Are there two alignments of the National Road in Effingham, Illinois?

We drove right on through Effingham on our May trek across Illinois on the National Road. We had lingered in Clark and Cumberland Counties, and I really wanted to get to the end of the National Road in Vandalia before we ran out of daylight.

But I did explore the National Road through Effingham in 2007, and am sharing photos from that visit here. The road runs alongside a railroad track as it enters town. The signed National Road alignment forks away just as you enter town. US 40 veers away from the tracks shortly thereafter on its way to downtown.

National Road in Effingham

The signs have you follow Jefferson St. to Third St., where you turn left and then shortly right again onto US 40. Jefferson St. runs through a residential area.

Effingham National Road

As I look at a map of Effingham, I wonder whether the National Road originally hugged the railroad tracks all the way through town. A road signed National Ave., a common name for old National Road aligmnents, parallels the tracks in several discontinuous segments. See the map below; click it to see it larger. The signed National Road alignment is highlighted green to where it merges with current US 40. The suspected alignment is highlighted in blue.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Isn’t it interesting how US 40 enters and exits Effingham along the tracks, and there are bits and pieces of National Ave. along the tracks through town? One section of National Ave. is closed to through traffic and appears to be used as an access road for an industrial area.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

I walked past the barrier for a look.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

This street sign suggests that perhaps this road was once through.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

A bit further west, where the road is open to traffic, it passes underneath US 45.

Suspected old NR alignment

I wonder if any records exist to prove or disprove my theory.

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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13 responses to “Are there two alignments of the National Road in Effingham, Illinois?”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    It’s an interesting theory. Part of the joy of what you’re doing is that it’s not intuitive or easy… given how “ordinary” the subject is, how little notice was taken of it and how much people just took it for granted, you know finding out anything more than a few years previous is going to be a project.

    You’ve shown us before that the National Road has been subject to course amelioration, so it’s a reasonable speculation. Why not? A road into town along the original course and a road letting folks heading west keep going, built more recently. Who knows when that railroad dates to? I don’t see why a fork on the National Road wouldn’t have been a good idea by the 1920s or 1930s when cars and travel were reliable enough that driving across the States wasn’t simply a sprint from one town to another.

    Have you identified anyplace further west where they look like they come together again? The National Road kind of gets lost when it enters town, to my eye…

  2. pesoto74 Avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised. It seems like a lot of roads clung pretty close to the railroad at first. I hope you can find some evidence for it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Illinois National Road Association wants me to call a woman at their welcome center who might know. I’ll see if I can find 10 minutes for a call next week.

  3. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    I believe the National Road was surveyed and built in the 1830’s the railroad in the 1850’s so the railroad probably followed the National road. In Casey the east edge of town along the National road known locally as “Cumberland ” dates to the 1830’s when the road was built but the main town of Casey which moved west dates to 1853 which may have been when the railroad was built.
    P.S I’m guessing the Green Lantern between Effingham and T Town was never rebuilt after it’s fire. Also between Casey and Greenup you can see the remnants of I think was called the Oak Grove cabins which was an early motor court and the restaurant was supposedly recommended by Duncan Hines himself…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You have it right, Ward: the NR came before the railroad. Normally it’s the other way around, but the NR is an unusually old road, at least in the Midwest.

      I don’t remember seeing a new Green Lantern as we whizzed past Teutopolis. The great old neon sign was certainly not there.

      Too bad I didn’t know about the cabins. I love seeing such things.

  4. Denny Gibson Avatar

    I believe the answer to your question is “kinda”. Not only does the NR predate the RR, it also predates Effingham which was a product of the railroad and originally named Broughton. What you’ve labeled “alternate” seems to be the original National Road. I’ve just emailed you an excerpt from the Karl Raitz edited NR book that supports that. That book doesn’t actually identify the “signed” alignment other than hinting that it was an early alignment of US-40. I feel fairly safe in saying it was probably the final alignment of the NOTR and I’ve also sent you a couple of scans that sort of support that. Even if the sign folks understood the difference (which is far from certain) it makes some sense to sign the easily accessible ex-40 Jefferson Ave as the NR rather than the half dozen chopped off blocks of genuine NR.

    As you know, the eastern half of the NOTR is only mostly NR. One of my favorite examples of the difference is the intersection of National Road and Old National Road in Richmond, Indiana.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks for the good info, Denny. The two strip maps you sent do suggest strongly that the NR (along which the NOTR was routed here) did indeed stay with the railroad through first, but was later moved to some later alignment that looks like it could be either modern US 40 or the Jefferson St. alignment.

      Makes me wonder now whether the signed NR in Effingham was ever the NR.

      Yeah, the NOTR was routed on whatever alignment the NR had at the time except that it followed the Dayton Cutoff in western Ohio to Richmond, IN.

  5. Denny Gibson Avatar

    I’m guessing that Jefferson Ave, which is signed Historic National Road, was most likely never officially part of the National Road. Of course, the NR was pretty much dead when the NOTR came along so it’s hard to determine what was the official NR alignment or if there even was one. While the Dayton Cutoff is the most notorious deviation of the NOTR from the NR, I don’t believe it’s the only one and people setting up drive-able byways are certainly entitled to some leeway. If you call the lady the INRA pointed you to, it might at least be interesting to see if she knows what their intentions were.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ll bet your guess is correct about Jefferson Ave. However, I can’t believe that there aren’t records somewhere, even down to the original surveys, that would place the NR reasonably accurately. We both know that a road can be rerouted and re-rerouted, and in Illinois this road was in terrible shape, to the point of being hard to find, at the turn of the 20th century.

      But boy, doesn’t it make sense that since the RR was laid next to the NR elsewhere, that it was here too?

  6. retrocrank Avatar

    the scene of the blocked off National Ave puts me in mind of T. Dreiser’s description in Hoosier Holiday of coming into the Erie PA area at night. From the description of his journey, I’ve always imagined they followed roads along the NYC RR, i.e. current Route 5, across NY and PA. I’ve driven that path several times, and so scenes like this make vivid in my mind his description of driving on the adjacent RR bed to avoid the mudhole that was the ‘road’ of 1913.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Dreiser could have gotten his inspiration from this very road; it’s not that far, really, from his hometown of Terre Haute.

  7. Kathy McMichael Avatar
    Kathy McMichael

    My grandpa owned and operated the Green Lantern for many years. My dad grew up in the apt that was at the back of the building and over the kitchen. My grandpa was a serial entrepreneur and he also owned a motel just a few hundred feet down the road towards Effingham. He also built and ran rh Crystal Club in the other direction towards t-town. The motel is still there but I believe it has been turned into apts. I believe the Crystal Club is now a storage facility.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I came upon the Green Lantern for the first time just after it burned down. It was such a shame. I think I know the former hotel you’re talking about. Thanks for stopping by to comment!

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