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Madonna of the Trail (Wheeling, WV)

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art (National Historic Landmark)

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She stands 10 feet tall and clutches a baby to her breast and holds a rifle in the opposite hand while a young boy pulls at her skirt. A bonnet rests atop her head and hiking boots cover what would be her feet. One of twelve "Madonna of the Trail" statues, these monuments are a celebration of and pay tribute to the tenacity of pioneer women and their contribution to this country. The National Society of the Daughters of the Revolution commissioned sculptor August Leimbach to design the statues. The statue located at the edge of Wheeling Park was the second of the twelve created and dedicated on July 7, 1928.

Madonna of the Trail
August Leimbach sculpting the Madonna of the Trail figure.
Informational placard about the Wheeling Madonna of the Trail Statue

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With more and more Model T's rolling off the assembly line, a fear that we may forget about the old trails that so many people traveled. A band of women petitioned their State Representative, William P. Borland, to pass a bill that designated all historic trails as the National Old Trails Road1.  The Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), a separate entity from the group in Missouri wanted the current National Road that only covered the length of Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois to expand westward to San Fransisco California1. The members of the DAR set out with red, white, and, blue paint with which they began to designate historical trails by painting telephone pools and fenceposts1. The newly established National Old Trail Road Association assisted them with this task in 1912. The bylaws of the organization stated: "the object of the Association shall be to assist the Daughters of the American Revolution in marking Old Trails and to promote the construction of an Ocean-to-Ocean Highway of modern type worthy of its memorial character2.The DAR made the pioneer woman gazing over yonder to the National Road at the 1914 Annual American Road Congress their symbol and they were going to get started with an appropriate memorial but World War I halted their progress for nine years2.

 After WWI ended, future President of the United States, Harry S. Truman was actually President of the National Old Trail Road Association1 2. Truman had an intense interest in cars and road systems; in fact, while serving in France in WWI, he was fascinated by their infrastructure for the automobile and sold memberships to Kansas City Automobile until he was appointed a sit on the bench as a Missouri judge for Jackson County in 19261.  Partnered with DAR chair Arlene Moss, the duo decided to forgo the idea of planting iron markers along the National Trail in 1924 and three years later the DAR made a decision they would have a statue: Madonna of the Trail2. Moss was inspired by a Sacajawea statue that she had seen while traveling in Portland, Oregon1. Moss picked twelve spots along the National Road to plant statues over the next two years 1928-1929. The locations of the statues are: Springfield, Ohio; Wheeling, West Virginia; Council Grove, Kansas; Lexington, Missouri; Lamar, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Springerville, Arizona; Vandalia, Illinois; Richmond, Indiana; Washington County, Pennsylvania; Upland, California; and finally, Bethesda, Maryland2.

 Otto Schneck, the chairman of the Wheeling Park Commission, accepted the statue on behalf of the city, and according to the minutes from the Commission's February 10, 1928 meeting, the Commission signed a contract with the National Old Trails Association and authorized a payment of $500 for the statue3. Apparently, the commission faced a dilemma in choosing the inscriptions for the base of the statue, because  member George W. Lutz suggested a contest for students at Wheeling Park High School to pick two inscriptions for the base of the monument3. Two winners would be awarded $15 in gold each donated by Lutz, but nothing of this came to fruition3. Eventually, the inscriptions for all sides of the base were decided upon. The East Face reads: "THE NATIONAL OLD TRAILS ROAD" and the West face reads: "MADONNA OF THE TRAIL N.S.D.A.R.MEMORIAL TO THE PIONEER MOTHERS OF THE COVERED WAGON DAYS"4. The North Face's inscription is: "BY THE AUTHORITY OF THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT AND CHIEFLY THROUGH THE STATESMANSHIP OF HENRY CLAY. THIS ROAD WAS MADE POSSIBLE IN 1806.4" The South Face reads: "TO THE PIONEER MOTHERS OF OUR MOUNTAIN STATE WHOSE COURAGE, OPTIMISM, LOVE AND SACRIFICE MADE POSSIBLE THE NATIONAL HIGHWAY THAT UNITED THE EAST AND WEST"4.  The statue was constructed from a Missouri granite, called an algonite stone that contains a mixture of granite, lead, marble, stone, and cement2 4. Each statue weighs around 12 tons. 

Since the Madonna of the Trail Statue was dedicated, the DAR has ensured that a spotlight shines upon her all the time5. In 2013, the statue went through a $30,000 repair and restoration with funds raised by the Wheeling Chapter of the DAR3. Moss had began to grow on the statue, there were cracks from weathering, and missing corners. The Statue was repaired and rededicated in August 20133 5.  

Sources

Thomson, Cindy. "Madonna of the Western Trails Historic trails saved by a future president and the Daughters of the American Revolution." Truewest: History of the American Frontier. Truewest Magazine, 1 Mar. 2007. Web. 2 Aug. 2016. . "Madonna of the Trail: The Autograph of a Nation Written Across a Continent." Indiana Daughters of the American Revoltion. Ed. Danielle Kloznick. Indiana Daughters of the American Revolution, n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2016. . "Historians Celebrate Madonna's Facelift." The Intelligencer: Wheeling News Register 21 July 2013. Web. 2 Aug. 2016. . Brusca, Frank X. "Madonna of the Trail Madonna of the Trail - West Virginia." US Route 40. N.p., 22 Oct. 2010. Web. 2 Aug. 2016. . e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Madonna of the Trail." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 24 June 2013. Web. 02 August 2016.

Address
1803-1835 National Road
Wheeling, West Virginia 26003
Phone Number
None
Hours
None--unrestricted public access.
Tags
  • Cultural History
  • Women’s History
  • Western/National Expansion
This location was created on 2014-04-22 by Harley Amos .   It was last updated on 2018-04-16 by Cynthia Prescott .

This entry has been viewed 630 times within the past year

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