Monument on Route 40 nearing 85th anniversary
Notices on the front page of the Saturday, Dec. 8, 1928, edition of The Charleroi Mail touted such bargains as Brunswick talking machines at the Schroeder Piano Company and fresh country eggs at 45 cents a dozen at Alfieri Poultry.
But the major headline was this: “Dedicate Pioneer Madonna Statue Today At Nemacolin.”
The story under that banner recounted the first of two major events heralding the dedication of the Madonna of the Trails monument on Route 40 between Beallsville and Richeyville. The area statue, which will mark its 85th anniversary later this year, is one of 12 monuments dedicated to the spirit of pioneer women in the United States.
Mrs. John Trigg Moss of St. Louis, chairwoman of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution's National Old Trails Committee, was the featured speaker at a banquet Friday, Dec. 7, at The George Washington hotel in Washington, Pa. Hosted by the Washington County Chapter of DAR, the event served as a prelude to the unveiling of the Pennsylvania monument scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at Nemacolin Country Club.
The banquet, according to The Charleroi Mail, was “one of the most successful and enthusiastic affairs of the kind ever held in Washington.” In addition to representatives of the Washington County Chapter members from the Monongahela Valley and Canonsburg chapters also participated in the festivities.
Mrs. N. Howland Brown of Norristown, state regent of Pennsylvania DAR; Mrs. Lowell Fletcher Hobart, a former state regent of Ohio and at present a national officer; Mrs. William H. Alexander of Monongahela, state vice regent-elect of Pennsylvania, and Margaret Barnett of Markleton, were among the honored guests at the speakers' table.
Among the longtime members of the Washington chapter in attendance were Dr. Louise J. Lyle of Mount Pleasant Township and Margaret Bureau of Washington.
The Washington County chapter was organized in 1892 and was recognized as being the third oldest in the state. Bureau became a member in July 1893, and Nancy J. Hall, regent of the chapter, presented her with a rose for each of the 35 years she had been a member.
Music for the banquet was furnished by Virginia Aley, pianist; Alma Headley, violinist; Harry Miles, violinist, and Paul E. Harding, violinist, all members of the Washington High School orchestra.
Hall called upon the honored guests and others who had taken a prominent part in securing the Madonna monument for the county for remarks. In introducing James. P. Eagleson of Washington, she referred to him as the “one person, very sincere and very earnest in the work, without whose efforts there would have been no Madonna of the Trails statue in Washington County.” She said Eagleson “has been the one person who worked untiringly from the very beginning and afterwards when defeat seemed certain ... he never stopped and was never discouraged and finally overcame every obstacle thrown in the way of securing the Pennsylvania monument for the county.”
The Madonna of the Trail monuments were commissioned by the National Society of DAR and located in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Road (Route 40), which extended from Cumberland, Md., to Upland, Calif.
The monuments were created by sculptor August Leimbach and are designed as a symbol of the “courage and faith of the women whose strength and love aided so greatly in conquering the wilderness and establishing permanent homes.” As noted on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia, the statues feature a pioneer woman cradling a baby with her left arm and holding a rifle with her right hand. Her young son clings to her skirts.
In addition to the Route 40 monument, which is located directly across the highway from the main entrance to Nemacolin Country Club, other statues in order of their dedication are in Springfield, Ohio, Wheeling, W.Va., Council Grove, Kan., Lamar, Colo., Albuquerque, N.M., Springerville, Ariz., Vandalia, Ill., Richmond, Ind., Upland, Calif., and Bethesda, Md. The area monument was the 10th to be dedicated in the series of ceremonies in 1928 and 1929.
Harry S Truman, who would become U.S. president in 1945, was president of the National Old Trails Association at the time of the dedication of the initial Madonna monument on July 4, 1928, in Springfield, Ohio. Speaking at that event, he praised the pioneer women this way:
“They (the women) were just as brave or braver than their men because, in many cases, they went with sad hearts and trembling bodies. They went, however, and endured every hardship that befalls a pioneer.”
