Cumberland, Indiana: The Little Town That Could!
The town of Cumberland, Indiana is a true life example of the beloved children’s story “The Little Engine That Could.” Just as the small switch engine stepped up when other engines shied away from the colossal task of pulling the heavy train over the hill; Cumberland resisted Indiana’s Department of Transportation planned massive road-widening project along the National Road and said, “I can keep my small town character; I can keep my pedestrian friendly main street; I can keep my identity along the historic National Road; and I can keep being Cumberland, Indiana.
Rather than using outright confrontation with INDOT, the town succeeded in its efforts to save itself with strong optimism, professionalism, and that “Can Do” Midwestern spirit. A little more than a decade later, the efforts of its residents to maintain their identity is evident. Cumberland has kept its historic homes, commercial buildings and mature trees along the Washington Street/US 40 corridor that bisects the community. Even more so, vehicular traffic is calmed and slowed by the new narrow lanes and wide sidewalks. Lighting along the corridor emulates historic gas lights and parkings (the plantings separating sidewalks from street) add color and shade to the once auto-centric now pedestrian-friendly streetscape.
But Cumberland’s unique character and identity is much more than new street trees and pavement. Since its founding in 1831, just ten years after Alexander Ralston platted the capital city of Indianapolis, and twelve years after Indiana became the 19th state; the town is indelibly linked to the settling and westward expansion of the United States. Its location; a day’s journey by covered wagon, east of the center of Indianapolis is along the first National Road in the country making it the gateway to Indianapolis from the east, and a fond farewell transition from the big city to the rural landscape of east-central Indiana. Through its expansion during the last century and a half, it now straddles two Indiana counties, Marion and Hancock; making for a challenging yet workable government structure. The town’s nearness and farness from Indianapolis offers big city culture “next to” rural farm fields and suburban subdivisions.
Today, getting to, through and from Cumberland, Indiana has come full circle from even before the 19th Century. Due to the visionary leaders of the town who see Walkability and the integration of Complete Streets as a means to building community and maintaining the town’s original character; old transportation corridors have been re-invented to serve modern needs. In addition to the street improvements along the historic road, the abandoned Pennsylvania Railroad corridor running parallel and south of the National Road is being converted to a pedestrian/bicycle rail trail along its length by each town and county it runs through. The section in Cumberland is known as the Cumberland-Pennsy Rail Trail. And while it is connected to the future Hancock County Pennsy Trail to the east, and the partially completed Indianapolis Pennsy Trail to the west; through details in site furnishings and signage; each section maintains its own identity. The constructed rail trail is wisely connected at convenient trail heads to the sidewalks along the National Road by pathways. Additionally, an off-street IndyGo bus stop, complete with shelter, benches, waste receptacle, and landscaping provides a thoughtful connection to the nearby Meijer store. It also extends possibilities for connecting to downtown Indianapolis, farther west to the Indianapolis International Airport and by extension the rest of the world.
The most recent project illustrating Cumberland’s unique identity and character blending the old and new, the urban and the rural, the natural landscape and the built; its past and its future is the awarding of a 1.3 million dollar grant to construct the Buck Creek Trail running north-south along the creek. When completed the trail will allow pedestrians and bicyclists to follow the paths of the buck and other wildlife that have traversed and inhabited this part of Indiana for thousands of years. It will connect the residents north of the National Road to their southern neighbors; the Hancock County portion of the city to the Marion County section; the main street to the suburbs, and the downtown to the farmland; all under the guise of connectivity but moreso keeping Cumberland, Indiana---well Cumberland, Indiana.