The people of Dayton are not above a little subterfuge.
When the National Road was built from Wheeling west, it was mandated that the road would pass as directly as possible from one state capitol to the next on its way across West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
Dayton had the misfortune of finding itself about ten miles south of that line. The city lobbied to have the National Road built through its town, going so far as to convincing the Ohio state legislature to back them. But President Andrew Jackson was not swayed, and insisted that the road follow its surveyed northerly route.
Officials in Dayton decided that a little trickery was in order. In 1838, while the National Road was still being constructed in western Ohio, they built their own road. They began it in Springfield, where it forked off the National Road. (Clearly, Dayton was in cahoots with Springfield, as well as all of the other towns along the Cutoff.) It ran southwesterly to and through Dayton, where it straightened out and ran west through the Ohio countryside to Eaton, where it turned northwest and ran until it reached Richmond in Indiana.
Here’s where the Dayton Cutoff begins on the west side of Springfield. Main Street is the National Road and Dayton Avenue is the Cutoff.
Then officials in Dayton erected a sign in Springfield where the road forked, telling travelers that they needed to fork left to stay on the National Road. In fact, this took them off the National Road and onto the Dayton Cutoff. They also placed milestones along the Cutoff that were similar to the milestones placed along the National Road. They went all out to create the illusion.
It worked. Travelers followed the Dayton Cutoff in huge numbers, leaving the actual National Road behind. It turned out to be a good thing, as funding ran out for the National Road in 1840 when it reached Euphemia, a town that has since been absorbed by neighboring Lewisburg. The National Road was finally completed to Richmond in 1842.
It helped a lot that the Dayton Cutoff was the superior road. The National Road fell into disrepair, and was hard to find in places, west of Springfield, while the Dayton Cutoff remained well maintained and popular. It wasn’t until after US 40 was routed in 1926 that Ohio improved the National Road and it became a good quality road.
Here’s the full route of the Dayton Cutoff. You can drive it all today except for a portion that was removed when Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was built, and where a railroad crossing was removed just inside Indiana.
In the 20th century, the Dayton Cutoff remained a relevant path. The National Old Trails Road was routed onto most of it — it stayed on the National Road past Springfield to Brandt, and then headed south until it met the Cutoff and then followed the Cutoff to Richmond. The Cutoff was popular with travelers right up until I-70 opened in the 1960s.
I’ve not driven the Cutoff except for the portion that is currently US 35.
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