The National Road in Ohio: The town of Old Washington

Over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, my dog Gracie and I explored the National Road all the way across Ohio. That road is now US 40 in most places. I’m bringing the long trip report over from my old Roads site.

After leaving the Salt Fork S bridge, to stay on the National Road I took the first left, drove under I-70, and then took the first right. The National Road is County Highway 670 or Easton Road here on its way to Old Washington.

Imagery © 2012 Digital Globe, GeoEye, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2012 Google.

After 18 miles of laying waste to Ohio’s National Road, I-70 finally relents at Old Washington. US 40 even rejoins the National Road here. The blue line is the National Road’s original path, but unfortunately you can’t follow it. You have to keep going on Easton Road until it becomes Range Road, take the first right, go over I-70, turn right at the T intersection, and then turn left onto Old National Road. Or, at least that’s how it looks like it works on the map. On the ground, I found this to be incredibly confusing. I drove around and around here before I finally stumbled upon a way to get into Old Washington.

You might think Old Washington is so named because it’s old. Well, it is old. It was laid out in 1805, before the National Road was built, as Guernsey County’s first settlement. But the town was actually named New Washington then. When the town incorporated some years later, the New was dropped and the town became just Washington. Then the U.S. Post Office got all worried that people would confuse Washington with another Ohio town improbably named Washington Court House. Thus Washington became Old Washington.

I drove through a lot of old little towns on this trip. So many of them were not even a shadow of their former selves, just a row of abandoned and dilapidated buildings. I drove right through them without stopping. But I stopped in Old Washington. It is what all those other old towns wish they could be. It is virtually a trip back in time to when the National Road was new, at least in terms of its buildings.

Old Washington, Ohio

Most of them are very nicely kept. Many have simple designs.

Old Washington, Ohio

Several have a tonier appearance.

Old Washington, Ohio

The tonier houses share enough design details that I would not be surprised to find the same architect behind them.

Old Washington, Ohio

While most of the buildings in Old Washington are brick, a few are wooden. This one could use a little love.

Old Washington, Ohio

While Old Washington wasn’t exactly bustling the day I drove through, there were many clear signs of life, such as cars parked on the street, lamps in windows, and landscaping around many of the homes.

Old Washington, Ohio

Someone was busy building a garage next to this house!

Old Washington, Ohio

Sometimes a highway bypass is good for historic preservation. Transportation needs may demand a wider, straighter, or flatter road, but to achieve that in a town so often means destroying some of its buildings. US 40 was rerouted a block to the south at some point, allowing all of these great houses to remain. On the west edge of town, the old road comes to an end as US 40 curves around and resumes the National Road’s original alignment.

Dead end of NR west of Old Washington

Next: Several old alignments, one of them paved in brick laid in the 1910s.

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Comments

6 responses to “The National Road in Ohio: The town of Old Washington”

  1. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    Those are handsome houses, even the ‘boring’ ones with all the same windows. I wonder if they were for well-off families or if a middle-class family could afford such a residence.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I would have to think that well-off families built them. These homes took real resources.

  2. Warren W Jenkins Avatar
    Warren W Jenkins

    Author Karl Raitz has some interesting theories on Old Washington in his National Road book; for many years it competed with Cambridge for the economic and government hub of Guernsey County. Railroads that came to Cambridge pre-Civil War meant by the 1850s O.W. was culturally and economically isolated, with the decline of the National Road.
    Raitz also states a couple of the “Italianate ” styled buildings were actually inns, and other brick buildings were combination homes/businesses. It is also interesting that a large 1930s brick school shown in his book on the north side of town was razed in the past 20 years, creating a large open space.
    Jim is correct that modern day highway improvements made a mess of the eastern entrance into town, as a perusal of historic aerials/topos shows…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I finally bought the Raitz books. I’ve been aware of them for years but pulled the trigger only last month.

      There used to be a ramp off I-70 straight into Old Washington! It’s a grassy hill now. I’ll bet you could still drive up it into town.

  3. Warren W Jenkins Avatar
    Warren W Jenkins

    I’ll bet you found the Guidebook (Vol.2) more interesting than the other volume. Certainly my explorations in 2001-04 from Hancock to Flintstone would have been more difficult without it. This was pre-Internet for me, and also pre Busta-peck, some of whose research I did not agree with; and was later refuted by Steve Colby. His CUMBERLAND Road project showed great promise, it’s a shame his ill health took him out prematurely. The NR needs a new Brian Butko type to really document the paths and history of the NR and successors.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I have more than once found myself in the odd place of defending Christopher Busta-Peck, whose NR research was pioneering (on the Internet). He never claimed to have gotten it perfect! I’m indebted to him, for without the research he did I would not have been nearly as successful driving the road in MD, PA, WV, and OH as I was.

      But: agreed, the NR deserves to be thoroughly documented based on everything we’ve learned.

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