The National Road, commonly called the Cumberland Road, was built by the Federal government in response to a demand for a road to tie together the East with the early West. The first route selected ran from Cumberland, Maryland, through southwestern Pennsylvania to Wheeling, West Virginia. In 1806 President Jefferson appointed a board of commissioners to decide upon the exact route through which the extended road would run. The National Road was extended through Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Indian to Vandalia, Illinois at the time it was the capital of Illinois.
According to congressional specifications it was to be sixty-six feet wide with a surface of stone covered with gravel. Bridges were to be of stone. Grades were to be leveled after the manner of good road construction. The original line from Cumberland to Wheeling was open for traffic in 1818. The first sections constructed were nearly worn out before the western units were completed. The route did terminate at Vandalia but never at any time was the National Road a good road from Cumberland to Vandalia. From Terre Haute, Indiana, it was never graded and not entirely cleared of stumps.
The National Road was the only enterprise of this kind constructed by the national government. Vandalia has the unique distinction of being the terminus of the most vital highway to the territory west of the Alleghenies. The route has historical interest second to no other in the United States.
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