National Road

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United States  Gotoarrow.png  Migration  Gotoarrow.png  Trails and Roads  Gotoarrow.png  National Road

The National Road, or Cumberland Road, or National Pike was the first road built by the United States federal government. Construction was authorized in 1806, begun in 1811, at Cumberland, Maryland, and stopped at Vandalia, Illinois in 1839, a distance of about 620 miles (1,000 km).[1]
Map of the National Road about 1839. It was finished and extended east and west by using state funds.

It crossed the Appalachian (Allegheny) Mountains and connected the Potomac River and Ohio River. It became one of the important routes west through the mountains to the old Northwest, and from there to the Midwestern United States.

As roads developed in America settlers were attracted to nearby communities because the roads provided access to markets. They could sell their products at distant markets, and buy products made far away. If an ancestor settled near a road, you may be able to trace back to a place of origin on a connecting highway.

Historical Background

The National Road was an early example of a macadamized highway in the United States. Parts of the National Road followed parts of routes of the older Braddock's Road and Zane's Trace.[1]

Congress authorized the road to be built to St. Louis, Missouri on the Mississippi River in 1820, and in 1825 to Jefferson City, Missouri.[1]

But the road construction was cronically under funded. Work began in 1811 on the Potomac River at Cumberland, Maryland. By 1818 it had reached the Ohio River at Wheeling, (West) Virginia. Construction reached Zanesville and later Springfield, Ohio in 1838. Construction stopped in 1839 with much of the road unfinished to Vandalia, Illinois. Congress voted to not finish the road in 1840 because railroads were a better means of transportation. The construction of the remaining portions of the National Road was turned over to the states. Furthermore, the section of National Road from Cumberland to Wheeling was turned over to the states in 1835, which used it as a turnpike (toll road).[1]

In 1824 a set of turnpikes were finished from Baltimore to Cumberland. These were treated as an eastern extension of the National Road. The states did finish the remaining sections connecting to Vandalia, Illinois after 1840. And eventually state funded roads connected Vandalia to St. Louis, and Jefferson City, Missouri to complete the western extension of the National Road.[1]

The pinnicle of fame and use for the road was 1825. Huge Connestoga produce wagons and droves of cattle plied the road at this time when its history was told in song, story, painting, and poetry. Another surge of use came in the 1840s with regular stagecoach schedules and frequent inns and taverns along the way. Traffic declined significantly by the 1870s because of railroads. Today, the remnaints of the National Road are marked by quaint toll houses, old stone bridges, and stone "Cumberland" mile markers.[2]


(East to West)[1]

  • Baltimore, Maryland (in later years)
  • Cumberland, Maryland
  • Wheeling, (West) Virginia
  • Zanesville, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Terre Haute, Indiana
  • Vandalia, Illinois
  • St. Louis, Missouri (in later years)
  • Jefferson City, Missouri (in later years)

Settlers and Records

No lists of settlers who used the National Road are known to exist.

In general people who used the National Road were from more Eastern states, especially Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virgina, West Virginia, and Ohio. They were most likely to have settled along the road or on various spurs in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, or in Midwestern states like Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, or Missouri.

Wikipedia has more about this subject: National Road

External Links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Wikipedia contributors, "National Road," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed October 4, 2010).
  2. Rickie Longfellow, "The National Road" in Highway History at (accessed 4 October 2010).