Cumberland, officially the City of Cumberland, is a western gateway city and seat of Allegany County, Maryland, and the primary city of the Cumberland, MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area. At the 2010 census, the city had a population of 20,859, and the metropolitan area had a population of 103,299. Cumberland is a regional business and commercial center for Western Maryland and the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.
Historically Cumberland was known as the "Queen City," as it was once the second largest in the state. Cumberland is often referred to as "Where the South Begins." Because of its strategic location, after the American Revolution at the time of heavy migration across the Appalachian Mountains by pioneers, it served as a historical outfitting and staging point for westward emigrant trail migrations throughout the first half of the 1800s. In this role, it supported the settlement of the Ohio Country and the lands of in that latitude of the Louisiana Purchase. It also became an industrial center, served by major roads, a canal connecting to Washington, DC, and railroads.
Industry declined after World War II, and later urban, business and technological development in the state has been concentrated in eastern coastal cities. Today the Cumberland, MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area is one of the poorest in the United States, ranking 305th out of 318 metropolitan areas in per capita income.
Cumberland is named after the son of King George II, Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland. It is built on the site of the old Fort Cumberland, the starting point for British General Edward Braddock's ill-fated attack on the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne (located on the site of present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War between the French and the British. (See Braddock expedition.) This area was previously settled for thousands of years by indigenous peoples, and the fort was developed along the Great Indian Warpath.
Cumberland also served as an outpost of Colonel George Washington during the French and Indian War, and his first military headquarters was built here. Washington returned as President in 1794 to Cumberland to review troops assembled to thwart the Whiskey Rebellion.
The surrounding hillsides were mined for coal and iron ore, and harvested for timber that helped supply the Industrial Revolution. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal had its western terminus here and was built to improve the movement of goods between the Midwest and Washington, DC, the eastern terminus. Construction of railroads superseded use of the canal, as trains were faster and could carry more freight. In addition, the city developed as a major manufacturing center, with industries in glass, breweries, fabrics and tinplate.
With the restructuring of heavy industry in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states following World War II, the city lost many jobs. As a result, its population has declined by nearly half, from 39,483 in the 1940 census to fewer than 22,000 today.