The idea of marking a highway began in Missouri about 1909 when a group of women formed a committee to locate the Old Santa Fe Trail in Missouri. This committee was influential in securing an appropriation from the state of Missouri to mark the trail with suitable boulders or monuments.
This idea further developed into plans for a highway to be designated as the National Old Trails Road, by Act of Congress, and the work of marking was carried on in conjunction with the National Old Trails Road Association.
In 1911, the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution established a national comniittee known as the National Old Trails Road Committee whose work was, primarily, to definitely establish the Old Trails Road as a great National Memorial Highway.
In 1912, the National Old Trails Road Association came into being and stated in its bylaws: "The object of the Association shall be to assist the Daughters of the American Revolution in marking Old Trails and to promote the construction of an Ocean-to-Ocean Highway of modern type worthy of its memorial character." The Association, under the guidance of its president Harry S. Truman, guaranteed the expense of erecting the monuments.
In 1924, the plan for the proposed monument was changed from a small cast iron marker on the Trails to a new plan which involved the erection of 12 large markers. In 1927, the proposed design "The Madonna of the Trail," was accepted by the Daughters of the American Revolution's 36th Continental Congress.
"The Madonna of the Trail" is a pioneer woman clasping her baby with her young son clinging to her skirts. The face of the mother, strong in character, beauty and gentleness, is the face of a mother who realizes her responsibilities and trusts in God. It has feeling of solidity, a monument which will stand through the ages.
The figure of the mother is of heroic proportions, 10 feet high with a weight of 5 tons. The base on which the figure stands is 6 feet high and weighs 12 tons. This base rests on a foundation which stands 2 feet above ground level which makes the monument 18 feet tall.
The figure and the base are made of algonite stone (a poured mass), of which Missouri granite is the main aggregate, thus giving the monuments a warm, pink shade which is the color of Missouri native granite. It was expected that this stone had admirable aging qualities and, with time, would improve in color and solidity.
On the two sides of the base are found mention of historic data or local commemoration. These inscriptions are of the Revolutionary period or of early history in the respective localities.
These monuments were erected in each of the 12 states through which the National Old Trails Road passes. The monument was designed and sculpted by August Leimbach of St. Louis. The idea for the design was suggested by Mrs. John Trigg Moss, chairman of the DAR national committee.
At Bethesda, Maryland, in the week of April 19, 1929, the twelfth of the series of monuments erected by state organizations of the Daughters of the American Revolution was dedicated, to mark the Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in honor of the pioneer mothers of the covered wagon days.
This completed the memorialization of the trail of a young nation as they traveled across the Allegheny Mountains to make their homes in the great western wilderness.
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