TRAVELERS ON THE NATIONAL ROAD
Beverly Whitaker and --P. D. Jordan
In the early 1800s, thousands of movers and tons of merchandise
moved across the National Road, despite its haphazard quality. They
came from the Shenandoah Valley and down from rocky New England
during the 1820s, pausing to rest briefly at Cumberland, then
driving on toward Uniontown and Wheeling. Eastern goods could either
be sent upriver from Wheeling to Pittsburgh or downstream to ports
in Ohio, Indiana and on to Louisiana.
Agricultural produce and materials from the South and West came
upriver to be unloaded at Wheeling to be carried eastward over the
road to cities as far away as
Baltimore. Baltimore merchant, Timothy Collins, describing his view
of the road just east of Wheeling, said, "Wagons pulled by oxen or
horses passed in a steady stream; freight haulers, their loads piled
high and held secure by rope, jockeyed for position; and dozens of
stages, most of them lacking paint but still brave in the
aristocracy of the highway, swept forward with imperious blasts from
tin horns. Drovers, with dust heavy in matted whiskers, trudged
patiently behind cattle and sheep."
A horde of emigrants hurried westward during the golden decades
prior to the Civil War.
"Their covered wagons had been forming an endless procession ever
since the Cumberland Road was opened.
After they settled Pennsylvania, they filled Ohio. When Ohio land no
longer was available, they clumped on into Indiana to erect their
homes and plant their fields on the banks of the Wabash. They clung
like a mosquito to a denizen of the swampy
American Bottoms. It was the people's highway, and the people
crowded it from rim to edge until their carts, wagons, stages and
carriages challenged one another for the right of way."
The railroad's iron rail killed the old
but the horseless carriage resurrected it in a blaze of glory. It
had scarcely known any traffic for 40 years, but with the advent of
the automobile, there also came pleas for hard surfaced roads. As
portions of the road were improved, the traffic increased. After
World War I, travel-eager Americans took to the highways, and even
the 1929 depression failed to stem their enthusiasm and use of the
road. Reaching from East to West, it became the great highway U.S.
40, widened to three and even four lanes. It became a work road and
a hauling route as well, with truckers replacing the old six-horse
team wagons and the eight-ton freight schooners.
Those traveling west of the Alleghenies on the
considered Ohio the Frontier and Indiana and Illinois the
West of the Ohio River, there were several "S" bridges.
Engineers found it difficult and expensive to construct a
bridge where the road crossed a stream obliquely; so they
made the crossing itself perpendicular and curved the bridge around
and back in the shape of an "S." In 1834, the War Department
specified that the macadam process would replace the original
inferior surfacing east of the Ohio River. But even macadam weakened
under the continuous cutting of heavy wheels and wagons.
As the various states accepted administration and maintenance of the
they started to collect toll. The state of Pennsylvania built six
tollhouses about fifteen miles apart. There, a horse and rider paid
four cents toll; every score of light-footed sheep, six cents, a
score of cattle with sharp hooves that cut holes in the road, twelve
cents; a stagecoach with two horses, twelve cents; any vehicle with
four horses, eighteen cents. In Ohio, tollhouses stood about ten
miles apart, and rates were slightly higher. Free travel was often
permitted for going to or returning from public worship, funerals,
military muster mills, voting places, and business
establishments. Artistic signboards invited travelers to wayside
taverns. The driver's horn would bring the tavern host to his door.
He knew that the approaching stagecoach would stop to water the
horses and allow the gentlemen time for brandy and to patronize his
dining room. At night, there were beds for the passengers. Trains
reached Cumberland from Baltimore in 1842. As the rails were laid
farther west, passengers preferred to ride behind locomotives rather
than slow horses. The
was nearly abandoned until the advent of the automobile.
The total length of the
was 600 miles. Stone mile-markers were used, and some still exist.
Initially the road was called the
because it started in Cumberland,
By 1825, it was
referred to as the
because of its federal funding.
A National Road Timeline
1753 George Washington rides to order the French at
Fort Le Boeuf (Waterford, PA) to withdraw from the
Washington is sent to Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) to expel the
French. Retreats and builds Fort Necessity; surrenders to French.
British General Braddock cuts a road for his
infantry and supply wagons en route to capture
Fort Duquesne. The Army was ambushed and Braddock was killed.
Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury, proposes to exempt tax
for lands sold by Congress and to use proceeds from sale of those
public lands for construction of roads.
The enabling act for admission of Ohio to the
Union contains provisions for construction of a road linking East
and West. 1805-06 Congress passes "An Act to Regulate the Laying Out
and Making a Road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to the
State of Ohio."
Contracts are signed for construction of the first ten miles west of
Cumberland. 1818 The road reaches Wheeling. 1830s Congress begins to
turn the road over to the states for administration and maintenance.
The road enters Columbus.
Congress makes its last appropriation for the road.
Illinois opens an 89-mile clay-surfaced section
from Indiana to Vandalia, and then to the capital of Illinois.
Federal work is suspended because of lack of congressional
Indiana completes its intrastate segment.
becomes part of U.S. 40.