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The National Road: 1811-1852

The settlement of the Ohio valley, and the admission of Ohio to the Union in 1803, prompts the construction of the USA's first great federal road project. In 1802 the government undertakes to link the Ohio valley with the Atlantic. Construction begins in 1811 at Cumberland in Maryland, which is already reached by a state road from Baltimore.

The new highway, known variously as the National Road or the Cumberland Road, is completed by 1818 as far as Wheeling on the Ohio river. It reaches Colombus, Ohio, in 1833 and stretches as far west as the Mississippi by 1852. The route survives still, as the trunk road US40.


Built with a compacted stone surface, to the new standards pioneered in Britain by McAdam, the National Road has an immediate effect on the economy of the frontier regions.

When the road reaches Wheeling, transportation times betweens the Ohio river and the eastern seaboard are halved. Grain, hemp and wool from the west now make their way easily to the rich eastern states where they find a ready market.


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