After 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.
The 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.
We 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.
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.
The 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.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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Last updated on 24 January 2020 by Jim Grey