Polish Mountain, Allegany County, in 1921 as viewed from along the National Pike. Photo courtesy of the Maryland State Department of Forestry.
The National Pike
The National Pike, also known as the National Road and Cumberland Road, was our nation's first federally-funded road system. It traveled through Washington, PA, and became the basic route of U.S. 40, a major link in the land of the transportation chain. Known to many simply as Route 40, the National Pike was created from the drafting of a piece of legislation that was ultimately signed into law by the Federal Government and Thomas Jefferson in 1806.
The bill, which was supported by many political notables including Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay, called for the establishment of a federally-funded road system which would begin at Cumberland, Maryland, and extend through several states including Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio (ending at present-day Wheeling, West Virginia). Construction began in 1811 in Maryland, and the portion through Wheeling was completed in 1818. Later, the road was completed to Vandalia, Illinois.
The heyday of that National Road saw great times of prosperity when many Americans ventured westward. During the Civil War, the road was the center of a great deal of activity, and many young soldiers who enlisted for battle took their pass-in-review on the "Trail" as they were cheered on by patriotic townsfolk.
Wilson Bridge on Conococheague Creek near Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1982. Photo courtesy of William Edmund Barrett/Historic American Buildings Survey.
A graphic illustration depicting the National Pike, also known as the Cumberland Road and the National Road, at its greatest completion in 1839. Photo courtesy of Citynoise/Wikipedia Commons.
Taverns, inns, dry goods, and toll houses along Route 40 thrived throughout the expansion and for much of the time following. Unfortunately, with the advent of the railroad system and the invention and eventual widespread use of the automobile, the Old Pike was left nearly abandoned.
With the tireless work of many concerned citizens, an interest in the preservation of the National Road and the many historic landmarks along the way has grown and it still exists today, as a reminder of a time past.
A great preservation effort has begun and restaurants, shops, and hotels have emerged by the roadside. Each will ensure that this great historic treasure remains for future generations. We honor our National Pike and the gifts it has brought to the residents of the towns it runs through. We celebrate its rich history and the people who traveled it in order to settle in newly formed towns and communities as the western frontier opened.