Famous Travelers: Edison, Ford, Firestone Travel Through Allegany County
By Francis Champ Zumbrun
“I like to get out in the woods and live close to nature. Every man does. It is in his blood. It is his feeble protest against civilization.’’ - -Thomas Edison at Muddy Creek Falls, 1921
In the summer of 1921, Thomas Edison, world famous inventor; Henry Ford, automobile manufacturer; and Harvey Firestone, tire magnate; camped out at two different locations in Western Maryland. Traveling on Route 40 from one campsite to the other took these well-known men from east to west through the entire width of Allegany County.
From July 21 to 27, they camped in Washington County on a 200-acre farm located along Licking Creek, about six miles east of Hancock. From July 27 to 31, they camped in Garrett County along Muddy Creek, at present-day Swallow Falls State Park.
Edison, Ford and Firestone were business partners and knew each other from working together on various business projects over the years. Their working relationship transformed into a bond of great friendship through the experiences they shared camping together about two weeks each summer from 1915 through 1924. On these camping trips, these wealthy captains of industry called themselves “vagabonds” as they roughed it together in the great outdoors away from civilization.
The publicity that followed these celebrated men on their summer adventures helped to introduce to the general public the pleasure of motorized recreational touring, outdoor recreation and camping. Historians have noted that these camping trips were “the first notable linking of the automobile and outdoor recreation.”
The loud sounds of the motor caravan breaking the quiet of the rural countryside would have certainly drawn the attention of anyone within hearing distance. An Allegany County citizen standing at the right place at the right time along the National Road on the afternoon of July 27, 1921 would have certainly noticed the long caravan of vehicles passing through the area.
Their trip from Licking Creek to Muddy Creek took them all the way through the entire length of Allegany County from east to west on the dirt-covered and little-traveled National Road.
Allegany citizens would have seen Edison, the self-appointed navigator, leading the motorcade in an open touring car with compass and map in hand. Edison told reporters that their plan that summer “was to get to the wildest sections” of “the Cumberland Mountains.”
Firestone later noted that Edison disliked paved roads and never selected a main road if he could find a back road to their destination. Based on Firestone’s comments, Edison would have enjoyed traveling on back roads of Green Ridge State Forest.
In the early afternoon the caravan of cars and trucks crested Town Hill, perhaps taking time to stop and see the spectacular scenery from the overlook. Popular postcards at that time described this area as “the beauty spot of Maryland.”
The vagabonds certainly would have noticed the newly constructed Town Hill Hotel, said to be the first hotel constructed along the national turnpike in Western Maryland to cater to automobile traffic. The Town Hill Hotel is still in business today as a popular bed and breakfast tourism destination.
On Green Ridge Mountain, they would have seen a seemingly unending apple orchard stretching as far west as Polish Mountain. Most of the apple trees they saw were part of the Mertens family Green Ridge Valley Orchard Co. that had gone bankrupt three years earlier in 1918. Today much of this area makes up Green Ridge State Forest.
The section of Scenic Route 40 the vagabonds drove through between Belle Grove and Fifteen Mile Creek, surrounded by Green Ridge State Forest, is considered today to be one of the most pristine sections remaining between Baltimore and Vandalia, Ill. Valued for its magnificent views and natural beauty, this section of the National Road was listed in 2006 as a Last Chance Scenic Place by Scenic Maryland Inc.
On the vagabonds went, past the Flintstone Hotel and The Old Stone House on the east side of Martin’s Mountain, through the Cumberland Narrows, ascending the Allegheny Front starting at the foothills west of LaVale, passing the old Clarysville Inn, and the historic Failinger’s Hotel Gunter in Frostburg, and onward toward present-day Swallow Falls State Park.
In upcoming articles, we will see how in 1921, Western Maryland, through the outdoor adventures of Edison, Ford and Firestone, at campsites along Licking Creek and Muddy Creek, helped to play a significant role to introduce and promote the joy and values of the great outdoors to a national audience.
Photographs (top to bottom):
Henry Ford clowns while Thomas Edison beams during a rest stop on a camping trip. This picture is probably the only one ever taken of Ford with a cigarette. The auto king and Edison both abhorred the use of "little white slavers," as they called cigarettes.
Henry Ford , Thomas Edison and John Burroughs in a Model T.
John Burroughs was an original member of the "vagabonds." He died earlier in 1921.
Thomas A Edison (L) and Henry Ford (R)
Maryland State Forester Francis Champ Zumbrun, author, is the former Manager of Green Ridge State Forest.
Originally Published in the Cumberland Times News, Nov. 1, 2008
This is the first part of an occasional series about Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone’s travels to Western Maryland, originally published in the Cumberland Times News.