Preservation, Road Trips

Madonnas of the Trail

In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed 12 statues across the United States to honor pioneer mothers, those women who, with their husbands and children, went out West to build their lives.

These statues were all placed on the National Old Trails Road, an auto trail established in 1912 to connect New York to Los Angeles. Future President Harry S. Truman headed up the National Old Trails Road Association and worked with the D.A.R. to have these statues erected, one in each state.

The National Old Trails Road was routed largely over the old National Road in the east and the Santa Fe Trail in the west. Today, very broadly, if you drive US 40 to St. Louis and old Route 66 west from there, you are on or near the National Old Trails Road.

Having driven the National Road from end to end, I’ve seen five Madonnas, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Although the National Road begins in Maryland, the National Old Trails Road left the National Road so it could go through Washington, DC. The Maryland Madonna ended up on the road in Bethesda, which is not a National Road town. Also, the one time I visited the Ohio Madonna, it was inconveniently placed and I wasn’t able to photograph it. It has since been moved to a park with plenty of parking; I hope to go back and visit it one day.

The various Madonnas are colored from creamy white to reddish brown, and several of them have seen restorations, some of them more than once. Here, then, are photos of the Madonnas I’ve been able to see.

Madonna of the Trail

Beallsville, PA (2009)

Wheeling Madonna of the Trail

Wheeling, WV (2009)

Richmond Madonna

Richmond, IN (2009)

Madonna of the Trail

Richmond, IN (2018)

Madonna of the Trail

Vandalia, IL (2007)

Madonna of the Trail

Vandalia, IL (2014)

Standard
History, Road Trips

Concrete evidence of the National Road in Ohio

We take for granted that we can drive anywhere in the nation today, but such was not always the case. I have a book here that is a transcribed diary of a family driving from California to Indiana in 1913. Most roads were dirt; some were gravel. Out west, the family found many places were roads simply did not exist, and they had to blaze their own trails with their car.

And so in the 1910s several groups worked to create coast-to-coast (or, in the vernacular of the time, “ocean-to-ocean”) highways. The most famous is probably the Lincoln Highway. Another was the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Yet another was the National Old Trails Road. Wherever possible, all of these roads were routed along existing roads. The National Old Trails Road followed the National Road from Maryland to Illinois, except for a portion in western Ohio that instead followed the Dayton Cutoff (read about that road here).

Ohio’s National Road had long since been given back to the counties through which it passed. It was in varying states of repair. But as Ohio built its state highway network it took over the National Old Trails alignment and began aggressively to improve it. It reduced grades and smoothed curves. It paved the road in brick, in macadam, gravel – and, along the 24 miles between Zanesville and Hebron, in concrete.

Concrete alignment

While concrete roads aren’t uncommon today, it was considered experimental in 1914, when the first of this road was poured. Very little of this concrete road remains today as the road has been widened and covered with asphalt. The section in the above photo runs in front of the Hopewell Elementary School, just east of Gratiot and about 11 miles west of Zanesville. This map shows the concrete road’s original alignment compared to modern US 40. Click the image to see it larger.

The concrete road is mostly covered in asphalt along the old alignment through Gratiot, but west of town the concrete emerges from beneath the blacktop. The grade reductions that were part of the 1910s improvements didn’t eliminate this blind hill.

Blind hill

After cresting the hill, the concrete ends abruptly.

The end of the Gratiot alignment

I found just two more short bits of concrete. This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Mt. Hope Road.

Mt. Hope Road

This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Panhandle Road.

Panhandle Rd.

Eagle’s Nest Hill, just west of Brownsville, is the highest elevation along Ohio’s National Road. This monument stands there to commemorate the concrete paving project. It reads, “Old National Road, built 1825, rebuilt 1914 through the efforts of James M. Cox, Governor of Ohio.” A 19th-century covered wagon and an early-20th-century automobile are also carved into the stone’s face.

Eagle's Nest monument

I’ve also found concrete sections of the National Road in Indiana, but those are at least ten years newer. Read about them here, here, and here.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

Richmond, Indiana, on the National Road

The National Road crosses from Ohio into Indiana and almost immediately enters Richmond, founded in 1806 by Quaker settlers. So Richmond is one of the rare National Road towns in Indiana that predates the road. The National Road isn’t even the oldest road leading out of town – a road to Eaton, Ohio, was built in 1807, about 30 years before the National Road. It seems likely to me that the Eaton road was used as part of the Dayton Cutoff.

The road entered Richmond from the east on Main Street. Glen Miller Park was located along the road; in 1928, a Madonna of the Trail was placed on the southwest corner of the park at 22nd St.

Richmond Madonna

Many lovely older homes line the road near the Madonna.

Old homes in Richmond

US 40 was widened to four lanes across Indiana in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Here’s the eastbound road on its way to downtown.

US 40 heading toward downtown Richmond

Along the way, it passes a McDonald’s that still sports an older sign. Dig those golden arches that touch the ground.