In addressing the audience in Washington, Eagleson emphasized that “it was team work” that brought the Pennsylvania monument to Washington County. He recalled the Fifty-Fifty Club, which made possible the greater of the money necessary, and he referred to it as “the most unique club ever formed.” Membership, he said, was limited to 50, each of whom donated $50. The 50 members were in all parts of the county and were subscribed in less than 10 days. When the membership pay was closed, Eagleson said, it was found that there were exactly 25 men and 25 women in the group.
“Its work has been completed and the list of members will be placed in the member box in the back of the statue to be opened in 50 years,” he said, adding that each member was invited to be present at that time.
A large crowd attended the dedication ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 8, 1928, filling the clubhouse at Nemacolin Country Club to capacity. The event was held indoors because of the threat of inclement weather. The only part of the program that took place outside was the actual unveiling of the monument, which required only a few minutes.
National, state and county leaders of the Daughters of the American Revolution attended the ceremonies including Mrs. William H. Alexander of Monongahela, state vice regent-elect and former regent of the Monongahela Valley chapter. Others were:
Mrs. Alfred J. Brosseau, president-general of the National Society DAR; Mrs. E. Howland Brown, Pennsylvania regent; Mrs. John Trigg Moss, chairman of the Old Trails Committee; Mrs. Lowell Fletcher Hobart, candidate for president-general in the 1929 election; Margaret Barnett, also a candidate for national office; Mrs. Robert Reed, former state regent of West Virginia; Mrs. J.W. Endsley, regent of the Great Crossings chapter; Dorothy McNary, Canonsburg regent; Ethel Boughner of Uniontown, former state officer; and Washington County chapter regent Nancy J. Hall.
Eagleson, who again was lauded for his efforts in bringing the monument to Washington County, presided during the ceremony.
Appreciation also was extended to Charles E. McGinnis, president of Nemacolin Country Club, for his enthusiastic work in securing the donation of land from the club for the monument after the site had been selected by the National DAR organization.
Eagleson explained that the site for the monument had to be on the National Road (Route 40) and he finally selected the knoll near the entrance to the country club. He said McGinnis was “very receptive” to the idea and “in a short time the approval of the board of directors was secured and a deed for the site was given by the club.”
The Charleroi Mail called the site “beautiful ... far better than any that could have been secured in Washington.”
“Standing on the summit of a hill, facing the historic old National Road, over which the pioneer mothers traveled a hundred years and more ago in covered wagons with their husbands, seeking new homes in the wilderness of the ever receding far west, it may be seen by the tourists of today for several miles in both directions,” the newspaper said. “On the grounds opposite the Nemacolin Country Coub has been erected a large flood light, which will be turned on the statue every night, so that it will be seen by persons traveling after dark.”
Thousands upon thousands of travelers have viewed the Madonna of the Trail monument near Beallsville since that dedication nearly 85 years ago.
The massive statue, which stands 10 feet high and with its base towers about 18 feet above the highway, has been refurbished and rededicated several times over the years. Members of the Washington County and Monongahela Valley chapters of DAR have been, and continue to be, committed to its preservation and the spirit and courage it symbolizes.
That tradition is continuing today with another restoration project that includes landscaping and installation of railings on the steps leading to the statue.
Mary Holets of Monongahela, a director of the Monongahela Chapter DAR, said plantings of new trees and shrubbery will “enhance the appearance” of the area around the monument.
“The landscapers began their work before Christmas and it is hoped that everything will be completed by June,” said Holets, a 50-year member of DAR. “Like everything else, the workers were at the mercy of the weather during the winter.”
Holets emphasized that all Pennsylvania chapters of the DAR support the restoration projects with financial contributions for the upkeep of the monument.
“The statue certainly has endured the weather and other conditions since it was originally dedicated in 1928,” Holets said. “It is very symbolic, of course, and especially meaningful because it is one of only 12 such monuments in the United States. The state DAR and all of its member chapters are dedicated to perpetuating its significant place in history.”
Deborah L. Davis of the National Pike Chapter in Washington is the state DAR regent and will lead a rededication of the monument that is likely to take place when the current restoration is completed.
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.