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Map showing the route of the National Road at its greatest completion in 1839, with historical state boundaries.


The National Road or Cumberland Road was one of the first major improved highways in the United Statesmarker, built by the federal government. Construction began in 1811 at Cumberland, Marylandmarker, on the Potomac River. It then crossed the Allegheny Mountains and southwestern Pennsylvaniamarker, reaching Wheeling, Virginiamarker (now West Virginiamarker) on the Ohio River in 1818. Plans were made to continue through St. Louis, Missourimarker, on the Mississippi River to Jefferson City, Missourimarker, but funding ran out and construction stopped at Vandalia, Illinoismarker in 1839.

A chain of turnpikes connecting Baltimore, Marylandmarker, to the National Road at Cumberland was completed in 1824, forming what is referred to as an eastern extension of the National Road. In 1835 the road east of Wheeling was turned over to the states for operation as a turnpike. It came to be known as the National Pike, a name also applied to the Baltimore extension.

The approximately 620-mile (1000 km) road provided a connection between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers. It was the first road in the U.S. to use the new macadam road surfacing. Today the alignment is mostly followed by U.S. Highway 40. The full road, including extensions east to Baltimore and west to St. Louis, was designated "The Historic National Road", an All-American Road, by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta in 2002.

History

Another mile marker west of Columbus.
The Braddock Road had been opened by the Ohio Company in 1751 between Cumberland, Marylandmarker, the limit of navigation on the Potomac River, and the forks of the Ohio River (a site that would later become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvaniamarker). It received its name during the French and Indian War when it was used in the Braddock expedition, an attempt to assault the French Fort Duquesnemarker by General Braddock and George Washington.

Construction of the Cumberland Road (National Road) was authorized on March 29, 1806 by President Thomas Jefferson. The Cumberland Road would replace the Braddock Road for travel between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, following roughly the same alignment until east of Uniontown, Pennsylvaniamarker. From there, where the Braddock Road turned north to Pittsburgh, the Cumberland Road would continue west to Wheeling, West Virginiamarker (then part of Virginiamarker), also on the Ohio River.

Construction of the new macadam road began on November 20, 1811 at Cumberland, and the road reached Wheeling on August 1, 1818. On May 15, 1820 Congress authorized an extension to St. Louis, Missourimarker, connecting it directly to the Mississippi River, and on March 3, 1825 to Jefferson City, Missourimarker. Work on the extension utilized the pre-existing Zane's Trace between Wheeling and Zanesville, Ohiomarker, and was completed to Columbus, Ohiomarker, in 1838 and Springfield, Ohiomarker, in 1838.

On April 1, 1835 the section east of Wheeling was transferred to the states, which made it a turnpike. The last Congressional appropriation was made May 25, 1838, and in 1840 Congress voted against completing the road, with the deciding vote cast by Henry Clay. By that time railroads were proving a better method of transportation; the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was being built for the same purpose — connecting Baltimore via Cumberland to Wheeling. Construction stopped in 1839, and much of the road through Indiana and Illinois remained unfinished, later transferred to the states.

In 1912 the National Road was chosen to become part of the National Old Trails Road, which would extend further east to New York Citymarker and west to San Francisco, Californiamarker. Five Madonna of the Trail monuments were erected on the old National Road. In 1927 the road was designated part of U.S. Highway 40, which still follows the National Road with only minor realignments. Most of the road has been bypassed for through travel by Interstate 70, but between Hancockmarker in western Marylandmarker, and Washington, Pennsylvaniamarker, I-70 takes a more northerly path to follow the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Breezewoodmarker to New Stantonmarker. The later Interstate 68 follows the old road from Hancock west to Keysers Ridge, Marylandmarker, where the National Road and US 40 turn northwest into Pennsylvania. The whole of I-68 in Maryland has been designated the National Freeway.

300 px
of the original toll houses is preserved in La Vale, Marylandmarker, and two others are located in Addison, Pennsylvaniamarker and near Uniontown, Pennsylvaniamarker. Many of the old arch bridges also remain on former alignments. Notable among these is the Casselman River Bridgemarker near Grantsville, Marylandmarker; built in 1813-1814 it was the longest single span stone arch bridge in the world at the time. The Wheeling Suspension Bridgemarker across the Ohio River, opened in 1849, also stands along the old road.

The following structures associated with the National Road are listed on the National Register of Historic Places:

Route description

The western terminus of the National Road at its greatest extent was at the Kaskaskia River in Vandalia, Illinoismarker, near the intersection of modern US 51 and US 40. The road proceeded east along modern US 40 through south central Illinois. The National Road continued into Indiana along modern US 40, passing by the cities of Terre Haute and Indianapolis. Within Indianapolis, the National Road used the original alignment of US 40 along West Washington and East Washington streets (modern US 40 is now routed along I-465). East of Indianapolis, the road went through the city of Richmond before entering the state of Ohio. In Ohio, the road continued along modern US 40 and passes through the northern suburbs of Dayton and the city of Columbus. West of Zanesville, Ohiomarker, despite US 40 predominantly following the original route, many segments of the original road can still be found. Between Old Washington and Morristown, the original roadbed has been overlaid by I-70. The road then continued east across the Ohio River into Wheeling in West Virginia. Wheeling was the original western end of the National Road when it was first paved. After running in West Virginia, the National Road then entered Pennsylvania. The road cut across southwestern Pennsylvania, heading southeast for about before entering Maryland. East of Keyser's Ridge, the road used modern Alt US 40 to the city of Cumberland (modern US 40 is now routed along I-68). Cumberland was the original eastern terminus of the road. In the mid-19th century, a turnpike extension to Baltimore – along what is now MD 144 from Cumberland to Hancock, US 40 from Hancock to Hagerstown, Alt US 40 from Hagerstown to Frederick, and MD 144 from Frederick to Baltimore – was approved. The approval process was a hotly debated subject due to the removal of the original macadam construction that made this road famous.

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