Old McDonald's sign

Richmond is a little smaller, at least in population, than Terre Haute at the other end of the road in Indiana. Yet somehow its downtown seems larger, with many more intact and cared-for buildings from earlier days. That’s especially remarkable given that an explosion leveled half of downtown Richmond in 1968. The blast killed 41, injured 127, and destroyed 20 buildings.

Downtown Richmond

Fortunately, much of downtown remains. It was impossible to drive this section of the National Road starting in 1972 as Richmond closed it to traffic and built a pedestrian mall. Fortunately, the town came to its senses in 1997, tearing it all back out, repaving the road, and reopening it to traffic.

Downtown Richmond

A few buildings have not been very well loved.

Downtown Richmond

This building really stands out, the only one downtown with such a modern skin. I would not be surprised to find that an 1800s building lurks beneath this facade.

Mid-century modern?

Many pleasing touches remain in downtown’s details, such as this neon sign.

Hood Music sign

Just beyond downtown stands the Wayne County Courthouse. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1893.

Wayne County Courthouse
Wayne County Courthouse

I made this trip with a friend and she noticed that every door had this little notice on it. She was chuckling over it and I didn’t understand why. I guess my head was into taking photos, because she had to explain it to me. Do you see what’s funny about it?

The National Road was routed along Main Street west through downtown, passed by the courthouse, crossed the Whitewater River, and then jogged south a block and then headed west along National Rd. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly where the road transitioned from Main to National Rd.;  perhaps a Richmond historian will happen upon this post and share.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge on the National (Old Trails) Road

I’d only ever zipped through Wheeling on I-70 before. The tunnel was always fun to drive through, but every time I emerged from it there was the old suspension bridge stretching across the river. I always swore that next time I’d get off the interstate and drive it.

Suspension bridge

As part of the tour of Wheeling Ryan Stanton of The Bell Rang blog [now defunct] so graciously gave us, we first went to the waterfront to take in the bridge in profile. There we could see the bridge make its connection to Wheeling Island. The panorama below (thanks, Autostitch!) shows the bridge’s west end and the buildings along the shore. Here it is in its original size.

Wheeling Island

The National Road was extended into Ohio starting in 1825, but for many years the only way across the Ohio River was by ferry. The need for a bridge was recognized as early as 1816, anticipating the road’s extension.

Suspension bridge

When you need to span a large gap, suspension bridges are just the way to go, and so two leading suspension-bridge designers were invited to submit designs. Many delays prevented the bridge from being built until 1849, but at its completion it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, 1,010 feet between its towers.

Suspension bridge

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge is only the 109th longest suspension bridge in the world today, but it is the oldest suspension bridge in the United States that still carries cars. Actually, as the bridge was designed to handle horse-and-buggy loads, trucks and buses are kept off it, the speed limit is low, and cars are told to stay back 50 feet from each other. The steel-grate deck they drive on dates to 1956, but most of the cables are original.

Suspension bridge

In 1921, nine years after the National Old Trails Road took over most of the National Road’s route and seven years before Madonnas of the Trail began appearing on the road courtesty of the Daughters of the American Revolution, those Daughters also placed this plaque on the bridge. The bridge then spent many years carrying US 40’s traffic. But after I-70 was built and US 40 was routed onto it, West Virginia has quietly maintained the bridge as part of its state highway network, although it is not currently part of a signed route.

We lingered at the bridge in the chilly air that morning. My boys even walked out along the sidewalk halfway over the Ohio River – yes, the old bridge carries pedestrians, too! But we wanted to see the National Road across Ohio, and to squeeze it in that day we’d have to move along. I finally kept my promise to myself as we drove over the bridge, its steel grate deck causing the car to rumble. We found US 40 on Wheeling Island and headed off into Ohio.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

Madonnas of the Trail on the National Old Trails Road

In the 1910s, before the US highway system, a coast-to-coast road was formed to link Baltimore (or New York, some maps say) to San Francisco. Named the National Old Trails Road, it made its way across 12 states. Some of it was new construction, but most of it followed existing roads, including the National Road west from Cumberland, Maryland. In 1928 and 1929, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed one Madonna of the Trail statue along the National Old Trails Road in each of its 12 states. The statues commemorate pioneer women who made the difficult journey west. Along the National Road, the easternmost statue is in Pennsylvania, just east of Beallsville.

Madonna of the Trail

Since each statue is the same, you might think that after you’ve seen one Madonna, you’ve seen them all. I had previously seen the one in Vandalia, Illinois, at the National Road’s very end.

Madonna of the Trail

The next morning I would see the one in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Wheeling Madonna of the Trail

But there’s just something compelling about these old ladies. We had planned to see the ones in Springfield, Ohio and Richmond, Indiana as well on this trip, but fate conspired against us, and we were sorely disappointed.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard