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)

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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16 responses to “Madonnas of the Trail”

  1. J P Avatar

    Wow, I had never heard of these. I love obscure history like this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My friend, you’ve come to the right place for obscure history.

  2. Nancy Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Stewart

    I second that …. I had not heard of these either. Thank you for enlightening us !!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Now you know and can seek them out whenever you are close to one!

    2. Marilyn riley Avatar
      Marilyn riley

      Yes, the one in Ohio was moved to the downtown location on Main Street in Springfield several years ago.

      1. Jim Grey Avatar

        Unfortunately when I visited the Springfield Madonna it was still in its previous hard-to-access location.

  3. Marcus Peddle Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  4. DougD Avatar

    This reminded me of the “Giants of the Prairies” song:

    Maybe someone should write a “Madonnas of the Trail” song…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Lol, somebody should!

  5. Diana Avatar

    DAR did a calendar of pictures of the Madonna’s I am pretty sure I still have mine. I have seen two of them. Indiana and Pennsylvania.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There are 12, so a calendar would be perfect!

  6. Photography Journal Blog Avatar

    I also had never heard of these, really interesting. I shared a link here in my Twitter feed. This is the type of thing I would definitely stop to check out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the share!!

  7. M.B. Henry Avatar

    Wow this is news to me! I will have to start keeping an eye out next time we’re around those parts. Great post and pics

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wikipedia has a complete list of them and their locations.

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