Road trips

The National Road in Maryland

Ellicott City, MDAfter my sons and I spent a couple days in Washington, DC, we set out for home along the old National Road. I didn’t tell them, but this was the part of our Spring Break trip that I looked forward to most. I had previously driven about 275 miles of the National Road, between its end in Vandalia, IL to Vandalia, OH (north of Dayton), and was eager to see the rest of the road on this trip.

Wilson's BridgeThe National Road was the first federally funded highway in the United States. Its original segment, completed in 1818, stretched from Cumberland, MD to Wheeling, WV. By 1841, it was extended eastward to Baltimore and westward to Vandalia, IL. It was the major east-west route across America, allowing settlement of what was then considered the West. It remained important as the decades passed, allowing commerce and sometimes even troops to move from east to what had become the midwest. It remained a critical transportation corridor even into the modern era, most of it being named US 40 in 1926 when the US highway system was built. I-70 and I-68 have supplanted the National Road portion of US 40, but parallel it closely in most places.

Abandoned alignmentWe drove from DC up to Baltimore to begin our trip. I had excellent route maps in hand from the 125 M to B blog, and they showed every old alignment on the way. I knew going in that to make Wheeling before dark on the first day that we would have to keep a good pace. I would not be able to stop, enjoy, and photograph all of the sights I might like to see. To simplify driving in Baltimore during morning rush, I decided to skip the first mile or so of the road. We would not explore every stone bridge and old town. We would omit a few hard-to-reach original alignments.
The view from Gilpin Road

Even though we drove right by many sights I normally would have stopped to photograph, there was no shortage of pleasure as we experienced the old road. Maryland is absolutely gorgeous. From its charming historic towns to its breathtaking views, the National Road in Maryland is a great drive. I can’t think of a day where the boys and I said, “Wow!” so many times. One day, I’ll make an entire vacation out of properly exploring the road in Maryland.

Casselman River bridgeThe next several posts I write will be about the places we did stop in Maryland. The photos in this post are from my favorite stops – Ellicott City, the Wilson Bridge, a short abandoned alignment near Hagerstown, the view from Gilpin Road, and the Casselman Bridge.

ReadMore Like the National Road? Check out the abandoned segments in Illinois and a story about what that road was like to drive.

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4 thoughts on “The National Road in Maryland

  1. Lone Primate says:

    The National Road. I remember reading about it in ONE history of the US I had in university… but nowhere else. You’d think something like that would have the caché of Route 66 about it. Really something to see some of the route by visiting your pages. :)

    I would have thought there’d be more leaves on the trees by now that far south! It looks like stuff around here. Mind you, I guess that was a couple of weeks ago now. :)

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    • I had never heard of the National Road until maybe 10 years ago, and I lived on it for four years in college! The NR has slowly been signed as such in recent years (usually as historic/scenic byways), and some tourism is being promoted along the route. But 66 is a 20th-century thing and people relate to that better.

      I thought the trees would have been greener, too.

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  2. kurt says:

    Sorry to say we were only on the National Road breifly from about the time it enters PA from Maryland, on to Uniontown….and it was like 10pm! looked good from the interstate.

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    • We drove the superslab to DC, and I know we had to be right near the NR at several points, but I could never see it. Maybe I was too busy paying attention to the road. But when we took the NR home, the Interstate was a frequent presence, very easy to spot, and very frequently a cause for annoyance as the NR had to be rerouted around it.

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