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National Road

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National Road


A need for an efficient system to transport both the settlers wishing to move west (to start new lives) and for the transportation of goods (manufactured and grown alike) was called for by the masses even before we were a nation. It seems only logical that a mode of transportation on land would have to be developed; for there were no waterways linking certain regions of the vast landscape we now call the United States. Most folks at the time considered water-travel to be the preferred method of transportation/travel. The "roads" that were to be built, initially, were thought of as only a means to connect the water routes of the nations to bring people, goods, territories, and trade together, and to expand the frontiers.

There were, at the time, many people who deemed a national road important to their way of life or their future prosperity. Of those early members was George Washington, a stakeholder in a company, who believed that easy travel to the western part of the nation would bring increased land values. (Crumrin 1) The advantages to the military would also be beneficial in terms of moving troops and supplies.

The "where" and "how" questions were ones that would not be easily met. The path for the road and the means to pay for it would be hotly contested topics. People of high standing at the time lobbied for the new road to include their cities as stops along the way. Business owners and politicians made up the majority of this group. However the route for the new road would be recommended by a Senate committee which convened in late December 1805. 1806 brought an Act of Congress that was signed by the president, Thomas Jefferson, which called for a road connecting the waters of the Atlantic with those of the Ohio River. (Brusca 2) Cumberland Maryland had been designated as the starting point with the Ohio River as its destination.


Legislation followed that determined the road end in Mississippi intersecting the state capitals of the states it followed along the way.

One must remember that in days of the roads inception; there was no heavy equipment to be utilized. Manual labor, in the form of men and animals, would be the driving force behind the completion of the road and in the vision of the straightest route possible to the west. It was going to be a difficult venture. Low areas would be raised and hills cut into in order to stay a course that was straight and true. Rivers were to be crossed at points that were the "most navigable, not where most convenient."(Crumrin 2) S-bridges crossed the waterways of the national road's path and lead to speculation as to their design. Some people were led to believe various stories as to why the engineers designed the bridges the way they did. These myths included theories of intoxication to others of getting traffic to slow down for the slick surfaces of the brick paving. When in fact it was just more practical to cross the water at a path perpendicular to the flow of the river or stream.

Routes east of the Ohio River including Pennsylvania and western Maryland generally followed what was called Braddock's Road. This was a road used by the military of the day. It was laid on the path set by an Indian named Nemacolin, hired by George Washington at an earlier date, who followed an even older Indian trail. Routes west of the Ohio River were to stay a course close to that of Colonel Ebenezer Zane, also known as Zane's trace. Zane's trace started in Wheeling and headed west following footpaths of the Native Americans on a route that went through Zanesville, Chillicothe, and ending in Maysville. The National Road continued west at Zanesville on its route towards Columbus and onwards to the other state capitals along


the way. Once the course was decided upon it was only a matter of funding and building it, no small feat unto its own.

Financing such a venture of this magnitude is no easy task and just as it is today; not simple to get agreement as to who bears the cost. A man named Albert Gallatin in association with others helped to find a solution. A letter known as the "Origin of the National Road" proposed that monies be garnered from federal land sales (exempt from state taxation) and earmark a percentage of the profit

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