The end of the National Road

The plan was to build the National Road all the way to the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Unfortunately, money ran out about 70 miles to the east at Vandalia, Illinois, and that was that. I don’t know where construction stopped in Vandalia, but for me the National Road experience ends at the old Illinois statehouse. If the National Road didn’t actually pass by here, it would have if it had kept going west.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

Founded in 1819, Vandalia served as the Illinois capital starting in 1820. This building served as statehouse only briefly. None other than Abraham Lincoln, then serving in the state legislature, led a caucus to move the state capital up to Springfield. The existing capitol building wasn’t well loved, so during the legislature’s recess in 1836, it was torn down and this one was built hurriedly on the same spot. It was hoped that the legislature would enjoy the new building so much they wouldn’t relocate the capital. Alas, Springfield became the new capital in 1837.

Fast forward to 1912. An early coast-to-coast auto trail known as the National Old Trails Road was routed mostly along the National Road in its six states. In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed Madonna of the Trail statues on the route in each of the National Old Trails Road’s 12 states, honoring the pioneer mothers who helped expand the United States westward. Vandalia got the Illinois Madonna, and it stands on a corner of the statehouse grounds.

Madonna of the Trail

The statue looks to have had some restoration since I last visited it, in 2007, as it is much browner now. See some of the other Madonnas of the Trail along the National Road here.

Madonna of the Trail

We were fortunate to have arrived at the old statehouse an hour before tours ended for the day. This is the main east-west hallway on the first floor.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

The legislature and the Supreme Court operated from this building. Here’s the Supreme Court bench, or at least a reasonable stand-in for it, as much of the original furniture was lost.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

My notes are poor, but I’m pretty sure that this is the House chamber and the next photo is the Senate chamber. There’s a chance it could be the other way around, though.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

The light in this room was challenging. I shared a photo of the entire room in this post.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

Vandalians were pretty unhappy with young Mr. Lincoln for his role in moving the capital up to Springfield. But at some point they got over it, because they placed a statue of him across the street. It makes for a good photo, one in which you can almost imagine him pausing for a short rest before going in to do the state’s business.

Young Lincoln before the Illinois statehouse at Vandalia

Thanks for riding along on my Illinois National Road trip. I’ve written about the National Road extensively over the years. See everything I’ve written here.

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6 responses to “The end of the National Road”

  1. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    I believe the National road was surveyed all the way to St Louis but the Fed money ran out at Vandalia. Also there was a dispute as to where it would cross the Mississippi.. Missouri wanted St. Louis and Illinois wanted Alton. Supposedly the state of Illinois built the road the rest of the way into E St Louis eventually but if you look at the map the route of Illinois Rt 140 follows the route surveyed from Greenville to Alton.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ward, thanks for that bit of history. I knew it was surveyed all the way to St. Louis but didn’t know Illinois wanted the road to go to Alton.

  2. pesoto74 Avatar

    I wonder if the steamboat interests had any part in not extending the road to St Louis also. I know they opposed the building of bridges over the Mississippi and did what they could to keep railroads out of St. Louis. Pretty much they made it easy for Chicago to become the transportation hub of the Midwest.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I don’t know. The conventional wisdom is that money simply ran out.

  3. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    This has been an interesting series. Can’t wait for the book and then the movie!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Movie? Hollywood would insist on too many changes that would ruin my plot!!

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