Cumberland, Md.: A Place That Embraces Artists

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The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad offers a step back in history.
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The Downtown Cumberland Historic District is a vital part of the local economy.

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2013 installment of 9 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard of.

Cumberland, Maryland. When Dave and Meg Romero were considering pursuing their art full time a few years ago, they had never heard of Cumberland. But when Meg read an ad in a trade magazine for an “artist relocation program” intent on recruiting artists to the area, they turned to each other and said, “Hmmm.”

“We had to take out the atlas to even know where Cumberland was,” Dave says. “But the city was offering an incredible deal to recruit artists — grants, low-interest loans — and it seemed worth checking out.”

When they rolled into town, they were immediately struck by the town’s aesthetics. It looks like a little European village, with steeples everywhere and amazing architectural variety in its brick buildings, he says. “It’s not Disneyland — it has its warts and issues — but it is a community that’s open and working to create a brighter future.”

Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains on the banks of the Potomac River, Cumberland is the gateway to the state’s Appalachian region. The town is rich with history, from its role as a major staging point for westward wagon trains after the American Revolution and as a Union stronghold during the Civil War, to its 200 years as a source of iron ore, coal and other resources valued during the Industrial Revolution.

The economy began a protracted downward slide in the 1960s but is recovering now, partly based on the development paradigm that drew the Romeros to Cumberland. The community took advantage of a Maryland legislative initiative to establish arts and entertainment districts. The City of Cumberland and the Allegany Arts Council sponsored the artist relocation program, which brought dozens of artists and several related businesses. A focus on tourism, local food and specialty shopping drive Cumberland’s renaissance.

Some parts of the city are bike-friendly, some are not — a situation the city is working to improve, according to 30-year resident Becky McClarran, chair of the marketing committee for the Downtown Cumberland Business Association. Meanwhile, existing paths connect the Cumberland Arts & Entertainment District with other regional paths to create almost 320 miles of continuous trail for cyclists and hikers.

“It’s a serene lifestyle here,” says McClarran, who has raised three children in the community and especially loves its great neighborhoods. “Kids can be secure here and have a lot of freedom. I can’t imagine a better place to work and raise children.”

Stats: Cumberland, Maryland

Population: 20,739
Climate: 37” annual avg. precip.; January avg. high: 40 degrees Fahrenheit; July avg.high: 87 degrees F
Median household income: $31,827
Median home price: $106,500

K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden. Find her on .

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