Abandoned 1930s Maryland National Road pavement

The automobile created demand for good roads in the early 20th century. Dirt and gravel were upgraded to brick, concrete, and asphalt. Hills were leveled, valleys were filled, and curves were straightened.

Not quite two miles past the Wilson bridge west of Hagerstown, MD, lies this example of state-of-the-art roadbuilding circa 1930. A straightened and widened US 40 (at left in the photo) left it behind, obsolete.

Abandoned alignment

Compare this photo to the one below, from 1932, at a place called Puzzley Run near Grantsville, Maryland. It shows this type of road being built.

Looking west at Puzzley Run Relocation.

Here’s another period photo showing this road being built on Polish Mountain east of Cumberland, Maryland. See a Polish Mountain view from our trip here.

Road realignment on Polish Mountain

What’s interesting is that this now-obsolete road was a major improvement and often came with eliminating dangerous curves to make the road safer.

This road is probably 16 feet wide or so, including the concrete shoulders. Oncoming semis would find this a tight squeeze, but that wasn’t an issue in the 1930s as railroads still moved most goods around the country. Modern highway lanes are 12 feet wide, not including shoulders, to make room for semis.

It’s hard telling why this section of road was not torn out when the new road was built, but it’s cool to see it now.

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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17 responses to “Abandoned 1930s Maryland National Road pavement”

  1. Lerch Avatar

    This is my favorite entry of yours so far. What a neat find, and I love the historical context.

    1. Jim Avatar

      And to think I almost didn’t write this one up because I wasn’t sure anybody would enjoy it!

  2. Christopher Busta-Peck Avatar

    There are several sections in Maryland that were seemingly abandonned but not torn out. What surprises me most about this one is that, if I recall correctly, it’s in someone’s front yard – you’d think that the owner would want the area to be something other than pavement. On the other hand, I’m unclear as to how such bits of land would revert back to private ownership.

    The other abandoned sections are all in areas where the road has become more overgrown. One is about 1300 feet west of Huyett, Maryland. On both sides of Sideling Hill, west of Hancock, sections remain. A section also remains west fo Flintstone, Maryland.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I tellya, I so much want to go back and spend a whole week on the road in Maryland. There’s so much I didn’t have time to see. I decided before the trip not to seek the abandoned alignments, but this one was right out there and thus irresistable. IIRC, this strip is in front of a cemetery.

    2. Lone Primate Avatar
      Lone Primate

      In my experience, the municipality usually sells it off to the adjoining property (or properties) for the minimal legal considerations (usually a dollar). If it’s very close to the new course of the road, though, they might retain ownership with an eye to widening the road.

      Hard to believe that was what used to pass as a two-lane road. :)

      1. Jim Avatar

        I’ve seen that kind of thing done. Once I went out on an abandoned segment that turned out to be private property, and the owners called the cops on me for trespassing! Oops.

  3. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Philistines all, Jim! :)

  4. Denny Gibson Avatar

    Nice report and picture of a preserved segment I’ve somehow missed in the past. (I’ll get it next time though:-) The not-so-abandoned road fragment in front of the La Vale tollhouse looks to be of about the same vintage.
    There’s a photo of it here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/11781758@N06/sets/72157618384478787/ That set also includes some photos of the Puzzley Run Bridge. All were taken in 2006.
    This bridge is shown, with freshly constructed bypass, in the third of the photos you’ve linked to in this post. In his description of that photo, Christopher Busta-Peck uses “deteriorated considerably” to describe the bridge’s current condition and the 2006 photos definitely show this. One of the 2006 photos was taken from the same general direction as the 1932 photo and the bypass, now much paved over, can be seen in the background.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I don’t know how, but I missed the toll house in LaVale entirely.

      Thanks for sharing your photos of the Puzzley Run bridge. Interesting how a faint two-track still comes out of one end of the bridge. The “End State Maintenance” sign made me chuckle… as if anyone would think such a forlorn bridge got any maintenance!

  5. Christopher Busta-Peck Avatar

    I’d love to tour the National Road at a nice, comfortable pace, in a 1910s or 1920s touring car – something that I’d be able to get away with crawling along the road at a snail’s pace.

    Heck, I’d even be game to take the road by bicycle, or on foot, but I doubt time constraints would allow that.

      1. Jim Avatar

        10 mph on some of the twisty, narrow alignments would leave you awfully exposed when a car comes around the curve behind you. I’m thinking maybe a scooter, something that can minimally do highway speeds if need be? There’s so much to see on the NR in MD, but some of the things to see are nowhere near someplace big enough to put your car.

  6. Tonya Avatar

    This part of old 40 for a long time didn’t have guardrails & carpoolers would park there “for safety reasons that changed.” National Pike Days is 5-18-18 to the 19th wagon train leaves Plum Grove here in Clear Spring & ends in Boonsboro, one yr they open the old Wilson Bridge for just the wagon train to go across. Do you have any photos of Fairview Mountain part of 40 before they redid the grade? There’s still 2 parts of the old 40 still there that I can think of.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fascinating to know this segment wasn’t always guardrailed off!

      Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of 40 on Fairview Mountain. Someone else I know who explored the old road extensively did take this photograph there of an old alignment alongside current 40.


  7. Tonya Cline Avatar
    Tonya Cline

    And I find it odd that they blocked people from using it. I keep saying I’m going up to Pecktonville & going for a walk on old 40. Wonder how old that photo is not sure it still looks like that, I kinda of forgot about that one since someone lives there I think I was told it was once a restaurant/convenient store. I’ll have to go take a couple of pictures of the ones I was thinking about. I’ll have to ask my aunt if she has any pictures of Fairview she lived there since 68. I can remember my older cousins telling me to go sit in the middle of the road & I did. Lol again thank you so much I drive everyone around me crazy about the past.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The photo is from 2007 — a lot can change in 11 years! I like this kind of history too, so you’re in the right place.

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