The National Road

National Road Construction

The National Road, today called U.S. Route 40, was the first highway built entirely with federal funds. The road was authorized by Congress in 1806 during the Jefferson Administration. Construction began in Cumberland, Maryland in 1811. The route closely paralleled the military road opened by George Washington and General Braddock in 1754-55.

By 1818 the road had been completed to the Ohio River at Wheeling, which was then in Virginia. Eventually the road was pushed through central Ohio and Indiana reaching Vandalia, Illinois in the 1830′s where construction ceased due to a lack of funds. The National Road opened the Ohio River Valley and the Midwest for settlement and commerce.

National Road Map


The National Road as listed on  The Braddock Road had been opened by the Ohio Company in 1751 between Cumberland, Maryland, the limit of navigation on the Potomac River, and the forks of the Ohio River (a site that would later become Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). 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 Duquesne 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, Pennsylvania. From there, where the Braddock Road turned north to Pittsburgh, the Cumberland Road would continue west to Wheeling, West Virginia (then part of Virginia), 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, Missouri, connecting it directly to the Mississippi River, and on March 3, 1825 to Jefferson City, Missouri. Work on the extension utilized the pre-existing Zane’s Trace between Wheeling and Zanesville, Ohio, and was completed to Columbus, Ohio, in 1838 and Springfield, Ohio, 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 City and west to San Francisco, California. 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 Hancock in western Maryland, and Washington, Pennsylvania, I-70 takes a more northerly path to follow the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Breezewood to New Stanton. The later Interstate 68 follows the old road from Hancock west to Keysers Ridge, Maryland, where the National Road and US 40 turn northwest into Pennsylvania. The whole of I-68 in Maryland has been designated the National Freeway. 

·  This page was last modified on 28 May 2009 at 15:12.

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Information on the National Road In Indiana and Hendricks County

An Article from The National Traveler