The Story of the National Road

As briefly discussed in class, the first major public highway built in the U.S. is known as National Road, or Cumberland Road. It was constructed over the period of almost two decades, beginning in 1811 around Cumberland, Maryland and ceasing development in Vandalia, Illinois in the 1830’s. Interestingly enough, over half a century earlier, a military road was constructed along similar lines under the command of General Braddock and George Washington between 1754 and 1755 during the French and Indian War. Even though it was a highway prior to the creation of automobiles, National Road remained quite busy throughout the 19th century. However, the creation of railroads and constant expansion further west led to less usage of the road. In fact, by 1912 it officially became part of the National Old Trails Road.

Starting in the 1920s, however, federal aid led to improvements on the road, finally allowing automobiles to traverse it without damaging its integrity. Before the end of the decade it merged with U.S. Route 40. Unfortunately, the creation of interstates around the country, especially Interstate 70 in the 1960s, made the old, historic road obsolete. The road is still accessible, and some people take it to enjoy the views, which include a look back into the early history of the United States. In its heyday, the road was so widely used that small towns were created alongside it, and many of these 19th century buildings still stand. The importance of the National Road in the move westward during the earliest decades of the United States, though, will never be forgotten.

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2 Replies to “The Story of the National Road”

  1. Interesting article! Being from Maryland I find it really cool that I don’t have to go very far to visit this historic road. I’ve been to Cumberland before and I would not expect it to be the origin of such an important road. I noticed that you mention that a lot of small towns were created along the road. Why is there a lack of major cities on the road? I read the first article provided and saw that while newer interstates roads had bypassed the road, it seemed that railroads had already ended the excitement for the road.

  2. Interesting post. It’s interesting to think that the National Road took over two decades to construct. I had heard about this road before but I didn’t know that it was technically still accessible.

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