is a mere 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point, and along with other suburbs of the city, is re-making itself as a shopping and recreation/tourism draw. Bravo to Pittsburgh and environs for making progress cleaning up and re-focusing the city.

We took a quick shake-down ride to assure our bikes made the trip in good shape (about five miles) and then got cleaned up to walk across the road to an enormous shopping area, with beautiful plantings and flowers everywhere, and more shops and restaurants than you can imagine, including Rockbottom Brewery.

Our group dinner was at Bravo Cucina Italiana, and it was excellent and fun.


As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed a poster, but couldn’t quite get the idea of Indoor Axe Throwing into our heads.


Tomorrow, Pittsburgh and a grand bicycle tour of the city!


Ini’s Garden House

In Berlin (and possibly other cities) the Deutsche Bahn offers parcels in their easements to folks who would like to maintain a garden. This is a highly-contested opportunity that is mostly handed down within families for decades, however, it is expensive. DB continues to own the land, but the user must purchase (and maintain) a small shelter on the property. Water is provided to the property during the summer, but all must agree to help DB turn it off for the winter. One’s garden house can have a sleeping place, bathroom and kitchen, but the owner is not allowed to rent the space nor stay in the space in any permanent style.

Ini has, within the past year, taken the leap to get a garden house. It’s a significant risk to those who take the plunge, because DB can change their track locations and easements, and other city construction can cramp a location that was once open but private. Also, security is often a risk, although the areas are always keyed. 

Ini’s spot has been maintained for about 40 years prior to her “adoption” of it, and while the structure and most of the plantings and landscaping remain as-was, she has totally renovated the interior of the garden house to make it more amenable for family use. She and her daughter, Lee, have also changed the annual planting areas with raised beds for vegetable gardening. Lee has been mostly involved with the growing of veggies, a passion she’s had since she was a very young girl. 

Ini and Lee, with the help of Lee’s friend, Matthias (who has discovered a new outlet from his professorial vocation in weeding and learning the difference between intended plants and unintended plants) have created a truly lovely spot, and it’s obvious from not only the small touches and artistic additions, but also how lovingly it is used and appreciated, that it is an essential aspect of urban life to them now. They go over somewhat regularly to grill and share dinners, some of which was grown on site. Matthias has been learning, “hands-on” style, how to be the grill-meister for their gathered meals.

I had not downloaded the photos of our visit to Ini’s Garden House from my camera when I uploaded the October 4 blog — indeed, Jack stayed at the apartment and slept some of his cold away. But I had forgotten that Page, Ini, and I walked over to the garden house and checked things out, Page and I seeing it for the first time.

Ini’s Number 8, from the front “yard.”
Standing at the front door, the main room, with a bed that pulls out to be able to sleep 2 on the right. The kitchen door is on the left.
In the kitchen, on the left is the cooking/cleaning space. A small fridge is under the counter in the foreground.
Kitchen right is the counter space and storage. The window opens to a narrow covered “patio” where the small grill sits.
To the left of this little table is the bathroom with toilet and small shower.
Another little “breakfast table” sits under the front window. Behind the main entry door is a wall full of storage cabinets with doors for all the accoutrements of living, eating, and cleaning.
Stairs carry us to the tiered back, where there are sunken and raised beds for a huge variety of perennials and annuals.
‘Tis the season for dahlias. Ini cut a few of the lovely blossoms to bring with us back to the apartment.
This rosemary bush was inherited and it’s a monster, although the photos does not show it. Standing on its level, it rises about 3 feet.
This mobile, made by a Meadows of Dan friend and hung in my mother’s art studio for many years before she moved last year, now has a new home in Ini’s fruit tree, high in the last tier of the back garden.

This garden shed, near the fruit tree, is one of two exterior storage areas on the property. Nearby on the highest tier are a water reclamation tub and a compost area.
The neighbor also has many dahlias and beautiful flowering plants.
The front yard from the door. The trains are not horribly close, and raised over the lower easement areas, so they’re not terribly loud. The front has a lovely patio that get southern exposure and Ini reports is always quite warm, so she’s set up a nice seating/dining/lounging area, with a pull-out awning if required. On the day we visited, it was just a scosch too chilly and cloudy to be completely comfortable sitting outside.
These pretty little succulents were growing in some small stone crevices on the front patio.
You cannot tell from this photo, but these little guys were about as big as the end of my thumb.
During our 15-minute walk back to Heilbronner Strausse, we passed through a lovely neighborhood, some very strange art, and some other garden house/easements (not nearly as well-kept as Ini’s group of units) that were frighteningly close to the RR tracks.