The namesake of our local ‘Cunningham’ Falls has been a mystery for years. Before the reference to the falls as ‘Cunningham’ Falls, around the 1920s, the falls were known as McAfee Falls, Harman Falls, the Cascades, and Hunting Creek Falls.
Recently, a potential answer to the ‘Cunningham’ mystery has been uncovered via the release of a transcript of interviews conducted in 1969 by representatives from the National Park Service with some of the McAfee descendants who were alive during the name transition. These transcripts have been made available by Robert McAfee of Foxville, a descendant of the interviewees.
The interviewees named Mr. and Mrs. Charles McAfee explained that there were several McAfee ‘home places’ around the falls. They acknowledge having births ‘at the falls’ and getting married there. Charles said, “I lived there four years. In 1907, 8 and 9 and10. Then I went up to Foxville.”
Charles explained that he worked in construction ‘under’ Goldsborough and Williams who were constructing youth camps. He said, “They’re the ones – Williams is the one – that named it Cunningham Falls…Williams named it that. Never nobody known like that around here.” When asked why Williams called it Cunningham Falls, Charles said, “I don’t know. No real reason for it. He just picked that and called it that.”
Charles went on to say, “…afterwards [Dr.] Bowman and a bunch of us got together to get rid of that Cunningham business…So, that’s when we tried to get it named McAfee Falls.” Conversation continued about names of the falls, referencing Hunting Creek, the Cascades, and, “when we went to school, it was called the Falls.” They estimated Charles’ reference to attending school to be around 1901.
According to Rose McAfee in a separate interview, it was, “…after they sold the timber long before the government purchased the land, the name was changed to Cunningham Falls. People from away called it Cunningham Falls all of a sudden and people around here called it McAfee Falls.”
To date, these interviews point to the most plausible explanation for the naming of ‘Cunningham’ since the timeline and printed references align.
A May 23, 2018, Frederick News-Post’s “Yesterday” post from “50 Years Ago” referenced that, “A mistake of more than 30 years standing (as of May 23, 1968) was righted recently when Maryland’s Commission on Forests and Parks renamed the falls in Cunningham Falls State Park. The official name is now McAfee Falls, honoring an old Frederick County family which settled in the area in 1790. As a logical follow-up the Forests and Parks Commission is now considering renaming the park Hunting Creek State Park.”
When looking back at the corrective actions taken to remedy this ‘mistake,’ not much was done. At one point, signage was posted “McAfee Falls” at the Falls hiking trail inside Cunningham Falls State Park. Otherwise, correcting the ‘mistake’ referenced in Frederick News Post’s “Yesterday” post has been forgotten.
With this newest discovery of information, we’ll call the ‘Cunningham’ mystery solved. It’s been an interesting path to the ‘facts,’ and we thank all who gave insight.
Regardless of its name, thousands of visitors enjoy the falls every year, which is the State of Maryland’s largest cascading waterfall, standing at 78 feet.