National Road

The Cumberland Road (National Road) was the first major improved highway in the United States to be built by the federal government. The approximately 620-mile (1,000 km) long National Road provided a connection between the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers. When rebuilt in the 1830s, the Cumberland Road became the first road in the U.S. to use the new macadam road surfacing.

Construction began heading west in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, on the Potomac River. It crossed the Allegheny Mountains and southwestern Pennsylvania, reaching Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), on the Ohio River in 1818. Plans were made to continue through St. Louis, at confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and to Jefferson City upstream on the Missouri. Following the panic of 1837, however, funding ran dry and construction was stopped at Vandalia, Illinois, after crossing the states of Ohio and Indiana.

Beyond the National Road's eastern terminus at Cumberland and toward the Atlantic coast, a series of private turnpikes were completed in 1824, connecting the National Road (Pike) with Baltimore, Maryland and its port on Chesapeake Bay; these feeder routes formed what is referred to as an eastern extension of the National Road. In 1835, the road east of Wheeling was turned over to the states for operation as a turnpike. The road's route between Baltimore and Cumberland continues to use the name National Pike or Baltimore National Pike today, with various portions now signed as U.S. Route 40, Alternate U.S. 40, or Maryland 144. A spur between Frederick, Maryland, and Georgetown in Washington, D.C., now Maryland Route 355, bears various local names but is sometimes referred to as the Washington National Pike; it is now paralleled by Interstate 270 between the Capital Beltway (I-495) and Frederick.

Today, much of the alignment is followed by U.S. 40, with various portions bearing the Alternate U.S. 40 designation, or various state-road numbers. The full road, including extensions east to Baltimore and west to St. Louis, was designated "The Historic National Road, an All-American Road" in 2002.

Read more about National Road:  Route Description, National Register Designations

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