Clark County, Ohio

History and Genealogy



The National Road


From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 280


The National road, known in law, and for many years generally, as the Cumberland road, on account of its eastern terminus at Cumberland, Md. The opening of this "good, broad highway leading down" was a prominent event in the history of the whole Northwest Territory, and especially so in that of the counties and towns through which it passed. Few of the present generation, or at least the younger portion of it, are, apparently, familiar with the record of this once celebrated avenue, yet the perusal of that record will bring to mind many deeds and names, dates and facts connected with an important epoch in the history of our whole country. The work is a monument that may call to mind the good old days of honest contractors and able supervision. More than half a century has elapsed since it was constructed, yet its details of location, grades, road-bed, masonry, bridges, etc., are, in a general way, as good as when first established. The Government monogram, U.S., is as clearly visible upon all these, as though it were as indelibly stamped there, as it is upon muskets and mail-bags.

The history of this important public work begins with the admission of Ohio into the Union, having its origin in the same act, from which the following is extracted.

"An act to enable the people of the eastern division of the territory northwest of the river Ohio to form a constitution and State Government, and for the admission of said State into the Union, etc. * * * * Be it enacted, etc., * * * * * * * * * * * Secton 7 (last paragraph), "That one-twentieth part of the net proceeds of the lands lying within said State, sold by Congress from and after the 30th day of June next, after deducting all expenses incident to the same, shall be applied to the laying-out and making public roads, leading from the navigable waters emptying into the Atlantic to the Ohio, to the said State, and through the same. Such roads to be laid out under the authority of Congress, with the consent of the States through which the roads shall pass." * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Provided, That the said State shall provide by an ordinance, irrevocable without the consent of the United States, that each and every tract of land sold by Congress, after the 30th day of June next, shall be and remain free from any tax, laid by said State, for the term of five years from the day of sale." Approved April 30, 1802.

During the session of the Congress of the year 1806, an act was passed entitled "An act to regulate the laying-out and making a road from Cumberland, in the State of Maryland, to the State of Ohio." President Jefferson, in his special message of January 31, 1807, says: I appointed Thomas Moore, of Maryland, Joseph Kerr, of Ohio, and Eli Williams, of Maryland, Commissioners to lay out the said road and to perform the other duties assigned to them by the said act. The progress which they made in the execution of the work, during the last season, will appear in their report, now communicated to Congress. on the receipt of it, I took measures to obtain the consent for making the road, of the States of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, through which the Commissioners proposed to lay it out. I have received acts of the Legislatures of Maryland and Virginia, giving the consent desired; that of Pennsylvania has the subject still under consideration, as it supposed.

"Until I receive full consent to a free choice of route through the whole distance, I have thought it safest neither to accept nor reject, finally, the partial report of the Commissioners. Some matters suggested in the report belong exclusively to the Legislature."

Again, in his special message of February 19, 1808, President Jefferson says:

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

The States of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, having, by their several acts, consented that the road from Cumberland to the State of Ohio, authorized by the act of Congress of the 29th of March, 1806, should pass through those States, and the report of the Commissioners communicated to Congress with my message of the 31st of January, 1807, having been duly considered, I have approved of the route therein proposed for the said road, as far as Brownsville, with a single deviation since located, which carries it through Uniontown.

From "Notes on the Administration of Jefferson," the following is quoted as a key to the then prevailing political sentiments of different factions, especially in regard to "internal improvements:"

"It was opposed on the constitutional ground that the power of making roads was not given to Congress, but, to obviate this objection, the consent of the States through whose territories the road was to pass (Maryland, Virginia and Ohio) was first required. Yet if Congress had not the power of making roads, as was contended, the consent of the State could not give it.

"The bill passed, however, with the approval of President Jefferson, but the question continued to be long afterward a subject of controversy between those who were severally disposed to a strict and a liberal construction of the constitution."

