America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
First Roads West: Braddock Road
Okay, we admit, it's a little odd to have a lesser known spotlight on the history of dirt and macadam, but the story of the first national road west comes with not only a bit of pre-American Revolution history, but westward expansion lore that took the men of the coastal settlements to the mountains, and now includes getting to tourism or recreation quicker for modern times. And we are talking about the west as a road that runs from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh (Fort Duquesne) at first, one which included Indians, French, the British, and George Washington to boot. Photo above: Map of Braddock's Military Road, precursor to Route 40 and the National Freeway.
Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
America's First Roads
The roads that would span this area began with General Braddock, who was a British general charged with creating a military road through the Appalachian Mountains to make it easier to confront the French at Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh. So he put together a group of men from the Virginia Militia, including some guy named George Washington, then a colornel in the militia who wanted to be in the British regular army. Hmmm. didn't turn out quite that way. Braddock began building the road in 1755, actually continuing what George Washington had started the year earlier which would lead to the first battles of the French and Indian Wars. Braddock, with Washington along as an aide, got to Fort Duquesne in fits and starts, only to meet defeat and his demise, eventually buried in the road he built.
Jump forward past the revolution and Washington's victory over the British, not with them, and you now had a federal government who wanted settlers to expand west and needed a better road to accomplish that. So, in 1811, what began with Braddock became an effort to create the National Road (also called the Cumberland Road for the town where it started). It would be the first federally funded road, spanning 620 miles from the Potomac to the Ohio Rivers. It reached Wheeling by 1818, later was expanded to Indiana, and was made a macadam (the first) road in 1830. Prior to that, it reached east to Baltimore. Today, you know it as Route 40.
After a century of being the most dominant road in the region, Route 40, with its winding turns, became a bit of a dinosaur, so in many ways, the National Freeway, which parallels the road and even becomes it in some places, now runs from Route 70, then dekes to Morgantown, West Virginia. Construction began on this incarnation in 1965 and took until 1991 to complete. This interstate only covers 112 miles or so of the original journey, but does it faster, and parallels not only those former first roads, but in many places the Potomac River to the south and the Interstate 70/Pennsylvania Turnpike to the north.
So there you have it, the history of one section of highway that moved men within the French and Indian Wars, settlers west to the Mississippi River (Route 40 eventually got across it), and now tourists to their recreation destinations in western Maryland and West Virginia. And we won't even get into the industrial designers, like Norman Bel Geddes, who in the 1930s foresaw cloverleaf construction and the entire interstate system, which leads back to why we now have I-68.
Photo above: A National Road toll booth. Courtesy Library of Congress.
Where Is It
From Baltimore - Interstate 70 takes you to Interstate 68 at Hancock, Maryland and Route 40. Route 40 goes north at Keysers Ridge into Pennsylvania and beyond. Interstate 68 connects to Interstate 79 in Morgantown, West Virginia. From points north and south, you can reach Interstate 70 at Hagerstown, Maryland on Interstate 81.
Interesting Sites Along Route
Cumberland, Maryland - Marker noting the start of the National Road in Riverside Park.
Grantsville, Maryland - Casselman River Bridge built 1813-4. Was longest single-span stone arch bridge at the time.
Sideling Hill Road Cut - On Interstate 68 showing highway cut through the Allegheny. Rest area where you can walk across a bridge near the cut provides a great view of the surrounding area.
Along Route 40 in Addison, Pennsylvania; Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and La Vale, Maryland - Three original tollhouses for you to visit.
How Much to Visit
Although the National Road did have toll booths (photo above) and was considered a turnpike in some places, the National Freeway is just that, free.
There's a number of interesting sites near the road, a couple with French and Indian War heritage, including Fort Necessity.
Photo above: The stockade or small fort that George Washington defended at Fort Necessity.
Photos, History, and More Spotlights
Merriweather Post Pavilion, Concert Amphitheater, Baltimore/Washington