The end of the Dayton Cutoff

My road-loving colleague Denny Gibson tells the story best, but when the National Road was laid out across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Federal Government mandated that the highway be laid out as straight as possible between the three states’ capitals. That meant that the road would not pass through the Ohio towns of Eaton and Dayton, which irked officials there. So they took matters into their own hands, building a road from Springfield, through Dayton and Eaton, to the eastern edge of Richmond just inside Indiana. They put up blatantly false signs at either end proclaiming it to be the National Road and even duplicated the National Road’s milestones along the route. It worked; more traffic followed what became known as the Dayton Cutoff than followed the National Road — so much so that this road was improved while the competing section of the National Road was not.

This lasted until the 1920s, when the current numbered route system was instituted, the National Road was signed as US 40, and Ohio state highway funds finally improved the National Road west of Springfield. US 40 became the favored road, even though the Dayton Cutoff was signed as US 35 between Richmond and Dayton.

Here’s where the Dayton Cutoff and the National Road coverge on Richmond’s east end. The Cutoff is highlighted in blue. The Eaton and Dayton subterfuge was so successful that, in Indiana, the Dayton Cutoff is signed as Old National Road even today!

You can still drive most of the Dayton Cutoff. Unfortunately, a railroad crossing was removed just inside Indiana, orphaning its last half mile. Here’s what that orphaned section looks like now, heading east.

End of the Dayton Cutoff

This is the where the Cutoff ends in Richmond. The road originally followed the driveway on the left. I assume that, at one time, US 40 was level with that driveway.

End of the Dayton Cutoff

Denny Gibson traveled the whole route a few years ago, taking photos along the way. Check out his trip report.

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.


7 responses to “The end of the Dayton Cutoff”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I love that story, that the fake road essentially became the preferred one. :) I’m surprised to hear that simply instituting an unambiguous numbering system was all it took to turn that around; I would have thought by then most people would be used to the “real” (fake) route and think, “Yeah, so what?” People can be strange.

    Jim, when I try the link to Denny Gibson’s report near the bottom, it just dumps me at some quasi-anonymous “HTTP” site. Does it work for anyone else? Maybe I’m clicking wrong. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      With the numbering system came funds to upgrade the National Road to at least the standards of the Dayton Cutoff. That made the NR (US 40) viable again, and it really was a shorter route than the Cutoff for through traffic.

      I goobered that link; it’s fixed now.

  2. Denny Gibson Avatar

    The National Old Trails Road essentially followed the Dayton Cutoff and I’ve wondered if whoever signed that National Rd/Old National Rd intersection knew that the NR and the NOTR were two different things. It appears that US-40 got paved to the state line around 1930 and that made it a useful express route. Bypassing cities wasn’t nearly as attractive in 1840 when you were looking for a place to sleep every ten miles or so.

    Thanks for the kind words, Jim. You do know you don’t have to stop at the state line, don’t you? You’re welcome in Ohio:-)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I dunno, last time I entered Ohio, it cost me my car!

      1. Denny Gibson Avatar

        Oh yeah. Forgot about that. A bit of reluctance is certainly understandable.

  3. Clyde R Cottrell Jr Avatar
    Clyde R Cottrell Jr

    I was ferreting out the route of the old National Road through there years ago, and my Spidey Sense took me out US-35 toward Eaton. I backtracked and course corrected with a question mark over my head. Nice to see that there was merit to my “wrong” turn.

    Also, I can’t help but note that in your included satellite image/map I-70 is marked as I-41. 🙂

    Thank you for what you do! You are my spirit animal…lol

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I guess that for a long time the section of the NR that was bypassed by the Dayton Cutoff was in such bad shape it was impassable. It took state/federal intervention in the form of the highway network to improve it to be useful again!

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