My road-loving colleague Denny Gibson tells the story best, but when the National Road was laid out across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Federal Government mandated that the highway be laid out as straight as possible between the three states’ capitals. That meant that the road would not pass through the Ohio towns of Eaton and Dayton, which irked officials there. So they took matters into their own hands, building a road from Springfield, through Dayton and Eaton, to the eastern edge of Richmond just inside Indiana. They put up blatantly false signs at either end proclaiming it to be the National Road and even duplicated the National Road’s milestones along the route. Over time, this road was improved while the competing section of the National Road was not. It worked; more traffic followed what became known as the Dayton Cutoff than followed the National Road. This lasted until the 1920s, when the current numbered route system was instituted, the National Road was signed as US 40, and Ohio state highway funds finally improved the National Road west of Springfield. US 40 became the favored road, even though the Dayton Cutoff was signed as US 35 between Richmond and Dayton.
Here’s where the Dayton Cutoff and the National Road coverge on Richmond’s east end. The Cutoff is highlighted in blue. The Eaton and Dayton subterfuge was so successful that, in Indiana, the Dayton Cutoff is signed as Old National Road even today!
You can still drive most of the Dayton Cutoff. Unfortunately, a railroad crossing was removed just inside Indiana, orphaning its last half mile. Here’s what that orphaned section looks like now, heading east.
This is the where the Cutoff ends in Richmond. The road originally followed the driveway on the left. I assume that, at one time, US 40 was level with that driveway.
Denny Gibson traveled the whole route a few years ago, taking photos along the way. Check out his trip report.
If you like the National Road, you might like reading everything else I’ve written about it.