almost 800 miles west from Baltimore, Maryland to Vandalia,
Illinois, the National Road served as one of the most
significant predecessor roads for Route 40.
The National Road (also known as the
Cumberland Road, Cumberland Pike, National Pike and
Western Pike) was created by an Act of Congress in 1806
and signed by President Thomas Jefferson. The act called
for a road connecting the waters of the Atlantic with
those of the Ohio River. Although the Act mentions a
road from Baltimore, federal funding began in Cumberland
in western Maryland. Turnpike roads in Maryland connected
Cumberland an Baltimore. Depending on who you ask, the
National Road began in either Baltimore or Cumberland.
When the road reached Wheeling on the
Ohio River, the road was extended into Ohio, Indiana
and Illinois. There were plans to extend the road into
Missouri, however funding ran out about the time railroads
National Road runs from Baltimore, through western Maryland,
across the southwest corner of Pennsylvania and West
Virginia northern panhandle, and through Ohio, Indiana
and Illinois. In western Maryland and Pennsylvania,
the road roughly follows Braddock's
Road. In eastern Ohio, it follows Zane's
Trace. The road officially ends at the old statehouse
in Vandalia, Illinois (show in the photo on the right).
In the early part of this century, groups
formed to promote transcontinental highways. A group
was formed to promote the National Old Trails Ocean-to-Ocean
highway which ran from New York City to Los Angeles.
This road followed a significant portion of the National
Road and other historic paths. Later, the highway's
route was altered somewhat with Washington, D.C. as
the starting point.
the late 1920's, the Federal Highway System came into
being and the National Road was folded into the design
for U.S. Route 40. (It should be noted that the exact
path of the original roads is very hard to follow in
that highway construction has so drastically altered
the landscape. A careful review of the roadscape, however,
periodically reveals traces of the original path.) There
was an attempt to make the National Road, the most historic
road in America, U.S. Route 1, however doing so would
corrupt the system's numbering scheme.
The first alignment of Route 40 between
Baltimore and Vandalia followed the National Road. Over
the years, Route 40 and the National Road have become
synonymous. Even in places where Route 40 has been relocated
to newer roadways, people still refer to Route 40 as
the National Road.
Today, Interstate Highways 70 and 68
parallel the National Road.
Road Milestones. From Baltimore to Indianapolis,
the builders of the National Road erected stone markers
at one mile intervals. About 20% of them survive to
Cutoff. When the National Road was surveyed from
Wheeling, Congress instructed that it run as straight
as an arrow from one state capitol to the next. This
meant some larger cities like Dayton would be bypassed.
Angered by this political slight, the citizens of Dayton
created a misleading 'alternate' route through their
For more information about the National
Road, visit these fine web sites:
Road/Zane Grey Museum
Virginia National Road Alliance
National Road Association