I’ve always thought it fitting that March is the month for celebrating Ohio’s 1803 Statehood Day as well as Women’s History. As the first state formed from the Northwest Territory, Ohio was the stepping stone for our nation’s westward expansion, and the women who braved untamed forests, prairies, and mountains played a key role in how the west was won.
In my opinion, nothing captures the courage, strength, and tenacity of a pioneer woman quite like the Madonna of the Trail, a statue in downtown Springfield that portrays a mother with an infant in her left hand, a rifle in her right hand, and a small boy arm grasping at her homespun skirts. She is wearing a sunbonnet, boots, and a look of pure determination.
Standing 18 feet tall, the Madonna of the Trail is on display in National Road Commons, a West Main Street park situated along the route of the old National Road (a.k.a. U.S. 40). Since the National Road was the first federally funded interstate highway, it became the main trail for pioneers moving west in covered wagons, and according to an inscription on the statue’s base, the U.S. government had completed the National Road as far as Springfield by 1839.
Springfield’s Madonna of the Trail is one of 12 identical monuments to pioneer women that the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution commissioned in cooperation with the National Old Trails Road Association. Sculptor August Leimbach created the statues from poured algonite stone, and during 1928 and 1929, they were installed along historic trail sites across the country. In fact, you could say that the Madonna of the Trail is an Ohio original because Springfield’s statue was the first to be dedicated. Future president Harry Truman, who headed the trails association, even spoke at its unveiling on July 4, 1928.
Today the Madonna of the Trail is a Springfield landmark that links the pioneers who long ago rolled down Main Street in covered wagons with the locals who now enjoy National Road Commons.
The urban park is a place where people gather for everything from weddings to ghost tours to al fresco lunches with live music and food trucks,. Yet the woman on the pedestal constantly reminds them of their city’s roots. A monument like no other in Ohio, the Madonna of the Trail stands as a silent but stalwart tribute to the pioneer spirit and the road that not only sparked Springfield’s growth but also helped build a nation.
Photo credit: National Trail Parks & Recreation District