Learning Lincoln On-line


The Old National Trail: Outline of Topics

National Trail Activity Tasks


Origin of the Old National Trail
A New Start!  Westward Bound   Why and Where the Emigrants would go--
Planning the Journey
Life & Death on the Trail
Wagons, Horses & Oxen
Milestone Markers & Maps
The Madonna's on the Trail
The Trail into the 20th Century
Trail On-Line Resources
Old National Trail is now U.S. 40
National Highway System Interstates and the Future

The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road, Cumberland Pike, National Pike and Western Pike) was created by an Act of Congress in 1803 and signed by President Thomas Jefferson. The road is commonly known to start around Baltimore, Maryland, but also some think Cumberland, Maryland.  The National Road has a special interest in states from Maryland to Illinois.

Here are some activities to do in conjunction with the On-Line project:

Students are to complete National Trail Notepad pages while finding information.  Remind them to document the webpage title and URL at the bottom of the pages.

1.  Create and travel on a simulated "Old Trail"

         Design and make milestone markers and put together an "Old Trail" on the school grounds.  Such things as furniture dropped off, bones of a cow, messages left on rocks or a piece of wood, and perhaps a tombstone (wooden cross of a deceased traveler) along the trail.

         "Camp out" along the trail while traveling to:  eat, drink (water, juice), sing some folk songs, talk and visit, gather sticks for the fire (simulated), and maybe even play some pioneer games (kids)

         Use a GPS device to create a map of the grounds with points marked with milestone markers.  Travelers will have to use the GPS device to find each marker.  Draw a map based upon their journey on the "old trail"

         Take on the role of a pioneer and a Native American to be met along the trail.  Trade items that each would like or need-- a peaceful meeting!

         Add other items as you and your students discover during the initial reading and research

2.  Reading and Writing:

         Have students write a Pioneer "journal" in which a month's worth of days would recorded.  The entries will include daily activities of the trip, special events, personal notes.  The journal could be illustrated. (all can be done by computer word processor and a scanner.

         Read a biography about a famous pioneer who travelled out west.  The library usually has plenty of these on the shelves.  An encyclopedia or an Internet biography could work also.  After reading the book, the student could report back about the person they read about to the class in the form of a short dramatic "dress-up" presentation, such as a  Power Point presentation , or even a colorful art work (poster, picture or chart).

         Have students write a narrative story concerning an aspect of being a pioneer on the trail to out west.  Any specific sub-topic that interests the student would be appropriate.  Set your own standards as for writing quality and quantity.

         Have students create illustrated maps of their favorite "Old West Trail."  Viewing actual old maps on the Internet or from books would give them an idea of what a 19th century map looks like.

         Teachers in the school could have a Pioneer Life day at the school.  Food, games, speeches, presenters, and displays would make a very exciting day.  Be sure to capture the event with digital and video images for presentation later.

As you can see, there are a myriad of really great things to do to teach about Pioneer Life.  I didn't mention Learning Standards.  It seems that reading, writing, math, social studies (history and geography), as well as weather, biology, and other standards could be addressed with a project.


Painting by Robert Griffing called "Uncharted", showing Lenape Indian Nemacolin  leading a party through the wilderness.

Treaty with the Delawares 1804

       Nemacolin's Trail, or less often Nemacolin's Path, was an ancient Native American trail that crossed the great barrier of the Allegheny Mountains via the Cumberland Narrows Mountain pass, connecting the watersheds of the Potomac River and the Monongahela River in the present-day United States of America. Nemacolin's Trail connected what are now Cumberland, Maryland and Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

       The path was a network of trails that had long been used by indigenous peoples in pre-colonial America. Nemacolin's Path starts near present-day Cumberland, Maryland, continuing on to Brownsville, Pennsylvania to the neighborhood known today as Redstone located at mouth of Redstone Creek. In colonial America, the site was known as Redstone Old Fort for its defensive installation.

       During 1749 and 1750, the Delaware Indian chief Nemacolin and Maryland frontiersman Thomas Cresap supervised improving the trail for the Ohio Company, at the behest of Christopher Gist. They developed the template trail and in large part the route for what became known on the eastern slopes as the eastern part of Braddock's Road. In 1755, the eastern part of Nemacolin's Path was used as military route by British General Edward Braddock in his attempt to capture Fort Duquesne.

In this section you will use the resource links for "Trail Travels" and determine:

Braddock's Road

A military road built in 1755 in what was then British America, it was the first improved road to cross the ridgelines of the Appalachian Mountains. It was constructed by troops of the Virginia Militia and British soldiers commanded by General Edward Braddock. In 1755, Braddock was sent to on an expedition to conquer the Ohio Country from the French at the beginning of the French and Indian War.  At that time, George Washington was an aid-de-camp to General Braddock and the expedition gave him his first field military experience.

       Starting from Fort Cumberland, Maryland, Braddock's army cut a military trail through the wilderness, roughly following Nemacolin's Trail, an improved, prehistoric Native American trail. While attempting to remove the French from Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh) on July 9, 1755, he was met with defeat and was fatally wounded. He was carried off the field by George Washington and another officer. Four days after the battle, he died on July 13th. He left Washington his ceremonial sash that he wore with his battle uniform, which reportedly, Washington carried with him everywhere for the rest of his life. It is on display today at Washington's home, Mount Vernon, Virginia.

       The Braddock Road was later utilized by numerous settlers moving westward, so much so, that in 1806, the Federal Government constructed the first totally federally funded highway. This highway, first called the National Road, eventually stretched from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois. Closely paralleling Braddock's route, the National Road carried thousands westward and later figured prominently in the Underground Railroad helping slaves escape before the Civil War.


Find Your Answers from these National Road Resources
& Check Out these Additional Pioneer Resources

Include the points you will research from
any or all the tasks below:

1.  Why the Trail was built?  Who would use it in the early 19th Century?  What was the Enabling Law of 1803?

2.  What was the trail before it would become a National Highway?

3.  Who was General Braddock, and what did he have to do with the National Trail?

4.  What role did the Native Americans have in starting a National Trail?

5.  What is the starting point of the trail?

6.  Who was the President when Congress made building a National Trail law?

7.  Why is this particular trail called the "National Trail"?

8.  When did it start? 

9.   What President authorized it? 

10.  Why did our country need a "coast-to-coast highway?"

11.  Where did the trail start?

12.  How did the Native Americans and Colonial Americans get around in the 18th century?

13.  How far did the original National Trail go?
 (Where did it end?)


National Trail Resources

National Trail Learning Activity Page

Learning On-Line Home Page