For many years the affairs pertaining to the road were prominent among the questions of the day, not only in Congress, but also with the people. Want of space forbids anything more than a brief outline of the rise and progress of the work. During the administration of President Monroe (1817), a bill was passed, by Congress, making an appropriation for the continuing of this road, but it was vetoed, by the President, on the ground that it was unconstitutional. In May, 1830, President Jackson vetoed the bill for constructing a similar road in Kentucky, known as the "Maysville road." From the accompanying message "Old Hickory's" views of the subject are quoted:

"No less than twenty-three different laws have been passed through all the forms of the constitution, appropriating upoard of $2,500,000, out of the national treasury, in support of that improvement (the Cumberland road), with the approbation of every President of the United States, including my predecessor, since its commencement." This position of the President awakened a strong current of re-action, and many of the best administration men yet clung firmly to the policy of a liberal suport of the then popular system of internal improvements. At the next session of Congress (1831), several bills were passed, appropriating money for various public works, among which was the Cumberland road extension, through Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

The pressure of public opinion was so great that the Executive yielded, the bills were approved and became laws.

The road was entirely completed as far west as the property of Col. Peter Sintz, a little beyond Mad River Bridge. The survey and location were extended to Indianapolis, Ind., and a portion of the road opened, culverts built, etc., but the age of steam supplanted that of muscle, and the building of the early railroads connecting this Western country with the Atlantic seaboard deprived the road of its prestige; for many years Congress neglected to make appropriations for the necessary repairs, until finally, it was transferred to the States through which it passed. After this time, Ohio's portion became a part of the public works of the State and was cared for by the various acts of the Legislature until 1876, when that body reduced it to the level of other turnpikes, by placing it in charge of the Commissioners of the different counties through which the road extended.

The "specifications" were of the "red tape" variety, and called for "thirty-three feet clear roadway," with three successive coverings of broken stone, to be passed over fifty times with an iron roller, of regulation length, diameter and weight. "The stones to be no larger than would pass through an iron ring, the inside diameter of which was 2.25 inches," etc. The construction was in charge of engineer officers detailed from the United States Army, many of whom were "West Pointers," and some of these gentlemen were a little inclined to manifest their importance to the plain old Buckeyes of "ye olden time."

In conclusion, the appended sketch is given, as being as much descriptive of the relation the "Old Pike" bore to Clark County, as to the portion especially referred to by the writer:

"The national turnpike that led over the Alleghanies from the East to the West is a glory departed, and the traffic that once belonged to it now courses through other channels; but it is simply because it is the past that the few old men living who have reminiscences of it glow with excitement and exalt it in recalling them. Aroused out of the dreamy silence of their ebbing days by a suggestion of it, the octogenarians who participated in the traffic will tell an inquirer that never before were such landlords, such taverns, such dinners, such whisky, such bustle or such endless cavalcades of coaches and wagons as could be seen or had in the palmy days of the old national "pike;" and it is certain that when the coaching days were palmy, no other post-road in the country did the same business as this fine old highway, which opened the West and Southwest to the East. The wagons were so numerous that the leaders of one team had their noses in the trough at the end of the next wagon ahead; and the coaches, drawn by four or six horses, dashed along at a speed of which a modern limited express might not feel ashamed. Once in awhile Mr. Clay or Gen. Jackson made an appearance, and answered with stately cordiality the familiar greetings of the other passers-by. Homespun Davy Crockett sometimes stood in relief against the busy scene, and all the statesmen of the West and South — Harrison, Houston, Taylor, Polk and Allen among others — came along the road to Washington. The traffic seems like a frieze with an endless procession of figures. There were sometimes sixteen gayly painted coaches each way a day; the cattle and sheep were never out of sight; the canvas-covered wagons were drawn by six or twelve horses with bows or bells over their collars; the families of statesmen and merchants went by in private vehicles; and while most of the travelers were unostentatious, a few had splendid equipages.

"Its projector and chief suporter was Henry Clay, whose services in behalf are commemorated by a monument near Wheeling.

"The coaches ceased running in 1853; the 'June bug,' the 'good intent,' and the 'landlord's,' as the various lines were called, sold their stock, and a brilliant era of travel was ended."