Where the Past Meets the Future
With the redesign and renovation of Baltimore Street, Cumberland’s Historic City Center will again become the community’s much-used central gathering place, a place of pride and identity for local residents and one of the must-see urban spaces for visitors.
What began as the need to replace aging infrastructure along Baltimore Street has become the transformation of the Downtown Pedestrian Mall into a beautiful, thriving hub that will be open, welcoming, safe, and organized in simple, coherent ways.
Transformation of Baltimore Street Over Time
In the late 1800s, the streets of Cumberland appeared much like they looked four decades earlier – wood-frame, mostly two- and three-story buildings lined Baltimore Street. The streets were paved with wooden blocks, and trolley car tracks supported the transportation systems that began in 1891.
The major buildings of Baltimore Street and most of those on the side streets built before 1940 still remain today. Although the occupants have changed, the structures have been preserved. Modern downtown Cumberland remains a city built between 1895 and 1940.
Downtown, especially Baltimore Street and the main cross streets, would change dramatically from 1895-1940. The dirt on the streets and the cinders from trains faded away. The new concrete sidewalks were filled with bustling pedestrian and automobile traffic patronizing the magnificent stores of the “new” downtown Cumberland. Beginning in the 1940s, the last of the frame buildings had been razed and the town’s old Civil War image now boasted modern department stores. Downtown Cumberland had become the mercantile center of western Maryland and the surrounding region and was easily accessible by the network of highways that radiated from downtown in all directions, including into West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The 1950s was a time when people dressed up to come downtown and shop at the large department stores and specialty shops. If you didn’t want to drive, buses ran frequently from other parts of the city so that people had easy access. As more and more people bought cars and transportation around the area was made easy by good roads, however, strip malls and other shopping areas grew on the outskirts of Cumberland. This would change downtown shopping like nothing had in the past.
1975 brought the first revitalization of the downtown Cumberland shopping district with new underground electrical, telephone, and cable TV lines. In May of 1978, construction of the Downtown Cumberland Pedestrian Mall began. Over the years some of the family stores that thrived to the third generation closed as indoor malls and Internet shopping caused a decline for Cumberland as a regional location to shop. The economic impact of business and industry loss had a huge impact to downtown as well.