Vintage postcards can be a great way to see the sights as they used to be. I went on an old-postcard jag several years ago, looking for ones showing scenes from the roads I was exploring then. I bought several, but kind of lost interest in owning the cards when I realized that I could troll eBay for old cards and just save the scans posted to those auctions. I want the images much more than I want the cards themselves.
I looked specifically for images of places I visited or planned to visit. Here are some of those from along the National Road, the nation’s first interstate highway.
This interesting bridge used to carry the National Road near its historic end at Vandalia, Illinois. My notes say that this bridge is from 1909.
It should not surprise you that this bridge is long gone. A modern bridge stands just to the south of it on a new alignment; it’s on the left in the photo below. The old alignment dead ends where the older bridge once stood.
This road’s narrow width suggests that it is from the improvements Illinois made to the road in the 1920s. Those improvements were alternately of brick and of concrete. This postcard shows the concrete road near Vandalia.
The 1811 stone bridge that crosses the Casselman River near Grantsville, Maryland, still stands. The bridge was already a century or so old when this image was made. It carried traffic until 1933.
I visited this large, imposing bridge in 2009. Its arch is especially tall because at the time it was thought that the Casselman would remain an important waterway carrying large boats, which would have to pass underneath.
This bridge was built for the high-clearance vehicles of the day. If it weren’t blocked at its ends and I had tried to drive over it, I’m pretty sure my car would have bottomed out and become stuck on that peak.
Postcards showing a long and winding National Road are plentiful. This one and the next one show pavement the state of Maryland laid along the National Road in the 1930s, by which time the road was US 40.
If I recall correctly, US 40 had been dirt and gravel across Maryland before this pavement was laid. It is asphalt with concrete borders. This road is probably 16 feet wide, which is narrow by modern standards.
I found a short segment of it west of Hagerstown, Maryland. Especially when compared to modern US 40 is on the left, it looks like two oncoming cars would barely have room to pass each other.
Western Maryland is mighty hilly. My poor little car struggled up Polish Mountain on the oldest available alignment of the road. Some of the curves up the mountain have been smoothed out a little. This image shows the road’s state in the 1920s.
But the view from up there is spectacular. That’s I-68 below.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, the great 1826 stone S bridge near Blaine still stands. This image is probably from the early 1920s.
You can’t take a clean shot of the bridge from that angle anymore, because a new elevated bridge was built on that spot in the 1930s. But here’s a 2011 photo from the other side, showing the newer bridge too.
One S bridge still stands in Pennsylvania, west of Washington. It was built in 1818. This image is probably from the 1920s.
I visited in 2009. The bridge was closed, of course; modern US 40 passes by immediately to the south. Here are those twin arches that lurk on the left side of the image above.
The deck was covered with grass when I visited in 2009. It cracks me up to think that someone has to mow this 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 13 March 2020 by Jim Grey