Wagon train ride highlights National Pike Festival
In the early 1800s, travelers rode the National Pike in horse-drawn, covered wagons. The road was forged through mountains and trees over the course of roughly 40 years, creating a path from the Baltimore area toward Illinois to the west.
Chad Walker of Clear Spring will lead a contingent on a three-day journey along a portion of that trail with the National Pike Festival and James Shaull Wagon Train. The festival is scheduled to take place Friday, May 17 through Sunday, May 19.
Walker, 26, of Clear Spring is secretary and treasurer of the festival and the James Shaull Wagon Train Foundation, which he said has retraced the path of early travelers for more than 25 years.
James Shaull was a festival founder who used the Belgian horses from his Boonsboro farm to guide wagon train participants. The festival route begins at Plumb Grove in Clear Spring, stops overnight at Funkstown Community Park, and ends at Shafer Park in Boonsboro with several other stops along the way.
Intent on preserving history and heritage, Shaull served as Wagon Master for the 2000 National Pike Festival, Walker said, and died shortly thereafter in a farming accident. Shaull not only reenacted at National Pike Festival, but at the presidential Inaugural Parade in Washington D.C. and at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor events.
Walker shares in Shaull’s passion to remember and celebrate earlier times. He and Steven Divelbliss, 30, of Clear Spring, took the reins of the James Shaull Wagon Train Foundation with Divelbliss serving as president.
“Two years ago, the foundation was about ready to fold as older people were ready to give it up,” Walker said. “We took over because we felt it was historical and educational and that people should see how it was to live back then in the 1800s. So we reenact colonial times and travel.”
The festival requires road permits and extensive logistical planning, he said. The Maryland State Highway Administration, Maryland State Police, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and fire police organizations provide support. Two deputies travel and stay with the group throughout the weekend.
The festival is open to the public for its Friday kickoff from 4 to 9 p.m. at Plumb Grove. The National Pike Days celebration there will feature bluegrass music, horses, mules, a photo exhibit, a quilt display, encampment visiting and food for purchase.
The wagon train will have around 30 participants with 14 wagons and several outriders, meaning people riding on horseback. Reenactors come from Washington County as well as Baltimore and La Plata, Md., Stephens City, Va., and other areas.
“They own historic wagons. Most of them have bought and preserved them and provide upkeep and maintenance. It’s hard to find wagons like that nowadays,” Walker said.
Harnessing and hitching will be from 6 to 8 a.m. Saturday morning. Several area businesses and organizations including Clear Spring Ambulance Club, Bill’s Barber Shop, Sweetsie’s Eats and Treats, and others, will offer activities, specials and prizes at part of National Pike Days.
The train will depart Plumb Grove at 9 a.m., traveling U.S. 40 and stopping in Clear Spring at Wilson’s Store and in Hagerstown at Wacohu Grange Hall, Hagerstown City Park and Ravenwood Lutheran Village, where “a lot of the older folks there like to see the horses and wagons,” Walker said.
Travel from Clear Spring to Hagerstown will take about three hours.
“Traveling even a short distance used to be time-consuming and require a lot of upkeep,” Walker said. “You had to care for the horses and water the wheels to be sure the wood swells and fits into the steel band that the wood is in. In the summertime, it would dry out.”
On Saturday night, the group will share stories around a fire and rest up at Funkstown Park, then depart at 10 a.m. Sunday for the remainder of the trip. Scheduled arrival time at the final destination at Shafer Memorial Park in Boonsboro is 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
Over the course of its travels, Walker said, the wagon train receives the attention of several thousand spectators.
“We really want to keep this going, to show people that you couldn’t always hop in the vehicle and go to Walmart. You needed a horse and a Conestoga wagon to get from point A to point B,” he said. “We kind of get a reaction that people don’t really know how it was long ago. Educating people about history gives you a good feeling.”
Top photo: Horse-drawn wagons will be a part of the three-day National Pike Festival. (Submitted photo)