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National Road

Lat/Long: 40.0268, -81.5022

Known also as the Cumberland Road, the National Road became the first major east-west highway constructed under the auspices of the U.S. government. Construction commenced in 1811 at Cumberland, Maryland, and continued throughout the next three decades until it reached its western terminus at Vandalia, Illinois, in 1841. Congress eventually turned over maintenance, reconstruction, and re-surfacing costs of the completed sections to the states through which they passed. Congress had plans to continue the road through St. Louis, Missouri, to Jefferson City, Missouri, but the Panic of 1837 and the consequent economic depression, coupled with the advent of railroads and steamboats, prompted it to abandon the project. In 1838, Congress made its last appropriation, and in 1839 construction ceased. In 1840, Congress voted not to complete the road to Jefferson City. It transferred construction rights for unfinished portions of the road in Indiana and Illinois to those states. The road gradually became less popular as railroads and steamboats became the preferred mode of long-distance travel in the 1840s and 1850s. Congress expended $6.8 million in building the road.

Karl B. Raitz, ed., The National Road (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996); Theodore Sky, The National Road and the Difficult Path to Sustainable National Investment (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2013); Donald Victor Harper, Transportation in America: Users, Carriers, Government (United Kingdom: Prentice-Hall, 1982), 394.