The fall foliage has been particularly spectacular this year so a couple weeks ago we decided to spend a day driving around Indiana looking at the beautiful countryside. We ended up in Richmond for a late lunch, at a restaurant on U.S. 40. Route 40 is also known as the National Road. There is a Madonna of the Trail statue at Glen Miller Park in Richmond but we had never stopped to get a close look at it. Glen Miller Park is also along the National Road.
There are 12 Madonna of the Trail monuments across the country, from Maryland to California, on the National Old Trails Road. Two of the statues are close to here, the one in Richmond and the other in Springfield, Ohio. And I have visited both of them.
The 12 monuments were commissioned by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution (NSDAR) to be placed in 12 states along Route 40, from Bethesda, Maryland, to Upland, California. They serve as trail markers on the Old National Trails.
The project started in 1911 when the NSDAR took steps to make the Old Trails Road a national memorial highway and to recognize the contributions of women by erecting 12 statues along the road.
A year later the National Old Trails Road Association was formed with Judge Harry S. Truman as committee chair.
Each monument is the same–the image of a pioneer woman holding a baby in her left arm and gripping a rifle with her right hand as her young son clings to her skirt. The gun was fashioned after Daniel Boone’s rifle and the woman is standing in prairie grass and cactus brush. Arrowheads and a rattlesnake lay in the grass.
According to the sculptor, the monument was intended to depict a pioneer mother who was worried when her husband did not return home when expected. Concerned about the possibility of danger, she grabbed her infant and a gun and set out to look for her husband.
The cast statues were created by sculptor August Leimbach of St. Louis, Missouri. Each statue stands ten feet high,18 feet with the base, and weighs five tons. They are made of poured algonite stone, with Missouri granite as the main aggregate.
Inscriptions on two sides of each base are the same while the other two sides usually include local information.
All 12 monuments were dedicated between 4 July 1928 and 19 April 1929. The Springfield, Ohio, monument was the first of the twelve to be dedicated and Judge Harry S. Truman, chair of the National Old Trails Road Association, spoke at the Springfield dedication in 1928. Truman said, “They 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.”
The Springfield, Ohio, monument was originally situated along U.S. 40, The National Road, west of downtown. It has been moved several times and was relocated to the National Road Commons Park in downtown Springfield in 2011. It faces south but most of the statues face west.
The Madonna of the Trail monuments and the date each was dedicated:
Bethesda, Maryland (19 April 1929)
Wheeling, West Virginia (7July 1928)
Beallsville, Pennsylvania (8 December 1928)
Springfield, Ohio (4 July 1928)
Richmond, Indiana (28 October 1928)
Vandalia, Illinois (26 October 1928)
Lexington, Missouri (17 September 1928)
Council Grove, Kansas (7 September 1928)
Lamar, Colorado (24 September 1928)
Albuquerque, New Mexico (27 September 1928)
Springerville, Arizona (29 September 1928)
Upland, California (1 February 1929)
Over the years some statues have been refurbished, re-dedicated, or moved to new locations a short distance away because of highway changes.
We enjoyed driving through Glen Miller Park that day. Here is a nice building in the park, next to the Richmond Rose Garden.
You can read more about the Madonna of the Trail monuments here: Madonna of the Trail, Wikipedia.org.