Preservation, Road Trips

Madonnas of the Trail

In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed 12 statues across the United States to honor pioneer mothers, those women who, with their husbands and children, went out West to build their lives.

These statues were all placed on the National Old Trails Road, an auto trail established in 1912 to connect New York to Los Angeles. Future President Harry S. Truman headed up the National Old Trails Road Association and worked with the D.A.R. to have these statues erected, one in each state.

The National Old Trails Road was routed largely over the old National Road in the east and the Santa Fe Trail in the west. Today, very broadly, if you drive US 40 to St. Louis and old Route 66 west from there, you are on or near the National Old Trails Road.

Having driven the National Road from end to end, I’ve seen five Madonnas, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Although the National Road begins in Maryland, the National Old Trails Road left the National Road so it could go through Washington, DC. The Maryland Madonna ended up on the road in Bethesda, which is not a National Road town. Also, the one time I visited the Ohio Madonna, it was inconveniently placed and I wasn’t able to photograph it. It has since been moved to a park with plenty of parking; I hope to go back and visit it one day.

The various Madonnas are colored from creamy white to reddish brown, and several of them have seen restorations, some of them more than once. Here, then, are photos of the Madonnas I’ve been able to see.

Madonna of the Trail

Beallsville, PA (2009)

Wheeling Madonna of the Trail

Wheeling, WV (2009)

Richmond Madonna

Richmond, IN (2009)

Madonna of the Trail

Richmond, IN (2018)

Madonna of the Trail

Vandalia, IL (2007)

Madonna of the Trail

Vandalia, IL (2014)

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14 thoughts on “Madonnas of the Trail

  1. I’m intrigued by the name Madonna. It seems to have religious connotations, but the statues don’t look very religious. Maybe they just liked the name?
    It’s surprising what interesting things are tucked away in the world. I was walking through a forested park some years ago and took a tiny trail that appeared to be infrequently used. Then, in the middle of nowhere, was a clearing with a statue of an historical figure on a very high pedestal. Amazingly invisible from the road or the main trails.

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    • I think they mean Madonna here in its second sense, of a virtuous woman. I believe we tend to idealize the pioneers who went west, and this is just an example of that.

      I do love coming up on what people have chosen to memorialize. I know of a monument to an Indian chief on a hill in the middle of nowhere in northern Indiana.

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