We take for granted that we can drive anywhere in the nation today, but such was not always the case. I have a book here that is a transcribed diary of a family driving from California to Indiana in 1913. Most roads were dirt; some were gravel. Out west, the family found many places were roads simply did not exist, and they had to blaze their own trails with their car.
And so in the 1910s several groups worked to create coast-to-coast (or, in the vernacular of the time, “ocean-to-ocean”) highways. The most famous is probably the Lincoln Highway. Another was the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Yet another was the National Old Trails Road. Wherever possible, all of these roads were routed along existing roads. The National Old Trails Road followed the National Road from Maryland to Illinois, except for a portion in western Ohio that instead followed the Dayton Cutoff (read about that road here).
Ohio’s National Road had long since been given back to the counties through which it passed. It was in varying states of repair. But as Ohio built its state highway network it took over the National Old Trails alignment and began aggressively to improve it. It reduced grades and smoothed curves. It paved the road in brick, in macadam, gravel – and, along the 24 miles between Zanesville and Hebron, in concrete.
While concrete roads aren’t uncommon today, it was considered experimental in 1914, when the first of this road was poured. Very little of this concrete road remains today as the road has been widened and covered with asphalt. The section in the above photo runs in front of the Hopewell Elementary School, just east of Gratiot and about 11 miles west of Zanesville. This map shows the concrete road’s original alignment compared to modern US 40. Click the image to see it larger.
The concrete road is mostly covered in asphalt along the old alignment through Gratiot, but west of town the concrete emerges from beneath the blacktop. The grade reductions that were part of the 1910s improvements didn’t eliminate this blind hill.
After cresting the hill, the concrete ends abruptly.
I found just two more short bits of concrete. This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Mt. Hope Road.
This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Panhandle Road.
Eagle’s Nest Hill, just west of Brownsville, is the highest elevation along Ohio’s National Road. This monument stands there to commemorate the concrete paving project. It reads, “Old National Road, built 1825, rebuilt 1914 through the efforts of James M. Cox, Governor of Ohio.” A 19th-century covered wagon and an early-20th-century automobile are also carved into the stone’s face.
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 14 March 2020 by Jim Grey