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National Road

National Road, U.S. highway built in the early 19th cent. At the time of its construction, the National Road was the most ambitious road-building project ever undertaken in the United States. It finally extended from Cumberland, Md., to St. Louis and was the great highway of Western migration. Agitation for a road to the West began c.1800. Congress approved the route and appointed a committee to plan details in 1806. Contracts were given in 1811, but the War of 1812 intervened, and construction did not begin until 1815. The first section (called the Cumberland Road) was built of crushed stone. Opened in 1818, it ran from Cumberland to Wheeling, W.Va., following in part the Native American trail known as Nemacolin's Path. Largely through the efforts of Henry Clay it was continued (1825–33) westward through Ohio, using part of the road built by Ebenezer Zane. By this time the older part of the road was badly in need of repair. Control of the road was therefore turned over to the states through which it passed, where tolls for maintenance were collected. It was carried on to Vandalia, Ill., and finally to St. Louis. The old route became part of U.S. Highway 40. At points on the road copies of a statue called the Madonna of the Trail have been erected to honor the pioneer women who went West over the National Road.

See P. D. Jordan, The National Road (1948).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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