National Road

The National Road (also known as the Cumberland Road) was the first major improved highway in the United States to be built by the Federal Government. About 620 miles (1,000 km) long, the National Road connected the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and was a gateway to the West for thousands of settlers. When rebuilt in the 1830s, the Cumberland Road became the first U.S. road surfaced with the macadam process pioneered by Scotsman John Loudon McAdam.

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. Subsequent efforts pushed the Road across the states of Ohio and Indiana. Plans were made to continue through St. Louis, at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and to the territorial capital of Jefferson City of the Missouri Territory (previously the old Louisiana Purchase of 1803, and the later part of which became the State of Missouri), upstream on the Missouri River. After the Financial Panic of 1837 and the resulting economic depression, however, Congressional funding ran dry and construction was stopped at Vandalia, Illinois, the territorial capital of the Illinois Territory, northeast of St. Louis and the Mississippi River.

Beyond the National Road's eastern terminus at Cumberland and toward the Atlantic coast, a series of private Toll roads and turnpikes were completed in 1824, connecting the National Road (also known as the "Old National Pike") with Baltimore, Maryland, then the third largest city in the U.S.A., and its major maritime port on Chesapeake Bay; these feeder routes formed what is referred to as an eastern extension of the federal National Road. In 1835, the road east of Wheeling was turned over to the several states for either state maintenance or operation as a private regulated franchise as a turnpike. The road's route between Baltimore and Cumberland continues to use the name National Pike or Baltimore National Pike and as Main Street in Ohio 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;[citation needed] 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. Route 40, with various portions bearing the Alternate U.S. Route 40 designation, or various state-road numbers (such as Maryland Route 144 for several sections between Baltimore and Cumberland). 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, and the later constituting of a supporting organization of "National Road" enthusiasts, historians, engineers and state officials.

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